Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Culture: Symbolic Family Feud

PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA - I've written in the past about watching game shows with my great aunt here. One of the shows that airs on the Game Show Network (GSN) is the slightly dated version of Family Feud with Richard Karn (I have yet to see the latest version with Steve Harvey). While I remember the show since the days of Richard Dawson, this was the first time I realized just how symbolic Family Feud is of culture in United States.

The basic goal of Family Feud is to come up with the answers that match those of a game show survey of one hundred people. In other words, the idea isn't to come up with the "correct" answer (not that there really is a correct answer to "a thing you check before you go to bed"), but the answer most likely to be stated by average citizens. According to the logic of the show, it's best to think like the average person, not to think more creatively or unconventionally.

Following this way of thinking, if everyone thinks something that is factually incorrect, then matching that incorrect perception would be rewarded. Now, Family Feud would never ask "Who was responsible for the terrorist attacks on 9/11?" but if they did, answering "Saddam Hussein" would probably earn points for one's team. More realistically, if people had answered "September" to "A month with 31 days" (an actual survey inquiry on a recent show), then that would also be rewarded, despite being incorrect. Granted, the games are often won and lost on some of the less common responses, with perhaps 6-10 of the 100 responses as the most common answers are usually easiest to figure out, but even figuring out those are basically an exercise in thinking in a mediocre fashion.

Think about the reward structure in a lot of fields--sales and finance, for example. They are basically about understanding how the average person thinks. Sales may be based on the fundamentals of what a product has to offer, but it's mostly about connecting with average person in the marketplace. Finance may be based on the fundamentals of the individual businesses, but the real money is made from predicting how people will react to those fundamentals in the securities marketplace.

Those that do well at Family Feud likely will be rewarded for applying those same skills in money-making professions in the United States.

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