Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Albert Nerenberg, "Stupidity" (2006).

Today I stumbled on a documentary that I hadn't heard about. Its title was "Stupidity", and (naturally?) the face of our sitting president was featured on the cover. Nowadays it's a commonly accepted cliche that we are led by a man who is (at best) not particularly smart. There is even a cartoon on cable television that features a cartoon-version of a young George W. Bush that episodically reveals his vast idiocy. Had the cover of this DVD placed the "smirking chimp" front-and-center, I probably would have left it on the shelf. You have to give me more than that- it's just too obvious an attack. It wouldn't even be any fun. But instead there's a teen with a dunce cap being worshiped by a crowd, and Osama Bin Laden flanked by Bert (of Sesame Street fame). When I flipped the package over and noticed the Disinformation logo on the back, I was virtually sold.

The Disinformation imprint has become notable for issuing risky media that challenges the conventional perspective on a variety of topics- including politics, art, culture and social issues. I appreciate what they do, and so I decided to support them by buying Stupidity. Since I had no idea what points the filmmakers would be making, I popped it in this evening. It was basically what you might imagine- an examination of the concept of "stupidity" and plenty of documentation of its many incarnations within our culture. Of course its creators needed to define the word first, before it could draw some conclusions about its ramifications. It turns out that "stupidity" is a fluid idea, and not so easy to pin down. The most convincing definition I heard had to do with the inability to process information that violates one's internal schema.

At this point it may be useful to draw discriminations between terms like "idiot", "imbecile" and "moron". Incidentally, the documentary tells us that these words were invented to describe the lower score ranges on the very first I.Q. tests. They were originally very specifically applied, and only later found traction in common parlance. It could well be that these descriptors were disseminated so quickly, and now appear so frequently, primarily because there is so much in our society worthy of being described with these words. Surprisingly though, "stupidity" hasn't been the subject of many academic studies. Several talking heads in the film were asked why that should be, and a few speculations were offered. Perhaps the most convincing argument was that researching the phenomenon would lead to the attainment of insights that would ultimately introduce a responsibility for our society's leaders. And it appears that many influential groups within our nation would rather that the populace embrace stupidity.

It should come as no surprise that the quality of television was a prominent subject in the film. I often marvel at the extreme stupidity of the programming our corporate media groups offer us. (The filmmakers treat us to excerpts from modern-day stupidity-fests such as Jackass and Steve-O to underscore the depths we have collectively reached) Obviously it is in the best interest of those in power to encourage us to be uncritical of "the way things are and must be". This is the strategy they employ in order to consolidate and increase their wealth and control. We must be led to continue a sheep-like consumerist existence. The shows themselves are meant to defuse our mental faculties, and leave us more vulnerable to the real "content" of the platform- the advertisements. The same thing applies to Hollywood, which also gets tough treatment in Stupidity. The stories we are told reinforce simplistic absolutes that can be manipulated to manage us easily and effectively. We are hypnotized by these simple, black-and-white messages and the accompanying titillation provided by violence, sex and the "glamor" of consumption. These are all necessary for an era of global capitalist dominance.

Now we get to the part with George W. Bush. The charge of "stupidity" has often been levied against him. But is this the reality, or a carefully crafted and intentional facade? It seems reasonable (at least) to accuse him of extreme intellectual laziness. He's always admitted this to be the case (and historical analysis confirms it). Furthermore, if you believe what he says about the role of his Christian faith in his politics, you'd have to accept that he meets the definition of "stupidity". For there is nothing characteristically "Christian" about how he has run the country. Rather than using a considered personal spirituality to guide his policy, he merely sets up a schema that cannot ever be confronted on a rational basis. He has used the strategy of public perception management to infantilize the citizenry with absolutist fairy tales about vast indeterminate struggles between "good" and "evil". Still he seems to get his way every single time, despite the numerous examples of communicative idiocy he displays that lead many to think of him as a "boob".

Whether or not Bush is indeed "stupid" is mostly beside the point at this late date. What his presidency has shown is that a substantial proportion of the US population is vulnerable to an anti-intellectualism that allows those in power (corporations and government both) to enhance their positions at the expense of just about everybody on Earth. So who exactly is "stupid"?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good one. I liked Stupidity too. It really should be a series though, because there is just so much stupidity.

12:24 AM  

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