Stupid Is as Stupid Does

A story appeared in The New York Times on Valentine’s Day with the headline “Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?” It cited several recent books that bemoan America’s seeming self-satisfaction in the knowledge, that, well, we don’t need no knowledge, ’cause we’re Amurricans.

I don’t think that’s the case. I think we don’t need no knowledge because, by golly, there’s money to be made on two fronts: We can sell stuff to stupid people; and we can sell stupid itself.

Let’s look at the evidence of my first premise: George W. Bush, whom I like to refer to as President Forrest Gump. I’m not necessarily implying that President Bush is stupid, because I don’t think he is stupid. I actually think he’d make a great contestant on that TV show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? I bet, for example, he knows more about the content of your phone conversations than you do.

I like to call him Forrest Gump because Forrest Gump beat out Pulp Fiction for the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1994, just like Bush beat Gore for president in 2000, and for the same reason. He won because Americans prefer the world of Forrest Gump. It’s violent, complex and unfair, but can be successfully navigated the same way Forrest did. After all, life is just like a box of chocolates. Sometimes you get nougat, sometimes you get caramel, and sometimes you get Vietnam, AIDS, or global warming.

Americans can swallow anything.

I certainly don’t buy the rest of the world’s assessment of Americans as exemplified in the London Daily Mirror headline the day after Bush beat Kerry in 2004. It read: “How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?” First, I ask, If we’re so dumb, how can we count that high (Ohio notwithstanding)? And second, does re-electing Bush make us seem any dumber as a nation than collectively spending over $250 million to see the last Ben Stiller movie?

Which brings me to my second point. We need to do a better job selling stupid to the rest of the world. Stiller’s Night at the Museum did over $320 million in foreign sales, granted. (It was hurt by the bad weather in Slovenia on opening weekend or it would have made a few thousand tolers more.) Since we can’t sell Escalades in countries where urban streets are about as wide as two donkeys (and, I might add, gas has to be paid for in hard currency like the euro) the only commercial advantage left to us is to sell stupid in Europe and Asia. (I’m sure we’ll make more economic inroads in Africa when more Africans stop obsessing over the whole subsistence farming economic model and get digital cable like the rest of us.)

I don’t even have to go back to Jerry Lewis’s inexplicable popularity in France to make my point. I’m not even counting President Gump’s backrub of German Chancellor Angela Merkel or his duel with the locked door in Beijing. I’m talking “commercialized” dumb. You know: YouTube’s dogs on skateboards or any movie starring Will Ferrell. Face it, we’re leaving a lot of Will Ferrell money on the international table.

Americans spent $150 million watching Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, but it only did about $10 million in revenue overseas. Now, this is a movie that could have a lot of appeal for foreigners. First there’s the whole stock car thing, which foreigners think is pretty funny. (“Zut alors! Look at those guys driving around in a big circle when they could be actually displaying the ability to do something other than turn left and bump each other.”) When you throw in Ferrell running off the track in his tighty whities pretending to be on fire, well, it just doesn’t get any funnier than that.

But, like I said, it seems the only reason that movie showed overseas at all is so the Chinese could bootleg the DVDs and sell them back to us on New York sidewalks for two bucks.

For some reason foreigners haven’t yet developed a taste for stupid movies any more than they have for our foreign policy, unless of course the movie is Titanic. Titanic did over a billion dollars overseas, which I’m going to guess happened because they do have a taste for movies about rich Americans who die while stoically drinking expensive French brandy.

So, I have a possible solution to at least part of our balance-of-payments problem. As I write this, President Gump is touring Africa, and since it would only be the Japanese and Chinese who would profit if he were touting HDTVs while doing so, I propose that he do his diplomatic mission, and also throw in a little plug for America’s No. 1 export. Instead of acting like Forrest Gump at the closing press conference, he could do some sample Will Ferrell imitations for the assembled cameras.

From all reports, he’s really good at it.