We're not as dumb as they look

Posted: Aug 28, 2006 9:23 PM
A recent Zogby poll, conducted at the behest of a new TV game show, divulged a lot of facts about Americans which most pundits have glommed onto as proof that we’re a nation of ignoramuses. I suppose that was the conclusion the producers were hoping for, suggesting, as it does, that there’s a sizable audience out there craving yet another TV game show.

I, on the other hand, being something of a Pollyanna, saw a silver lining in the results. For instance, 57% of Americans could readily identify J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, while only 50% could name England’s prime minister. To me, that’s a healthy sign, just as the fact that more of us can identify Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn than Benjamin Disraeli and Herbert Asquith.

Likewise, we’re supposed to be embarrassed that 60% of those polled could name Homer Simpson’s son Bart, but a mere 20% were able to name either of Homer’s epic poems, “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” Good for us, I say. Long ago, when I was young and had greater stamina, I slogged my way through those two works, and I hadn’t been so bored since tenth grade geometry. The darn things went on forever and contained not a single laugh. Give me “The Simpsons” any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Asked what planet Superman came from, a rousing 60% knew it was Krypton, while 37% knew that Mercury is the planet closest to the sun. Frankly, that last little tidbit confounded me. How is it that so many of you knew that? Where was I when the rest of you -- at least 37% of you -- were busily boning up on the solar system?

I took heart from the fact that nearly three out of four Americans knew the names of the Three Stooges, but only 42% could name the three branches of the federal government. It’s my hunch that they could have identified them, but they just weren’t in the mood. Most days, that’s exactly how I feel about the federal government.

Finally, 75% of Americans have no trouble correctly identifying at least two of Snow White’s seven dwarfs, but only one in four can name two Supreme Court justices. Frankly, I don’t know how that’s possible, seeing as how several of them share the same name – Sneezy Souter, Sleepy Stevens, Grumpy Kennedy, and, of course, Dopey Ginsburg.