Wednesday, August 16, 2006


The pollmeisters at Zogby came out with their annual Look At How Incredibly Stupid The Average American Has Become survey, a little exercise that polling companies indulge in each year because they know it will get them more ink than those studies clearly linking rising oil company profits with increased leukemia among orphans.

And while I am second to none in my belief that The Average American continues to resolutely be as thoroughly ignorant as possible of anything that said American does not find either amusing, sexually arousing, or profitable, these surveys make me want to push a pie into the face of Zogby or Gallup or Stripper (a pun on the poll/pole homonym, eh?) or whoever is doing the questioning.

For one thing, they say that 75 percent of Americans can name at least two of Snow White's seven dwarves, while only 25 percent can name two Supreme Court justices.

So? These figures make perfect sense to me. For one thing, the names of the dwarves are inserted into our heads during our earliest years, and thus become part of our formative, and thus strongest and most ineradicable, memories. For another, the dwarves' names never change! It's always the same seven guys! By contrast, the makeup of the Court is forever changing. Just about the time you think you could recite the entire nine, somebody dies or retires and you've got to come up with a whole new mnemonic. A lot of us just say the hell with it, we can always Google the lineup if we need it.

And finally, the dwarves have simple, everyday words for names: Happy, Sleepy, Dopey, Grumpy, Sneezy, Doc, and Bashful. (And no, I didn't have to Google "seven dwarves" for that. Although, to be honest, I'm only partly certain about Sneezy.)

If the dwarf lineup was obliged to follow the rules of reality and mortality as the Court does, all seven of those little suckers would have been long ago dead. There would be an entire new lineup--perhaps the third or fourth such turnover--with new names that, probably, only 25 percent of us would be on top of.

(I like to think the current dwarf assemblage would have names with some contemporary resonance. Something on the order of: Fatty, Horny, Creepy, Junkie, Bipolar, Undocumented, Fearful.)

The poll also reveals that only 37 percent of us can name the planet closest to the sun--Mercury--while 60 percent can name Superman's home planet--Krypton. Again, this stands to reason. We learn of Krypton from a barrage of media--comic books, TV series and major films--not to mention the Table of Elements. Mercury, by contrast, has only planetariums and the Discovery Channel going for it.

And finally, a mere 42 percent of us can name the three branches of government, versus the 74 percent of us who can name the Three Stooges.

Well hell, we get more satisfaction from the latter than the former, so why not? Actually, the Stooges might work as a memory aid in teaching civics. The three branches could be envisioned as Moe--the bossy, pushy, violent, and arrogant but essentially imbecilic executive--Curly--the asinine, clueless, and pathetically goofy legislative--and Larry--like the judicial, the least amusing and seemingly most pointless of the trio.

The only purpose Zogby's latest serves is to remind us that the more we immerse ourselves in trivia and the less attention we pay to politics, the less likely we are to go nuts.


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