Stupidity Sucks as Practice and Documentary

Stupidity: The Documentary (2003)
Directed by Albert Nurenberg

Canada, 61 minutes

I didn’t mean to do it. Maybe it was seeing a TV clip of Tea Party Neanderthals fawning over Sarah Palin. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was because I was standing inside the only bookstore in Hershey, PA and it was really lame. But I know what set me off. I heard the bookstore owners complaining that no one buys books any more. I offered condolences and they set me off by asking, “What’s going on in this country? Why doesn’t anyone read any more?”

Before I even thought I blurted out, “It’s because we worship a god called Stupidity. We’ve created a society in which we punish intelligence and reward fools, boors, and morons.” That got their attention and that of a few more folks as well. One guy asked me to say more. I explained that, as a college professor, it was disheartening to see how little education, reason, expertise, and facts matter in modern America. The name of the game is either to tell people what they want to hear, or force them to wallow in mediocre muck until they no longer care what’s true and what’s not. Either way, you turn sentient beings into sheep. Another guy, arms loaded with $1 Garfield books no less, asked what we should do. “Make it unacceptable to be stupid,” I remarked. “Stop passing, hiring, and voting for stupid people. Punish stupidity instead of rewarding it.”

I caught my breath, realized it was past time to shut up, and apologized for soapboxing. A kind woman said, “You’re worked up, honey, but you’re not wrong.” Musing on the matter stayed with me and when I saw a video at my local library purporting to be a documentary on stupidity, I had to watch it. Finally, I hoped, somebody will have an explanation for the mess we’re in. Boy, am I glad I hadn’t seen this piece of junk before I hit that bookshop!

I should have known better. I had never even heard of this film and that’s seldom a good sign. The film is Canadian and is narrated by Fred Napoli, presumably because he sounds like Donald Sutherland, who is way too smart for tripe like this. I suppose there’s cold comfort in watching footage that shows that Canadians can be just as dumb as Americans but, after a promising premise, the film is simply a waste. It opens with one of its few enlightening points: we simply don’t know much about stupidity. We have as much trouble defining it as we have stopping it. The other thing we learn is correct terminology. Technically speaking we shouldn’t call people “idiots” unless their IQ is under 25, an “imbecile” unless it’s 25-50, or a “moron” unless it’s 50-75. Most stupid people are “dull normal”(76-90) or “normal” (91-110) folks willfully turning off what few rational centers they possess.

So what produces a culture that valorizes Adam Sandler, Jackass, George W. Bush, Paris Hilton, Steve-O, and Coolio? Nerenberg had heavyweights lined up to offer insight—John Cleese, Noam Chomsky, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, and a host of academics whose names you don’t know—but he wasted it all with amateurish and cheap filmmaking. The film’s longest cut is of college kids overturning cars outside a concert hall and justifying their boorish behavior. The rest? Ten-second sound bites of no consequence, or random acts of irrationalty. Even more distressing is that the film ends with a guy who sounds like he actually has something to say until you realize that he’s actually celebrating stupidity in a how-to-be-dumb guide the likes of which show up on the remainder tables of bookstores like the one in Hershey—just before they go out of business.

Okay—now I am on a crusade. I’m sick of stupidity and I pledge to denounce it whenever and wherever I encounter it. Let’s start with this film: it’s inept and STUPID!


digital_sextant said...

Good post, despite the crummy documentary.

You might want to check out Mark Bauerlein's book THE DUMBEST GENERATION, which argues about the effect our technophilia has on our young people. The book comes off a bit "cranky old man," but makes some good points along the way.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Lars, you've embodied the title of your blog even more fully than ever before!