Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dumb and dumber.

Does not knowing or remembering in which month Columbus Day (October) falls mark you as dumber than a 5th grader? Or, the first US President to be impeached (Andrew Jackson), for that matter? Or, the name of the ship on which the Pilgrims sailed from Southhampton in England to Plymouth, Massachusetts in the US (Mayflower), if it comes to that? http://tinyurl.com/64aqkg. Certainly not, in my humble opinion. All it means most likely is you're not up to scratch on trivia. In BAD or The Dumbing of America (Simon & Schuster-Touchstone, New York, 1991), Paul Fussell writes about a different and special strain of dumb: anything "phony, clumsy, witless. untalented, vacant, or boring that many Americans can be persuaded is genuine, graceful, bright, or fascinating" (p.13). He cites Lawrence Welk and George Bush as examples of BAD at the low and high end respectively. Advertising hype is one of the main targets of Fussell's ire. Another of his targets, viz., the Bride's Wishlist which "Miss Manners" (Judith Martin-Perlman), an arbiter of good form and etiquette via her syndicated advice column, thoroughly disapproved of in 1990 or thereabouts as being "in appalling taste" has become an accepted form of social behaviour thanks to the changing times and the influence of the Internet. http://tinyurl.com/68uvta. Some of the windmills in the US mainstream Fussell tilts at are the higher education focusing on athletics at the expense of academics, the pretentious sham of gourmet restaurants, the low IQ of blockbuster movies, the incoherent babble of modern language comprising euphemisms, corporate jargon and overly complex signs and so forth. (Please also see http://tinyurl.com/47jmjl.) This debunker of most things modern and post-modern doesn't approve of – surprise, surprise! – Wagner, Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, all reggae music, Beethoven and Brahms as also religious fundamentalism and materialism. What's wrong with contemporary culture? Fussell's answer would be, I reckon, the ubiquity of mindless pop culture, sports and advertising and the all-pervading anti-intellectual climate. Makes good sense, if you ask me. By the way, I find BAD making inroads into Middle India in a big way.