On the fifteenth of May, the internet erupted with yet another example of the social divide that is plaguing our country. Before the Laurel vs. Yanny clip met Instagram, social media exploded over an image of a dress, some people arguing that the dress looked white with gold trim, others declaring it to be a blow dress with brown trim. The same dress, yet a nation in disagreement over its appearance. The Laurel vs. Yanny clip further exposes the divide in our nation. The same audio clip of an opera singer saying the word “Laurel” at a frequency which causes some people to hear “yanny” instead of the word the automated voice is saying. When a 15 year old girl published the audio file on Instagram, requesting her followers to vote on the word that they heard, the internet broke out in debate, causing the clip to go viral. With around 47 percent of people claiming that the sound was a nonsense word yanny, this clip is an example of the social divide in our nation as well as the power of media and our consumerist culture.
The first thing that this audio file debate points out is that there is a clear divide between the young and old in our nation today. In order to find evidence for this, we can look to political polls. Because these polls demonstrate the way people feel about the nation and their views on the world, looking at polls allow us to understand divide based on a series of factors. One factor that polls look at is the difference in views based on age. When we look at these polls, we clearly one of the greatest devices in history between millennials and seniors. With the greatest difference in US political history, there is a 30 percent divide in the political party that millennials are members of. While millennials have voted along Democrat party lines, the 2016 election marked the largest difference as 61 percent more of millennials voted democrat while only 33 percent voted Republican. Additionally, 17 percent of millennials approve of the president while almost 50 percent of seniors support the current president. Last year, the numbers were opposite, with 17 percent of seniors voting for the African American president (a historic low) while 51 percent of young people cast ballots for his reelection bid.
By looking at this data, we can see that the divide between seniors and young people is the greatest it has been in decades. The debate of Laurel vs. Yanny is popular because it has turned into a debate subconsciously about age. A vast majority of millennials hear Yanny, while seniors almost exclusively hear laurel. While the range of a young person’s hearing comprises frequencies from 20 to 20,000 hertz, as people age, their hearing ranges shrink. This leads to a difference in the ability to hear things on the ends of the spectrum of sound for old ears. In fact “Old people might be physically unable to perceive “Yanny” because their auditory system attenuates all high frequencies, and the low frequencies that carry the “Laurel” part of the recording” are the only ones old people can hear. Additionally, the experience of young people is dominated by the high frequencies, leading them to predominantly perceive the sound as Yanny. While few people consciously see the Laurel vs. Yanny debate as emblematic of the divide between young and old, when looking at the data one can tell that there seems to be a connection between the two. Similar to the popularity of the blue vs. white dress when a majority of seniors saw the colors opposite to what young people saw, these fads seem to be popular because it is pulling on the growing gap between young and old.
Beyond age, this debate is even more a sign of the fake news and fake media that plays a large role in the world that we live in today. A new Gallup Poll shows that a record number of people distrust the media and the news. Almost 70 percent of the nation feels that they cannot TV news today. This all-time low sheds light on one factor in particular: right now, there is a historically low amount of trust for the facts that people are seeing around them. One fact found in FOX News is declared a lie by CNN and visa versa. Every single day, branches of our government are in constant battles with facts. While debating accuracy is something that has been going on for centuries, a fairly new phenomenon is declaring any fact that is not in line with your ideals “fake news” aka a lie. It has been used countless times by members of every party over the past 18 months. This discussion of facts has lead people to be enthralled by Yanny vs. Laurel. While it is undeniable that person being recorded is saying Laurel, people insist that they only hear Yanny. The same fact, debated. This is a new phenomenon. People did not use to deny facts and people didn’t use to tell as many fake facts as they do today. This is why a fact that is debatable becomes popular: it is representative of the alternative fact society.
Not only is this representative of a fact that is historically frequent in our society, it is also is representative of the divide in our society. While Yanny vs. Laurel may have started as a cordial debate meant to show the tricks of the human mind, as the internet often does, it turned into a fleet of angry posts. One such post claimed people who hear Yanny have high IQ while people who hear Laurel are stupid and dumb. The ad-hominem attacks that have come out of this Instagram debate are clearly representative of the hatred that is in the nation today, where instead of being able to have a debate about facts, people are both changing facts and running smear campaigns about people who disagree with them.
Lastly, this debate is representative of the consumerist society that we live in. When a 15-year-old first posted this video and it became popular, it took two days for her to start selling Yanny vs. Laurel merch online. In today’s world, no one is altruistic. Maybe twenty years ago she would have posted this clip online, but today you would be shocked to find someone makes something viral without being able to monetize the viral creation. Today’s youth have the least amount of savings in history, evidence that the population is attracted to short-term wealth. The internet wealth is following the path of thousands of people who have worked for one or two years on an app and then sold that app for millions of dollars. The in and out fortunes are a new thing and have increased the youth’s fascination with monetization.
As you can see, this debate touches on more than meets the eye. An onlooker might see this viral discussion as mere fun and games, a particular example of the tricks on the human brain. However, as we look at the times that we live in, we can see that the Laurel vs. Yanny debate is representative of the times that we live in. The science of hearing is representative of the divide of age in our country. The fact that what some people here is different than what is truly said is representative of the Fake News and distrust of facts that are at an all-time high in our nation. The commercialization is an example of the monetization that millennials desire in the modern world that we live in. While it is beneath the surface, the Yanny vs. Laurel debate is an example that everything we Americans are fascinated by are things that are representative of the world that we live in.