I came up with the title for this column the other morning while standing in line at the DMV. To be completely honest with you, when the phrase first popped into my head, I had no idea what it meant. But by the time I got up to the window (you know how DMVs are — love to make you wait), I realized that it wasn’t just the sound of the words that’d tickled my brain (some writers do that; they just like the sound of what they say), but that the title really did have some meaning.
Actually, it’s a pretty cruel title, because what triggered it off in my head were the faces of the people standing in line with me. I love watching people, and I learn a lot about people just by looking at them. In fact, people don’t even have to open their mouths for you to know all kinds of stuff about them. And looking at my line-mates, the prime “vibe” if you will, that I got off of them was stupidity.
Now, I’m sure you’re going to think I’m some kind of terrible snob (I am, by the way) but let me explain further before you reject my case out of hand.
As you know, I’ve spent the last six months in France. There, I got a chance to observe people who were raised in another culture — a culture which is, in fact, different from our own in many more ways than I realized when I first arrived.
Now to be sure, there are plenty of stupid people in France, but it’s just not the same. I’m not trying to be cute, but there aren’t as many stupid people there (I didn’t take a survey, but I can say this with a good degree of confidence), and, second, the quality of the stupidity is somehow different.
Ah, yes — now we get down to the subtle stuff. So we first need to differentiate between stupidity that arises out of a lack of knowledge, and stupidity that has more to do with the heart than the head.
With that distinction in mind, I can make the statement that in general, the average Frenchman is much better educated than the average American.
By the time he has gotten out of lycee (junior high) the French student has read all the classics and has had to master three languages (including Latin). Moreover, you’re living in a culture where art, classical music and dance are all appreciated by the common man. This didn’t just happen by accident. It happened because the French school system has given the youth of their country a wonderful education.
Thus, your average French teen-ager — while he may play the same stupid video games and listen to (some of) the same stupid music as your average American teen-ager — can also discuss Moliere, Shakespeare and Beethoven with you without batting an eyelash.
This is a huge difference.
OK, so far? Now, let’s go back to the folks standing in line in the DMV with me. How do I begin to describe them?
The faces in that line were, in a sense, mutants. They were faces of people who had been dulled, deadened. Not from hard work, but from something else. …
How do people get dulled and deadened? Simple. They are constantly bombarded by things that have no value. By stupid TV, stupid movies, stupid music. By being drugged. I don’t care if we’re talking about drugs that you ingest or drugs like MTV or idiotic TV shows like “Buffy” and “Friends.” Trust me: A steady diet of this stuff will ultimately take its toll on you.
I don’t believe that people are born stupid. Rather I think they’re born with a natural curiosity, a desire to seek out information, process it, and learn — whether that education is on the street or in the classroom.
But in America, no matter whether your education is in the street or in the classroom, what we’ve been fed (for at least the past 20 years) is primarily garbage. And if you feed people garbage you’re going to get garbage people. Pure and simple.
That’s who the people were in the DMV line. They were the Garbage People.
“But, how dare you say this? How can you denigrate a group of people who you’ve done nothing more than look at?” you ask.
Because I’m not one of them, that’s how. And if that sounds egotistical, sorry — that’s just the way it is.
As I type this column, I realize that standing in that line was the first chance I’ve had since I’ve been back here to simply stand in one place and to allow my impressions of this country — after six months of absence — to process themselves.
A brief aside. To be honest with you guys, since I’ve come back, I’ve watched a lot of TV. Why?
I just wanted to sit on the couch, veg out, and watch the tube, that’s why. But you know what? After a couple of days, I couldn’t stand to do it anymore. I can’t explain — other than to say that I have never witnessed such an incredible array of crap in my life. One idiotic show after another. I kept flipping the channels in vain, hoping for a rerun of “All in the Family” or something remotely resembling a real comedy or drama.
No such luck.
Same thing when I turned on the radio. Absolutely not one listenable station.
I keep trying to pinpoint what it is that’s changed, and to be truthful, I can’t do it. But I can tell you that something has.
It’s like a disease … a creeping sickness, but, I swear, the stupidity factor is spreading. And when you stop and realize that stupidity is simply a symptom of something else (the thing that causes the stupidity) things start to get a little scary.
I’ve missed America, I really have. I’ve missed the good parts and the junky parts — but I know one thing for sure: The America that I loved is fast disappearing. It’s being replaced by something else, something that is deadening the brains of the people that live here. It has to do at once with both technology (that is, the abundance of it, the speed of it) and the multitude of escapes offered to us. These two factors are a deadly combination
I’m not saying you should all do what I’ve done — up and move to Europe (I’m only back here for a short time), because the fact is, the creeping sickness has hit there too — only it’s moving more slowly.
I’m just saying that now’s the time to be aware of it, and to do whatever you can to avoid it in your own lives.
“How do I do that?” you ask.
I guess you could start by shutting off the TV, at least for a couple of hours tonight — the radio too, while you’re at it. Pick up a book. Or better, yet, just sit there and be quiet.
But be careful. I promise you, you’re going to see some things that you won’t like.
Uh, uh … without the ringmaster feeding you the hype … with the laugh track turned off, the picture ain’t quite so pretty anymore.
And on that rather pessimistic note, I’ll say adieu till next week.
Oh yeah, if this subject interests you, I would like to recommend a very astute (and funny) book called “Dumbth,” by Steve Allen.