The Old Man On The Mountain

A View From the Backwoods of NH

How Dumb Have We Become?

As I see and read blurbs about the political debates, particularly the subjects of those debates, I stop and ask myself “Has America really become this dumb?” I can’t say stupid, because to me, stupid is knowing better, but doing it anyway, whereas dumb is just the ignorance of not knowing better. You know, like “After watching the first debate, I was stupid enough to watch the next ones as well”, compared to “Is it dumb of me to ask why these people are arguing all the time?” And it made me think of an analogy – “As Seen on TV” ads – what they promise vs what they deliver.

I usually have the TV running during the day as I do my chores or when I’m writing. I don’t need this “background” noise during the summer, as I have the windows open and nature’s sound piping in. But in the winter, the TV provides a little something to cover the sound of the dog snoring. I have it on the news channel, you know, where anyone can advertise. And occasionally I’ll catch a snippet of an ad that makes me wonder “Who would buy this schlock?”, although I already know the answer.

My Ex was always a huge supporter of “as seen on TV”. She spent a reasonable amount of time watching TV, but only three specific categories – Cold Case/CSI (I’m sure she was planning to kill me if she could get away wit it), The Jewelry Channel (where she was going to spend the insurance money) and “infomercials”. And every time she’d see something advertised that would make her life easier (i.e. everything), she’d send away for it or run right down and buy it. Of course, once she unpacked it and used it (and learned that it wasn’t as good/easy as advertised), she’d put it in the closet/basement/any available open space (like the hoarder that she was) until a useful need arose, then she’d present it to the needy person as the “perfect” solution to their problem.

Children, my Ex, and others like them are always drawn in by fancy wording and visuals. Children especially have long been a target of advertising. In my day it was “PF Flyers – they make you run faster” “Trix is for kids – have what the silly rabbit can’t”, and toys in every package. Food that looks too good to be true (it is) and products that work with ease (they don’t). But like PT Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

I remember pestering everyone one Christmas for a game called “Green Ghost”. You marched your piece around a “spooky” board when, suddenly, your piece would “disappear” and then “reappear” somewhere else on the board. This was the coolest, and I just had to have it. And guess what, my sister got it for me. I tore open the box and read the directions, ready for magic. What I got was “if your piece lands on a hole, place your hand under the hole, drop the piece in and raise it up through the next hole on the trail” To say I was disappointed is a major understatement.

The illusionists Penn and Teller ran a series on HBO – “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!”, that exposed a number of ways that advertisers use to trick people into buying and doing things. This was very helpful for me, as I was able to have a “qualified” third party (since I’m “dumb old dad”) show my kids how to identify these “hucksters”. And the kids have done well, as for the Ex, well, you can’t win every time.

Billy Mays is gone now, but there are still plenty of folks ready and willing to take his place. And the ads – well, let’s just say that they haven’t had to work all that hard to make them smarter. Like “Amish Cleaning Fluid – it makes water wetter”. Really? It defies the laws of physics? And here I thought there were only two states – wet or dry – but now there’s three, dry, wet and wetter. And America thinks “yeah, that’s what we need – wetter”, and sales go up.

Sadly, politicians and other “influential” individuals are catching on, and implementing the “big fluff, no stuff” method to achieve their goals. And in the debates they don’t discuss what I believe are the major issues facing America. They “debate” whatever they believe will buy them votes, no matter how “stupid” the topics are. And America thinks “yeah, that’s what we need”, and sales go up.