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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Embracing Idiocy
Okay, maybe you're really, really smart the rest of the time, but if you make a habit of watching American Idol, then for at least one hour per week you're gleefully pursuing a self-inflicted lobotomy. If you discuss it at work the next day, then that's another hour or so with the ice pick jammed up your nostril. Add to that any time you spend anticipating some particular victim's demise at Simon's manicured hands. Heck, while you're at it you might as well permanently halve your IQ each time you speak Clay Aiken's name aloud.

To be honest, the same goes for any "reality" show, but Idol is clearly the worst offender. It is both cause and symptom of the terrible mental plague afflicting America. Try this experiment: on Monday, ask five of your coworkers to name four current Idol contestants. Then ask them to name four contestants from previous seasons.

Then ask them to name both of your state's current Senators and at least two Representatives.

My office is full of people who are demonstrably quite intelligent, and all of them college graduates. Our line of work, though hardly brain surgery, demands precise handling of very fluid financial data, with little or no margin for error. My coworkers are highly skilled at creating innovative solutions to elaborate and unforeseeable problems. Additionally, at least several of them have encyclopedic knowledge of baseball stats dating back decades or more, so it's apparent that they can handle detailed minutiae.

But ask them the name of the current House Speaker or which state just outlawed abortion, and you'll be met with a look so blank that you'll think you're addressing the President. Worse, you'll be regarded as somewhat freakish because you express any interest in politics beyond what can be gleaned from AM Talk Radio.

I marvel at the lengths to which people will go to sedate themselves without even resorting to pharmacology. My dazzling prose notwithstanding, I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but even I manage to be minimally informed without Herculean effort.

If your coworkers are still around at this point, ask them to name the last book they read. Don't get me wrong--I'm glad that J.K. Rowling has achieved success, and it's great that she's inspired millions of adults to read, but I'd love to have a literary discussion that doesn't begin with the disclaimer "It's really not a children's book."

Professional journalism has been replaced by professional opinion, the bought-and-paid-for nature of which is so redundantly obvious that you should skip to the end of this sentence right now. But the inevitable result is that many people have entirely forgotten how to form their own opinions. Instead, they regurgitate what they think are facts and which they've absorbed unquestioningly from very questionable sources. If they do offer an opinion, it will generally involve who should have been voted off the island, or who should hook up with whom on next week's Grey's Anatomy.

Shattered foreign policy, bottomless deficits, and wholesale environmental devastation notwithstanding, Dubya's most enduring legacy may be his tireless and, to date, nearly successful campaign to stamp out intelligence and education. His hatred of coherent discourse has been obvious for the entirety of his term, and his concerted decimation of government-funded science makes it equally clear that facts are subordinate to personal preference and political expediency. With our President to guide them into a blissfully flatlined EEG, who can blame the viewers who live for this week's serving of televised anesthetic?

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