Jennifer Lopez plays a high school teacher in her movie The Boy Next Door. At one point, the hunk of the title brings her a gift: A leatherbound book with gilt-edged pages – a volume that would have been right at home in Queen Victoria’s library. J-Lo demurs that she can’t accept such an expensive gift. “This is a first edition!” she says, checking inside.
One small problem. The book is very clearly marked “The Iliad by Homer.”
See it for yourself here (you’ll have to sit through a 30-second ad, but trust me it’s worth it.)
Apologies if I’ve spoiled The Boy Next Door for you, but I don’t really think there’s a lot of overlap between my readership and J-Lo’s target demographic. Likewise probably not a lot of overlap between her viewership and classical scholars. What percentage of Americans even know that there was a famous Homer before The Simpsons?
While the dumbing-down of popular culture may spell the end of Civilization As We Know It, there’s an equally challenging trend I need to watch out for as a business writer: “smartening-up.”
The first time I was asked to write on the subject of Ethics, I went straight to the source: Aristotle. I mean, who better than “the father of Ethics”? Now, I’m no dummy – the speech wasn’t entirely about ancient Greek philosophy. I tied Aristotle to a contemporary event, in which journalism students had gotten caught cheating on an exam. And not just any exam…an Ethics exam.
It was a great speech. But it was not a great speech for that particular speaker. And in the end, that’s really all that matters. So I gave Aristotle the heave-ho in favor of material that better fit my executive’s brand. And the world became a more ethical place, at least for an hour.
LBJ knew this stuff innately. Maybe not Ethics, but brand-building. When his writers showed him a draft that used some words of wisdom from Socrates, he didn’t cut the quotation – the sentiment was too good. He just crossed out “Socrates” and substituted “my granddaddy.”President Johnson was a smart man. He just didn’t want too many people to know it.