Marianne Jennings’ essay “The Real Generation Gap” tries to make the argument that differences between Generation X and the previous ones is widening and slumping in a downward direction. She urges parents to fight out against this downward slope but never can truly sway opinion because of her poor logos. She bases much of her arguments upon her personal experience as a mother, her own personal opinion, assumption, and the assertion that Christians (mainly Catholics) have the correct formula for living a moral life. Contradictions of her points and her harsh tone at times take away from her ethos. She does do an adequate job with her pathos when appealing to people’s basic moral values and the simple organization of the five topics: “skills, knowledge, critical thinking, work, and morality” is also helpful (298).
Contradiction is a problem that takes place early on in the first two paragraphs. She asserts that the members of Generation X “know nothing at all about… John Wayne, [and] Babe Ruth” who she thinks would be proper role models. In the very next sentence she says, “[the members of Generation X’s] favorite role models are the type of celebrities seen on MTV, ESPN, and the cover of People”. The contradiction happens here because we realize that ESPN is a sports magazine which has featured Babe Ruth many times and that People is a movie magazine and that John Wayne was a movie star. Not only does this contradiction hurt her logos but it also harms her ethos. Since she states that these two men are proper role models, then we can assume that they are also her role models, but neither of the two are viewed as pure and entirely good; it is quite the opposite. Babe Ruth was known to cheat on his wife and it ended their marriage, yet in the first paragraph she speaks badly about how Generation X is full of “broken homes”. John Wayne is also considered one of the worst actors by people currently in the field because he never has changed his character for any of his movies. Now the reader connects these attributes to Jennings’ self which hurts her ethos and logos early on. Since this happened Jennings will have to work even harder in the rest of her essay to make up for the mistakes made in these first two paragraphs (297).
The attempt doesn’t work though because the personal experience she uses in the skills gap section has little validness. She tells of grade inflation which makes students look like they are doing well when they are actually doing very poorly. “One-third of many high schools’ students maintain 4.0 (straight A) grade point averages” says the shocked Jennings. She then goes on to say that her eighth grade daughter Sarah “is living proof” that grade inflation exists. She explains that Sarah can’t even do simple math problems without the use of a calculator yet she manages to maintain straight A’s. We do not know anything about Sarah; maybe she manages to keep these good grades because she copies off of the smarter students, maybe she has high grades because she always does the homework and gets credit for it but isn’t mentally capable enough to understand it; we just don’t know. Sarah also can’t even support the figure because she isn’t even in high school yet; and since when was Sarah the national standard for academic performance. Seeing as the reader now has all these questions about the validness of these assertions, they cannot be convinced that this is a true argument and Jennings logos is further hurt (298).
Jennings makes many assumptions throughout her essay, some can be considered true and others can be questioned. One assumption that she makes throughout the entire essay is that we are all concerned with Christian ideal especially that of the Catholics. She never actually comes out and says that she is Catholic, but when she says, “A current survey on American religion…fails to mention Catholicism” we can assume by her outrage that she is one. Not everyone is a Catholic and some aren’t even religious at all, but this doesn’t make them bad people. Jennings tries to make the argument that unreligious people are a large part of the problem of the generation gap. By stating this, she is doing one of two things, she is putting people off or connecting with them. For the people who get put off by her religious propaganda, they will probably not want to listen to the rest of the essay because it acts very harsh towards their personal beliefs. It really hurts Jennings’ ethos because it makes her seem very irrational and close-minded. But for the people who are Catholics or agree with her, they will be greatly swayed in her favor. Our religion and ideas are very close to us and any attack on them will definitely put them off, but any connection and affection to them will undoubtedly have a positive effect. If it affects the readers in the second way, then Kudos to Jennings, but if it isn’t, she has to do something to really redeem this majority of the people.
One of her moves she makes will probably put everyone off though; it is her inability to accept new ideas even if they are true. This is seen when she discusses the Critical Thinking Gap. She says that, “in school, I was taught about global cooling…Today, my children are told that global warming is going to bring on an ecological apocalypse”. Because Jennings’ was taught incorrect information when she was a student, it is hard for to accept that global warming is a serious problem and that we need to ameliorate it. All of the readers of this essay know that global warming is a big problem and that we do need to do something about it or all of our descendants will face life-threatening problems. This will hurt her ethos for all readers.
Her appeal to pathos is seen whenever she talks about religion. She talks about many fundamental religious ideas and terms such as the golden rule in attempt to appeal to the reader’s deepest held values. This generally successful because most people are religious and will accept these simplest of truths. The problem is that her tone is quite harsh when she makes this argument and the sometimes one-minded view that she gives. She does however say that we all have in essence the same set of basic beliefs. Most readers will agree with this statement and it will increase her ethos.
One of the other few things about this essay is the simple organization. It is sectioned off into the five major points making it easy for readers to know what next to expect and also to review a section. If something is easily navigable they will find it more appealing and it will make it seem more professional. This organization boosts her ethos because it makes her seem smarter.
A move she made that was less than smart was to cite comedian Jay Leno in support of her argument on the morality gap. She says, “Jay Leno revealed during one of his street interviews…that young people don’t seem to know the Ten Commandments”. Anyone who has seen any of Leno’s street interviews will see the absurdity of this allegation. Most of the people that are interviewed are drunk and/or under the influence. They are this way because they make fools of themselves; since Jay Leno is a comedian, he would pick out the ones that are funny. The segment is edited this way and we all know that not everyone is this stupid, even when they are inebriated. This assertion really takes a lot away from her ethos because it is funny that she would cite a comedian as a source. It gives her an aura of pathetic funniness.
The main problem of the entire essay is that she never supports her thesis that the generation gap is widening. She definitely say much about what she thinks are the faults and bad traits of Generation X, but she never has anything to say about any of the previous generations. When she does talk about the previous generations, it is supported with her opinion not statistics. Since there never is any mention of the size of the distance in the gap, we never can conclude that the gap has changed or even exits at all. This greatly hurts her ethos and logos because she never supports her thesis which is the most important part of an essay.
Although Jennings thinks that she has a valid argument, her statements are over-turned by her absurd supporting material based upon her highly biased opinions. Although she does damage to her logos and ethos, she does manage to save some pathos through her religious statements and simple organization. However this has not changed the fact that she fails to make a constructive argument.
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