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The comics, balloon boy and as ignorant as we want to be.

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The comics, balloon boy and as ignorant as we want to be.

This last one was the week of Balloon Boy. Before that we had birthers and Nazified socialists and death panelers who not-so-secretly wanted to pull the plug on grandma. And I want to know, have Americans always been this completely stupid? Not just ignorant, because that's not always even a negative attribute. Like, how many actually need to know the metabolic rate of the tsetse fly, unless, of course, one is a college prof teaching a course where knowing that sort of arcane stuff is a prerequisite? No, not simply ignorant, stupid; as in stupid as he (or she) wants to be, with "wanting to be" the operative phrase?

The answer is, not always.

For years I wondered why folks in, say, Des Moines or Del Ray, would give the first damn about raging California forest fires, or some murdered wife whose body was found in Berkeley's East Bay mud flats. Really, why? I could grasp the interest in the government's callous and wholly incompetent response to a New Orleans' hurricane. It was proof manifest beyond anyone's capacity to spin or not report that the administration that was responsible for an entire nation's safety just didn't care about certain large population segments, and that, even if it had cared just a little, from the top down, as a result of its own crony-driven hiring policies, it was bereft of a first idea what to do. But as to a forest fire that threatened a dozen or so homes, or a murder, both of which were squarely under local and state jurisdictions . . . why would those not proximate to the locale scene care?

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. The entire area, and much of the state, was served by three newspapers; two afternoon dailies, the Times and the News, and one morning paper, the Free Press. Until I reached junior and high school age, when my focus turned to sports, the first -- and as to disclosure: the only -- section I cared about and read was the comics. Almost entirely pictures, the only written components were contained in the speech bubbles of the frame's subjects. Today American adults get news of what's transpiring in the world in pretty much the same fashion, with about the same depth. The only substantive difference is the medium: now it's television, as contrasted with paper. The depth of coverage, however, is unchanged.

Oh, I beg everyone's pardon. Something else has changed . . . a lot, and for the worse. Back in the day, just about every family subscribed to at least one of the dailies. Most, like my parents, subscribed to two; the morning Free Press and either the News or the Times. And yet there was also a large part of the population that took all three. Our neighborhood, like our community and those surrounding it, consisted of both white and blue collar factory and assembly-line and steel mill workers, not a one of whom (not even the white collars) had the first college course to his or her credit, which would have referred to "his" because women weren't widely welcome outside the kitchen or the bedroom. In fact, many didn't have a full 4-year high school education.

But whether white or blue collar, all had a pretty solid idea what was going on locally and through the world. And they were NOT "stupid." You see, they actually read the paper(s) and glossed over the comics. They gave a damn about the important stuff. Their opinions weren't empty knee-jerk Pavlovian responses that depended on either nascent and elected, preferred ignorance, and which side of the isle they'd been brain-washed to adhere unequivocally to. Those are a few other things that have also changed . . . for the worse!


In the past I've had rare occasion to converse with a couple TV news editors. The very first questions asked by them, of their staff, when apprised of a "developing story," are "Can we get a crew over there to get pictures?" Or, "Do we have footage?" Never, ever is a question pertaining to a staff person's subject matter expertise and that individual's ability to relate it in a manner the viewing public can understand asked, except, as a very last resort, when the story is -- or becomes -- too big, via sources other than the televised media, to ignore. And even at that, diving beneath the obvious surface for possible cruxes and the context of the issue, is fought like The Battle of Britain.

Better . . . No! One hundred and some huge exponent percent best to call in opposing sides, if there are any, which there almost always are, and have them each tell their superficial sides. Thus, while now being able to pretend to some specious claim of objectivity, impartiality, of balance and fairness, the news source avoids expensive personnel hiring decisions. No longer needed are folks who will have skills and -- God forbid! -- knowledge that extend much beyond a high school reading level. Just quaff well, look pretty if you're a woman, handsome if you're male, smile and -- on cue -- giggle at really insipid stuff amidst the cast of stars in the studio, be able to look into the right camera, and be able to read what's on the teleprompter.

America gets its daily dose of dumb, which is what Americans really want: the comics; lots of pictures, little to read or try to understand. The stations save a ton of dough, which is what they're truly all about. And no one is the wiser, or sadder, or poorer. You want the truth? (The truth you can't handle.) Balloon boy! And, oh yeah: California forest fires and Scott and Lacey Peterson, that and, uh . . . birthers and Nazis and socialism and death panels and the total government take-over of the health care scheme. "We've got both sides of this developing story, in our studios, live at six. Be sure to tune in."

An anecdote. While spending time in California's gold country this past summer I met a couple whom previously I knew nothing about. Both were well informed concerning the contestants on "Dancing with the Stars," which is what they wanted to talk about. They were aghast that I neither knew who the contestants were, or cared. But because I want to know the level of intelligence and political orientations of those I acquaint, I began by saying, "Ya know, a person had to be really stupid to vote for John McCain." When the fellow, who had been retired for a number of years by the way, responded that the last thing he wants to do when he gets home is to spend the evening researching political stuff, I thought that perhaps he wasn't listening, paying attention, so I repeated myself, but for emphasis inserted "really, REALLY STUPID!" The old guy then got up and left, which helped cleanse the atmosphere. You see, all that would have been necessary, in order to not be ignorant, would have been to visit YouTube dot com, then insert "John McCain + lies" in the search box. Videos! At least 15, all of which featured the Arizona senator telling whoppers. (Sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5bTBhFs9r8)

Same thing went for the Bush ruse that Saddam Hussein was hosting Osama bin Laden, giving the schemer behind 9-11 free rein to use huge swatches of Iraq soil to set up training camps for al Qaida terrorists. The very first time I heard that was when I was living in Palmetto, Florida. I was sitting on my couch. And when I heard the ridiculous proposition, I leapt from my seat and screamed, startling the lady with whom I was living. "Name just once in all human history, when a bloodthirsty tyrant, which Hussein certainly is, made of another bloodthirsty tyrant, which bin laden certain is, his most welcome house guest. Never happened! Never will, because if there's a psychological trait all share it's paranoia; they're absolutely terrified of anyone who might be like they are."

But no, the US went to war on what ten minutes spent searching the Internet for history would have demonstrated was a preposterous lie. And a hundred thousand have perished, a couple million have been forced into exile, and our own treasury will have been raided for $3 TRILLION. Tell me that ain't stupid.

One more. Before leaving Palm Springs, to head north, I was in the community pool area when a woman stomped in all a twitter. "He's bankrupting us!"

"Who is?"

"Obama!"

"How's he doing that?"

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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Karl Marx said this. And he was right. First it co... by Mark Sashine on Saturday, Oct 31, 2009 at 11:24:14 AM
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