Caution: Falling IQs
by Mad Dog
Twenty-two percent of Americans could name all five members
of the Simpson family — we’re talking Homer’s clan, not Jessica
and Ashlee’s — while only one in 1,000 could name all five First
Amendment freedoms. Doh!
||To loosely paraphrase H.
L. Mencken, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of
the American public. For proof, just turn on your TV and watch it for an
evening. When you wake up, check out the latest earnings figures for the
networks. Makes you wonder why you made the career choice you did,
Need more proof? A recent survey by
the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum (motto: “Of course there’s a $5
admission, you don’t expect freedom to be free, do you?”) found that
while 22 percent of Americans could name all five members of the Simpson
family — we’re talking Homer’s clan, not Jessica and Ashlee’s
— only one in 1,000 could name all five First Amendment freedoms.
Before you even bother showing off and proving how smart you are, I’ll
give you a hint: they're not the freedom to watch cartoons, bear
remotes, not incriminate yourself because you think Duff beer exists,
rub Cheetos grease on the arm of your La-Z-Boy, and the freedom to earn
Doh! Those are in the 10th Amendment, silly.
This news is especially troubling since The Simpsons has been on
TV for only 17 years while the Constitution has been around 200 years
longer. Of course the Constitution isn’t on the Fox Network, but
that’s a good thing because if it were it would wind up anything but
balanced and fair. Not to mention some executive would insist on adding
a single father with two smart alecky and preternaturally wise teenage
children to it in an effort to increase its demographic reach, renaming
it Founding Father. And adding a laugh track, of course. Though
at least if they did that we could laugh along with our freedoms while
they were being trampled.
The Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch held its ninth Wacky
Warning Label Contest. The winner was a heat gun used for removing paint
that produces temperatures of 1,000 degrees. It had a label warning
consumers not to use it as a hairdryer.
There are plenty of surveys and lots of anecdotal evidence to
show how ignorant we can be. You know, like the students who think the
country to our south is New Mexico and Santa Fe is a fat gay guy who
dresses in red and puts copies of Brokeback Mountain in our
Christmas stocking. It seems like every day brings more news about how
oblivious people can be. Take the high school basketball star in —
speak of the devil — New Mexico who scored two 3-point shots during a
game, had an upset stomach on the way home, went to the hospital, and
wound up giving birth to a baby boy. Without ever knowing she was
pregnant. Interestingly, her boyfriend didn’t know she was preggers
either, leading to the possibility that some forms of ignorance may be
contagious. Please, someone develop a vaccine. Quickly.
Manufacturers are acutely aware of
our low skewing national IQ. That’s one reason they put warning labels
on products. The other, of course, is they know that while we may be one
French fry short of a Happy Meal, very few of us are so dumb that we
can’t manage to find a lawyer when we hurt ourselves doing something
truly stupid and don’t want to take responsibility for our ignorance.
Not long ago, the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (motto: “Not that kind
of watch, silly”) held its ninth Wacky Warning Label Contest. The
winner was a heat gun used for removing paint that produces temperatures
of 1,000 degrees. It had a label warning consumers not to use it as a
hairdryer. Second place went to a kitchen knife with a sticker reminding
you to “Never try to catch a falling knife.” Hey, at least it
wasn’t a stick with a label telling you not to run with it or you
could poke your eye out. Honorable mention went to a bottle of dried
bobcat urine that’s used to keep animals away from garden plants. A
label on it says it’s “Not for human consumption.” Whew, that was
average consumer in the United States will struggle for 20 minutes to
get a device working before giving up. That’s not exactly the
definition of perseverance.
Maybe manufacturers should worry less about warning labels and
more about making products easier to use. According to a Dutch study,
half of all malfunctioning products returned to stores are in perfect
working order, the problem is that customers can't figure out how to use
them. See, there’s that intelligence thing again, rearing it’s ugly
head again. Well, at least for anyone smart enough to notice.
Manufacturers could help by simplifying their products. They could also
include better instructions. Or they might just consider attaching a
label that says: “This product works, do you?”
We, on the other hand, need to do our
part. We should take a deep breath, dive in, and remember that if all
else fails, read the manual. Apparently we don’t, since the Dutch
researchers found that the average consumer in the United States will
struggle for 20 minutes to get a device working before giving up.
That’s not exactly the definition of perseverance, though it does help
explain why we live in a country where the displays on so many DVD
players, coffee makers, and microwave ovens say 12:00. Hey, at least
they’re right twice a day, which apparently is more often than many of
us are. As Homer would say — the one from Springfield, not the one
from Greece — Doh!
©2006 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read them,
it's one of your First Amendment freedoms.