Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Nation of Dummies

If you go to the movies as frequently as I do, you’ve probably seen the ad they run before the movie (and, before the 12 minutes of “coming attractions” trailers) hawking Jay Leno’s new prime-time weeknight show which starts in mid-September.

And, if you were a fan of the “old” Jay Leno Tonight Show, you’ve no doubt seen the vignettes he did with people on the street, called “Jaywalking”, which usually manage to make you feel better about your level of general knowledge about the world, and, in my case, worried about the number of dummies walking around out there.

This new ad that runs in theatres has a quick montage of a handful of these “Jaywalking” bits, and a couple of them are real stunners. In one, Leno asks a young lady “who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?”. She gives him the thousand-yard stare, and then says “no clue”. Leno says “who lives in a pineapple under the sea” and her face lights up and she squeals “Sponge Bob Square Pants!!!”. (No bonus point for knowing that Patrick Star lives under a rock.)

In another quick clip, Leno, with a different young lady, points to a U-S flag flying over a nearby building, and says “how many stars are on that flag?”. After a moment or two of squinting at it, the woman says “I don’t know…I can’t count them, the wind is moving it too much” - or words to that effect.

Then, there’s a clip of a fake quiz show, similar to “Jeopardy”, that Leno has set up with three studio contestants. Playing the role of Alex Trebek, Leno says “Who fought in the civil war?”. One of the contestants quickly buzzes in, and says “ahhh….Germany….and, I think, Japan”. World War, Civil War, what’s the dif? They’re both wars.

I’m so old that Alaska and Hawaii became states when I was in about the fourth grade, so I suppose it’s easy for an old fogy like me to remember that there used to be 48 states, and since 1959 there are 50. And I learned that there’s one star for each state on our flag, a lesson that somehow apparently was never taught…or escaped…the young lady Leno quizzed.

Wonder what would happen if he asked who Betsy Ross is.

I suppose you could argue that it’s not fair to blame the general lack of knowledge about our republic, its foundation, and its operation on elementary education curriculum planners. I probably learned more from my mom reading to me as a small child and making sure I understood my “civics” homework, than from the dedicated teachers who were constantly dealing with the discipline problems I caused!

If you’re reading this, I’m confident you know how many stars are on the U-S flag (and even what the stars stand for) and probably how many horizontal stripes are on the flag. And you know who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and you know who fought in the Civil War - or, as they called it when I lived in New Orleans, the “War of Northern Aggression”.

We used to call these things “common knowledge”, but now, it’s apparently uncommon knowledge for our children’s generation.

1 comment:

  1. I was stunned as well. I wonder how many sigmas these folks are away from the mean. I would like to think many, but somehow I don't think so.