Thursday, December 20

Branding America: The Year Of Living Stupid?

It has been four long months since Miss South Carolina, Lauren Caitlin Upton, stumbled on the Miss Teen USA question that stated “one-fifth of Americans cannot find the United States on a map.“ Old news? Maybe.

"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because some people out there in our nation don't have maps and I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere like such as and I believe that they should our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S. or should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for us."

While the fervor it created in the United States has mostly died down, it hasn’t slowed elsewhere in the world. On the contrary, old and new media continues to amass “evidence” that Americans aren’t so bright and the international community enjoys a good laugh about it.

So does Fred Shapiro, editor of the Yale Book of Quotations, which placed Upton’s answer as the second most memorable quote of 2007. Her confused answer was bested only by “Don’t tase me, bro,” which was uttered by a Florida college student about to be removed from a Senator John Kerry appearance.

One frequently cited post from Aby The Liberal, a non-profit socio-political information Website, compiled scores of data to ask the question “Are Americans stupid?”

In June, it cited data from the book IQ and Global Equity that claims the USA scores the lowest national average IQ among developed countries. It then goes on to point out that we’re also low in science and math, and includes an old New York Times interview with Jon D. Miller, which includes “Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century.”

In reviewing some of the methodology used in various surveys and polls, they seem questionable, which makes me wonder if the challenge is purely educational or mostly perceptual. But even so, it might point to a change in how we present ourselves.

It used to be that Americans tuned in to see intelligent people compete on Jeopardy. Now Americans are more likely to tune in “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader” to watch people look not so intelligent.

Singer Kelli Pickler’s appearance on the show, which makes Upton’s answer seem brilliant, has been watched more than 2.8 million times, several million more if you count all the variations.

"I thought Europe was a country. Budapest? I've never heard of that. Like, I know they speak French there, don't they? I wanna say, is France a country?"

Beating out Pickler on YouTube, almost 10 million watched this gem, which seems to underscore why some people say 2007 will best be remembered as the year of being stupid in the States.

Do our entertainment choices — canceling smart shows like Journeyman and producing guessing games like Deal Or No Deal? give us a hint or is entertainment just more fun with no thought whatsoever?

Is it real? Or perception? And even if it is perception, are there long-term consequences to fueling such social cues at a time when globalization is imminent?



Sweet Tea on 12/20/07, 12:01 PM said...

Thanks Rich. While I wouldn't call anyone stupid I will say there are people who seem to be unaware of a lot of information.

Maybe it goes back to what I have always believed;reading changes everything. I've met some uneducated people who are smart because they read. I never met anybody who reads that wasn't smart about some things.

Anonymous said...

Rich, whom are you quoting in the second paragraph? I struggled four times but could not parse that convoluted sentence.

And of course I have my standard all-purpose answer for any time the issue of stupidity or ignorance arises:

"Get thee to a library!"


Rich on 12/20/07, 12:21 PM said...

Hey Jane,

I agree with you. I'm not big on the idea of calling people stupid. The word comes from others, not me.

Education, even reading, does change everything. So it could be that some researchers are looking to prove the idea and finding facts that back it up.

But what seems interesting to me is whether or not it is real, I've noticed the idea is starting to stick. I am not sure that is a good thing. Perception sometimes has a way of becoming reality for most people.


Rich on 12/20/07, 12:24 PM said...

Hey Alan,

The second paragraph quote is the Lauren Caitlin Upton quote. Don't worry, I could not either. :)

Libraries are wonderful places Alan!


Anonymous said...

nightbird says

I like uninformed better too. Or more likely uninterested. The simply uninformed have lots of opportunities to learn. Don't like to read? Try the History channel or Discovery. Watch actual witnesses to history talk about what they saw and experienced. But if you don't care than you'll not bother to look.

In addition to stressing that our kids know how to read and do math, we need to foster a curiosity of the world beyond what's on the ipod.

Unknown on 12/20/07, 8:52 PM said...

I'm not gonna get terribly worked up over semantics. The general concept being whatever people I guess want to call it. To me it's always been about priorities and presentation. There's not a 6th grader probably in this country that doesn't know an awful lot about technology, videos and the like, but a tiny percentage can tell you who how, or why said technology works. They can store 15 billion songs on their ipod's but don't know why. As we advance technologically we seem to regress socially, politically and educationally. Why?

Rich on 12/21/07, 7:51 AM said...

@nightbird Good point. I once wrote that it was all about instilling the love for learning. Richard Feyman many good points about education ... teaching kids to figure things out and apply knowledge from one place to another was better than simply knowing the facts.

@blogtommy Sometimes I'm not sure we are regressing, but we sure like to find ways to prove that we are, and overtime, maybe we make it real. One thing is certain though, we do need an stronger forward thinking educational policy in the United States.

Michael J. Kannengieser on 12/21/07, 10:14 AM said...

Hi Rich,
I am not going to go so far as to label all Americans as stupid; but, in my former career as a police officer, I met the "stupid" in bunches. Some officers used to play a game with the more obnoxious and belligerent of the suspects in custody. An officer would hold a clipboard pretending to have real questions on it. The object of the game was to answer three questions correctly and get out of jail free. Our favorite question "Who is the President of the United States" was almost never answered properly. Ed Koch, Mario Cuomo, and Rudy Giuliani were all favorites of the average criminal for president. "What country do you live in?" was a popular question with most of our contestants answering that they reside in the lovely country of New York. Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx were all favorite runners up. For the rare person who answered three questions appropriately, they won the booby prize of learning that only a stupid person would believe that they could be released from police custody by merely taking a pop quiz. Please know that some of the folks we lock up are truly bad folks, even though they are innocent until proven guilty. When someone is cursing, spitting, and fighting with you for their entire time in custody, a little game of Jeopardy! with him/her can't hurt to save one's sanity. Have a very, Merry Christmas! -Mike.

Rich on 12/21/07, 12:32 PM said...

Great story Mike! Happy holidays to you too!



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