Dumb and Dumber
by Greg Albrecht
Jay Leno, host of The Tonight Show, likes to take his NBC camera crew on the street to interview average Americans. This regular feature is amazing, unbelievable and pathetic, all at the same time. Average people are given a pop quiz. Most don't know the name of the vice-president, let alone the leader of any country other than our own president -- hence the complaint during the election last fall, "I was tricked into voting for someone named Lieberman. I was trying to vote for Al Gore."
A few months ago WBBM, the CBS Chicago affiliate, pulled the plug on a news program -- only to see the program win an Emmy award just a few days later. While the station extended congratulations to the newscast that was anchored by Carol Marin, it seems that the station based its decision to cancel the program upon the assumption that the American public's perception and expectation of news is sports, weather, car chases, bank robberies and warehouse fires.
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) is one of the axioms of communication that has now been enshrined as one of the ten commandments of getting the attention of the
American public. Carol Marin is so determined to swim against the tide of mediocrity that before her program's cancellation she was best known for quitting her job at another television station after it hired Jerry Springer.
Experts and executives explained that this Emmy award winning newscast was slow and stagnant. It would seem that Carol Marin and her fellow news team broke that cardinal commandment of communication, overestimating the dumb and dumber desires of the viewing audience.
C. John Sommerville is the author of How the News Makes Us Dumb -- The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society. Sommerville argues that our society is more confused, divided and illiterate than ever, even though more news is available than ever before.
Sommerville, professor of history at the University of Florida, believes that news makes us dumber because it is a business; it must shock, entertain and maintain readers, viewers and listeners. Comparing news and truth, he notes, "We argue our great social issues badly because we hold the idea that all 'viewpoints' are somehow equal. The sketchiness of news coverage encourages this notion. We are so used to its juggling approach to ideas that we have lost the patience and the humility to submit our opinions to true argumentation. Is abortion murder? How would one decide? Should we try to deduce an answer from philosophical principles or from our feelings or from polls? How could we consider theological insights? We wouldn't know where to begin to answer."
Sommerville would agree with Quentin Schultze, professor of communication at Calvin College, who says in Communicating for Life, "Commercial television and traditional Christian faith, for example, compete culturally. We learn through commercials that our external beauty will determine our popularity among other people, whereas Scripture emphasizes the importance of what is in our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7)."
The Plain Truth believes that truth is still available, although our culture seems to be locked in a fierce battle against truth in any form. It seems that truth is on death row in our society, condemned to die by lethal injection of our cultural values. The words of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah are chilling, "Truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found" (Isaiah 59:14-15).
The news may be making us dumb and dumber, but the reading and study of the Bible leads to discernment and wisdom that provides insight and understanding. Why not make a commitment to read and explore the Good Book?
-- Greg Albrecht