Against Stupidity: A Rant

This is a rant. My friends have heard me rant about it before. It springs from a conversation I had with some of my best friends on Saturday. It is a rant. If you are not prepared to be spewed all over with the fierce, long-pent fire-breathing hamster that is my anger, read the following sentence, then close this blog, opening it again only whenever you: a. feel like having something to be mad about, or b. I've posted something new, and this fire hose of scorn is buried forever deep in the internet's backlog, along with (insert celebritney of choice) nudity and that Chihuahua movie (yes, it's so bad, it's been forgotten a month ahead of release).

This is the sentence you should read: Why must entertainment capitalize on stupid people?

I don't know why I apologize for my vehemence, P.Z. Meyers doesn't... ;)

Anyway, I find myself wondering why so much entertainment has to capitalize on stupidity. It's not new. It's not even old. It's ancient. If you don't think it's ancient, go read Aristophanes, then get back to me. His work is essentially all satire aimed at various stupid people dressed up as heroes, who make stupid mistakes, and escape by the skin of their teeth, and he's probably the last one to do so honorably. If my memory serves, Aristotle praised him for it in Poetics. Not that I particularly trust him on things dramatic.
Right, so that's the first point. I hear way, way, way too many people treat Napoleon Dynamite (the quintessential stupid people are funny movie of my generation). Most of the rest of this rant, however, is aimed at things which could have been better. Most namely, Arrested Development. Now Arrested Development is a very good show, much better than most out there, and well worth watching. That said, it is largely about stupid people. As such, to list a few shows I think better: Scrubs, House, and Doctor Who. Now, Arrested Development has a tremendous lot going for it. First off, it has incredible acting, in some cases, possibly even better than any of the shows listed above. Jason Bateman does a very impressive job as Michael, though, if you asks me, he looks frighteningly like Nathan Fillion. Michael Cera does his usual work of making the whole show better just by his existence, Jeffrey Tambor is impressive as always, David Cross is excellent playing his stock character, and the occasional Liza Manelli appearance is absolutely icing on the cake. That said, note that all these characters (with the exception of Liza) are more or less stock actors, who play one roll well. Bateman is always a little confused, but generally sensible, Cera is a confuddled, nervous teen, Tambor is a basically foolish man who does understand more than he seems to, and Cross is a entirely un-self-aware person who thinks he understands the world. This is where the show starts to fail - because the writers write to these stocks.
House may seem like a stock character, but there are many flavors to his individualism. Hugh Laurie, one of the great actors of the time, is sad, happy, gleeful, mean, depressive, and determined by turns, and the supporting cast mostly backs him up on it (especially Robert Sean Leonard). For all failings, one of the amazing things about Scrubs is that almost all the characters manage to be more than one thing - sad, understanding, in control, out of control, mean, vindictive, funny, AND stupid, and even play in the corridors between these extremes. JD, Dr. Cox, Carla, Turk, Eliot, La Verne, and the Janitor, just to name the majors, all have specific instances in which they are each of these things.
Why do I hate stupid one-dimensional writing so much? It's an escape, a silly, ridiculous escape for writers who don't know enough, or can't think enough to make characters multi-faceted and believable. That, and I'm tired of stupid people. I get enough of them elsewhere, I don't need them on my TV, and I learn a lot more from smart people, even when they do stupid things, because to learn from one's stupid mistakes is almost the definition of a smart person. To give another proof, the writers show that they aren't that knowledgeable or hardworking in episode one when they call cartography "the mapping of undiscovered places" (or something more stupid) then have their "smart" character make a joke about everything already being discovered - which, if you look at the swamps in Africa (just as one example), is certainly not true, and, besides that, cartography is just the craft of map-making, not necessarily of undiscovered places. They didn't even get a basic definition right. That said, I still think it's a great show, with some genuinely witty, smart moments. I just wish it didn't have to be stupid so often to get there.
As a side-note, I wonder how much smarter our kids would get if they were watching smarter TV... hmmm... and NO, I'm not comparing Arrested Development to the Discovery Chanel. I'm comparing it to Scrubs or House. I don't just think smart TV is documentaries. Some documentaries are very dumb TV.

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