Monday, March 1, 2010

Week of 03/01/2010

When Stupidity IS a Choice
– by David Matthews 2

Is it possible to be stupid by choice? I think so.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who lack intelligence, either through biology or accident or through ignorance. I don’t want to knock those who would fit the definition of “stupid” that have no choice.

But I also think there are plenty of people that have the intellectual capacity that should know better but still somehow don’t.

For instance, how many of you multitask while driving? How many of you talk on your cellphone, text away on your blackberry, drink coffee, eat quick meals, put on makeup, even read the newspaper or fill out paperwork while driving at high speeds? You know you’re really not “supposed” to do it, but you do it anyway. You justify that you need to make every minute count; that you can mentally “handle” doing these things while driving, and that traffic usually behaves itself. Yes it “usually” does. But what happens when it doesn’t? Yeah, you know what happens when it doesn’t. You don’t have the reaction time you need because your brain is otherwise distracted.

And while you may not publicly admit it, when that moment happens you will tell yourself that you WERE stupid.

We see stupidity on a regular basis, especially in the media.

Stupidity is used to deliver a laugh track on TV shows. How many TV shows feature father figures who can’t change a lightbulb without setting the house on fire? Or secretaries who are entrusted with vital company secrets and yet can’t tell you who they just talked to five minutes ago about those secrets? Or the kid in the classroom who majors in zoning out?

Stupidity is used to sell products. How many otherwise-intellectual women will turn into sex-craved monsters over a man’s use of a deodorant? Or a brand of body soap? How many people will actually think that there’s no difference between store-bought pizza made in the oven and pizza delivered from a franchise service?

Hollywood LOVES stupid people! They make stupid people into “Reality” TV stars, especially on cable! How many people laughed when they heard the whole “Chicken of the Sea” bit between prefabricated pop star Jessica Simpson and her then-husband Nick Lachey? Or watch Hugh Hefner’s then-girlfriends bumble around as they narrate their experiences? Sure we’ll slap our heads in frustration over it, but then we’ll come back for more to see what they will do to top that.

One well-known celebrity whose initial claim to fame WAS just for being “seen” reportedly said that her appearance of stupidity was a carefully-orchestrated marketing ploy. If that’s true, then it’s one of the best acting performances outside of stage or screen.

The same probably cannot be said, though, of the young woman who appeared on a certain late-night infomercial for a “not-for-kiddies” media group who said that it was her GRAND goal in life to appear in that media group’s videos. Granted, she was probably somewhat intoxicated, but you have to wonder what’s she doing with her life now that she’s supposedly “fulfilled” that goal and is relived on late-night cable TV on a continual basis.

And of course stupidity thrives on the Internet.

Social networking groups encourage a whole slew of little petty games from “poking” to sending virtual gifts to little virtual experiences featuring farms or mobsters. They want you to join all sorts of groups and pages on the lamest of subjects, including one that actually CONDEMNS the more annoying groups and pages.

Of course there’s Twitter… where you’re encouraged to post your moment-to-moment occurrences in little snippets, or else follow those whose lives are reduced to moment-to-moment occurrences. This is especially true when it comes to celebrities, models, and MOST especially to wanna-be celebrities and wanna-be models.

And then there are the “memes”. How many times must people re-make a certain scene from the movie “Downfall” into a bad parody? Or the surprised-looking gopher? Or the piano-playing cat? Or super-imposing Gerard Butler’s bearded face from “300” onto certain scenes? Or recreating the zombie dance scene from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”? Or pulling cheap stunts and pranks at the expense of other people? When will it all end?

We know the answer to that question, don’t we? They’ll stop when WE stop forwarding them on to our friends and family members and co-workers.

Of course politics and talk radio thrive on stupidity. Special interest groups will send out talking point memos that politicians will then parrot without fear of being called out on it. Talk show personalities value their followers, and then at the same time castigate their opponents as being “intellectual elitists”.

Some people speculate that the prolificacy of media sources, from newspapers to cable TV to the Internet to email, are making people stupid. That the number of choices and options out there are so overwhelming, and the level of instant information is so pervasive that it is literally dumbing us down.

But I disagree with that idea. I don’t think that THESE THINGS are making people stupid. I think that we’re doing this all by ourselves.

Let’s get brutally honest here… WE CHOOSE to be stupid!

We take pride in our ignorance, especially when it comes to technology. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people quickly proclaim that they’re “techno-challenged” or “technically illiterate” when they ask for help.

And they’re seemingly PROUD of it! That’s probably the most infuriating part of hearing that personal disclaimer. Not only that, but they EXPECT things to be simple and easy for them, and they get really annoyed when it isn’t.

YES, there are plenty of bits of data out there for you to digest. News and sports and weather and politics and entertainment for you to break down and parse through.

But not all of it is true! There are plenty of falsehoods being spread about as well, and most of them are spread online via emails from your friends and co-workers and relatives. How many of you would bother to check them out? Not many. Worse yet, how many of you would correct you friends or co-workers or relatives on the stuff that they send? Even fewer. The rest will either trash the annoying messages or else mindlessly forward them on.

To those of us with the intellectual capacity to be otherwise, WE CHOOSE to be stupid. We choose to do so because it’s easier to carry on with others. We blend right in with others. It also saves time. We don’t have to do any of the hard work when we choose to dumb ourselves down. Why should WE have to learn how a process works when we can pester other people about it?

And in doing so, we become our own worst enemies.

We decry the status quo in politics. We don’t like either the Democrats or the GOP; and yet when third party options come up, we complain about “stealing votes” and not wanting to “waste votes”, which is exactly what the politicians WANT you to do. In other words, we CHOOSE to be stupid when it comes to politics, we CHOOSE to buy into the rhetoric by those who want to maintain the status quo by any means possible, and we CHOOSE to support the very status quo that we CLAIM to despise. Now THAT’S stupidity at its finest!

We KNOW it is wrong to drink-and-drive, and yet we CHOOSE to put ourselves in positions where we HAVE to drive after having a few drinks. We CHOOSE to get drunk because it gives us an easy-out on doing the right things in life. We CHOOSE to impair ourselves because it’s easier to do that than to deal with the complicated things in life.

The old saying is that “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise”. Well, stupidity may make for good entertainment, but it also contributes to the problems we face in life. The next time you hear about education and the dumbing down of our younger generation, ask yourselves how YOU managed to get by in life and where that got you today. You’ll either be embarrassed or shocked by your own answer.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

I've noticed another reason stupidity is appealing is that it makes people feel better about themselves. "My life my suck, but at least I'm not that idiot."

And smart characters are usually not portrayed in the best light in society. Granted there are some intellectual things and people that are nothing more than pretentious. (Brooke McEldowney and his comic, 9 Chickweed Lane is a great example.)

As for wasted votes, I find it more of a fear tactic.