The other day I was studying at Borders. I happened to notice that the person next to me was reading a book from “The Complete Idiot’s Guide” series.
Yes, I’m sure you have all seen these. “This or That for Dummies,” or “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Something or Other.” Maybe you have bought a few of these. The thing is, these books are pretty useful if you have absolutely no background in something that you want to start doing. They are popular because they are plain-spoken and straight-forward, and as a result you don’t spend time trying to slosh through unreadable technical language.
But here’s the thing that really gets me about those. I’m sure the people who buy and read them are not idiots. Having no background in something does not automatically relegate a person to elevated status at the local funny farm. So why do we endure underhanded insults from, of all things, instructional books?
I find myself wondering if there is some sort of embedded anti-intellectualism that has made its way into our culture in recent years, in which there is an alliance among dunces that is so pronounced that being an “idiot” or a “dummy” is something to flout. I mean, we did elect a president with the mental capacity of a gnat, after all. He’s “one of us,” and he’ll stand for simple-mindedness in the face of those snobbish, know-it-all leaders in France and the United Nations.
Maybe there’s a “Foreign Relations for Dummies” book out there that will be the answer to all the problems that have resulted from his lack of diplomatic finesse.
It seems to me that American culture is very reflexive these days. We are so inundated with gadgets and entertainment that there is very little space left for thinking about how our actions fit into the big picture and how we are responsible for shaping the world around us.
Essential to shaping this broader perception is reading literature, be it books, newspapers, or magazines about nature, science, politics or history.
Or at least, I used to think so. I used to think of literature and books as being vital for stimulating and developing the intellect and one’s ability to see the bigger picture of which humanity is a part. But these Dummy and Idiot series are starting to erode that perception.
While the concept behind them is not necessarily bad, the fact that they seem to promote and even congratulate stupidity and ignorance is deeply disturbing. I mean, would people buy a book called “The Complete Lecher’s Guide to Moral Deviance”? I doubt it would make the New York Times Bestsellers list.
I don’t understand why, of all the deficiencies that an individual can have, stupidity is one that publishers are happy to push on people. Maybe they should change “Idiot” to “Beginner.” I don’t think that would be too difficult.
Bethania Palma can be reached at email@example.com.