"When assessing the effectiveness of intellectual ability in an adult, one is primarily interested in two kinds of comparisons: how the individual compares with his age peers, and how he compares with those who are at the peak of mental development". David Wechsler, WAIS Manual, The IQ Concept (1955)
But taking pics for a possible listing, I came across a booklet called WAIS Picture Arrangement. It’s graphic art gold. Or, it could be a cultural anthropologic archive of the hegemony of the male discourse. Or a mysoginist racist madman’s daydream, or the waking nightmare of women whose husbands came back to Levittown with undiagnosed PTSD almost 10 years before Betty Friedan explained the mystique. Or, it could be a sobering wake up from the delusional good old days. Or maybe it is an indication that we have actually moved in the right direction.
How the hell should I know? I may play a gardener on this blog but I have a doctorate in some obsolete legal code no longer practiced where I live. A wise woman once said “No matter how cynical I become, it’s not enough”. I don’t know if she punctuated it correctly because this is oral history. Which this test also is because it must be administered to an individual subject by a professional who scores their oral stories.
But it’s no joke because those were the tests that measured your IQ – the whole enchilada when given to children. By the time you were an adult, and your cog was slotted into your particular slot on the wheel, we might still want to know how smart you were. Here is how we measured it in the 1955 edition of the test.
First, here’s a little context to the story. In 1955:
· Rosa Parks didn’t like her seat on the bus and MLK led a bus boycott for more than a year
· President Eisenhower upheld the use of atomic weapons in case of war
· Elvis Presley made his first TV appearance
· Richard Nixon was Vice President
· Nabakov published Lolita
· A First Class stamp was 3 cents
· James Baldwin published Notes of a Native Son
· The US homicide rate was 4.5 per 100,000
· Einstein and Charlie Parker died
· Flannery O’Connor published A Good Man is Hard to Find
· The US performed nuclear test at Nevada Test Site (May 15)
· "Millionaire" TV program premiered on CBS
· The ACLU announced it would defend Allen Ginsberg's book Howl against obscenity charges
· Kevin Costner was Born
· Israel attacked Gaza
· Brown vs Board of Education (1954) was one year old
Children were getting our IQ tested by the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children (more later) to see if we were correctly pigeonholed anywhere from vocational school or veterinary school. If little girls were good enough at science they were nurses by 1955, mostly working for doctors who were good in science when they took the WISC. And now, adults were ready to be indoctrinated by the WAIS in the secret arcana of their place and their time. Spoiler alert: mostly white men called the shots in the US.
Picture Arrangements is a spiral bound booklet about the size of an iPhone with 8 sets of cards (each set from 3 to 6 cards in separate pocket pages) to presumably to arrange in chronological order; or perhaps to arrange in order to relay surrealist images to illustrate the subject’s acid-trip re-telling of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Who is to say really? Oh, Wechsler, right. The story card pockets have labels like Flirt, Louis, Enter, Taxi.
WAIS instructions say to tell the subject about the three test pictures here in the first pocket called “Nest”:
“These pictures tell us story about a bird building a nest, but they are in the wrong order. Put them in the right order so they will tell a story.”
Nobody said chronological order because nobody had to. Regrettably, there was no other order in 1955. There was no postmodern narrative, deconstructionist blathering, Italian Neorealism, French New Wave, existential, surreal, or culturally anomalous, or other ways of telling stories. This was America. Chronological.
When I took the cards out of the pocket “Hold Up” I didn’t shuffle, but laid them out like a cartoon. I imagine this is the kind of order the 1955 adult would have seen them dealt. But I didn’t put them in another order. I just told a story - because one of the biggest differences between 1955 and 2014 is that we have lowed the expectations of test takers as well as test givers. And we don’t have as much time. So let’s get moving here.
“Hold Up 2014: Justice Prevails: Again"
1. Top Left: (Flashback) The all white male jury just acquitted Affluent White Male Defendant (AWMD) of murder. As he releases the defendant, the judge explains that white privilege will someday be recognized in the DSM as Affluenza - a legitimate mental disability, causing diminished responsibility for hate crimes (which won’t even be invented until his lynching days are over anyway). Meanwhile, winks the Judge, we’ll just have to muddle through defying that Brown vs. Education thing.
2. Top Right: (Clip from vintage pre-PBS Ken Burnsoid produced Biopic of AWMD narrated by the guy who narrates Frontline) Courtroom evidence poster later credited in local media as winning the AWMD’s freedom. Pictured is the artist's rendering of the man AWMD shot. The victim is dead because he was Homeless Terrorist Person of Indeterminate Race (HTPIR) in the 1955 equivalent of a hoodie. AWMD is a hero for standing his ground in the face of such a scary man, says AWMD’s Mom straight into the camera as un-shed tears glisten in her eyes. (Could have used a few more cards here.)
3. Lower Left: (Interlude: Existentialist Metaphor on the importance of repentance) This card is Albert Camus’ rough sketch of The Stranger in prison after the priest has refused him absolution because he’s not sorry he killed that dude on the beach. Meursault was a bad man. He probably thought the earth was older than six thousand years and he hated God and America. Believe me, the distinction in our story today is that AWMD is unbelievably sorry this ever happened. Let’s not quibble about his feelings wrt/ the outcome.
4. Lower Right: (Glimpse into the future of our characters - except Arthur Meursault because he’s dead and went to hell because he was unrepentant - from the post-apocalyptic year of 2014) What would have happened/has happened had not the white gods intervened create such a wonderful system of justice. That’s where HTPIR on the left and AWMD on Right. I mean, the right.
Fade to white. “FIN”