A review of the BUREAUCRATIC DOCUMENT
U.S. Census of 2010
by The U.S. Census Bureau
The U.S. census is an enterprise so dull that the sheer size and scope of the dullness are exhilarating. Just processing the data from the census of 2010 will take until the end of 2013. Amid the deluge of numbers and slick visualizations, the language of the project will be largely forgotten, which is for the best in the case of the survey questions themselves. The use of the word Negro in question 9, the awkward designations for persons of “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” in question 8, and the lack of options for transgender individuals in question 6 all sparked predictable controversies last year.
Worth saluting, by contrast, is the bizarrely compelling rhetoric surrounding the decennial questionnaire. Nowhere is the beauty of the banal so apparent as in the slogans, mailings, and brochures of the U.S. Census Bureau. The taglines churned out by its public-relations program—from you can know your country only if your country knows you (1940) to it counts for more than you think (1990)—represent each decade’s best effort to say nothing, offend nobody, and motivate everyone. Literally. The goal is to reach all 300 million people living in the United States, and motivation is key because for every 1 percent increase in participation, the government saves $85 million. That makes census sloganeering some of the highest-stakes wordsmithing around.
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