A perfect, ironic circle. Or, maybe it’s just the caffeine.

Why I Love the New York Times


The same day the New York Times runs this piece on the NY city subway’s proper use of the semicolon, (Celebrating the Semicolon); it also runs an article on Americans’ hostility to knowledge and general lack thereof, (Dumb and Dumber). The frightening data from the latter includes quotes from the reality show “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” That show is hosted by Jeff Foxworthy whose rise to fame, you may recall, was as a comedian skewering rednecks.

A contestant asked to name what European country Budapest is the capital of, chose her 5th grade helper’s answer. Hungary. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.” She thought Europe was a country, after all. But, why should we be surprised when “a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located,” according to the article.


The reality show explosion, rather like projectile vomit if you ask me; stems or perhaps more correctly, spews in large part from the writers’ strike. The Times also runs a 100-day time line of the writers strike today.

Finally, in today’s Books of the Times section is a piece about product placement sponsored by the likes of Cover Girl cosmetics in books written for a young adult audience.

Is anyone else getting dizzy from this tail-chasing ironic circle, or is it just me?

Let Me Mapquest it for You
This is like a GPS navigating system gone mad. Or perhaps it is just perfectly, accurately taking us to our final destination: Idiocracy. Here’s how I see the directions:

Begin journey:
Books are different from TV entertainment. Therefore, sponsored product placement in say, an episode of the TV show 24 doesn’t bother me, while a plug for Cover Girl makeup in a young adult novel does. I don’t care if I see Penelope Cruz hawking hair color, but I don’t want to see Harry Potter shilling for Lenscrafters.

Proceed through three cups of Pete’s coffee (oops):
There is a connection in my java-stimulated mind between this point and the lack of general knowledge most of American have; whether it pertains to countries such as “Hungry” [sic] versus the proper use of semicolons. What do we consider art versus entertainment? Where do we draw the line?

Turn South:
More Americans watch TV than read books or even the New York Times, I’d venture to guess. Flick on the tube and watch a TV game show contestant proclaim she thought Europe was a country. Many viewers care little what the writers’ guild members were striking for or against (see this Boxoffice.com collection of man on the street quotes on the topic). This choice of entertainment media and the writers’ concerns has everything to do with everything else here.

Revenues and revenue sharing models are behind the troubles in Hollywood. They are also related to the reach of authors struggling to get published in a market populated by shrinking numbers of consumers who read books.

Continue South:
As people read less, the bar gets lower and lower for what they find entertaining.

Arrive at Your Destination:
Ultimately, we are left with shows proving our diminished capacity including a show that PROVES we are no longer even collectively as smart as a fifth grade student. And we just laugh. Congratulations to all the citizens of Idiocracy.


Fun for Wordgeeks
Here are some fun links for anyone else out there that actually enjoys learning. I know that you are out there, it keeps me going that you are.

The Punctuation Game (Thanks to Caleb for Lynn’s excellent and fun books)

by Lynn Truss, author of “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” noted in the New York Times Semicolon article as well as my post on Winter Bamboo at Gourmet Dumplings.

The Eggcorn Database
Want to know why it’s “throes of passion” not “throws” of passion?

World Wide Words (thanks to Damian for the link)
I found out the origin of “warm the cockles of your heart” here when I wrote about Cockles.

Free Rice (Thanks to Sujata for the link)

This UN World Food Program supplies hungry people rice when you play their word game!

6 Responses to “A perfect, ironic circle. Or, maybe it’s just the caffeine.”

  1. 1 jon adams February 19, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Great article, J.C. My TV spends its days and most evenings stuck to cartoons for my TV-hungry Budgerigar. There is little else with any content except for public television.


  2. 2 Marisa February 20, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    I’m liking the allusion to one of my fav bands.

    I agree that the celebrated idiocy of the American people is very disheartening; at the same time, this recent political movement has caused me to question the real potential of the masses. They’ve happily surprised me.

  3. 3 Damian February 23, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    By some strange coincidence, when you were writing I was flying on WizzAir from London to Gdansk. Hungary might not exist, but they do have at least one excellent airline.
    It’s too easy to make fun of people who do not know where these pesky European countries with ever-changing borders really are. To make things even more confusing borders all but disappeared. You can drive from Lisbon to Budapest and then on to Gdansk and Tallin in the same way you can drive from Boston to Los Angeles. Less SUVs and more passing skills required – you get the idea…
    Europe seems more self-assured place than I remembered it, but that does not change the fact that most folks there do not know the capital of Virginia (which is slightly bigger and slightly less populous than Hungary according to wikipedia).
    Another strange coincidence is that Netflix envelope with Idiocracy was waiting for me in the mail when I returned.
    I’ll watch it to close the ironic circle 🙂

  4. 4 Gail May 2, 2008 at 1:17 am

    Hate to tell you – you misused the semi-colon in your first sentence (should have been a comma after “Celebrating the Semicolon”).

    Maybe it WAS too much coffee?! 😉

  5. 5 jacqueline1230 May 2, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Having, ironically enough, coffee in the Emerald City (not Oz, Seattle). Enjoying a laugh at the comment just in from Gail! Is it bad form to laugh at an Internet cafe? Does it matter if the joint is called “Uncle Elizabeth”?

  1. 1 Kitty Detentes – Sort of « Jacqueline Church Trackback on February 22, 2008 at 9:03 pm

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  1. Tales of the Cocktail may be over but the fun continues. Check the blogs and podcasts for all the news that fit to drink!
  2. The Maori art of facial tatooing is called moko. It is a powerful expression of tribal identity which has only recently enjoyed a resurgence as the colonial Christian prohibitions against it have lessened. Go to the Peabody Essex Museum for this rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of this amazing cultural tradition. The documentary I saw at Sundance years ago on moko, was one of the most powerful films I have ever seen.
  3. The Audubon Insectarium is a new and top-notch attraction in New Orleans. We passed by it and wondered why we'd missed it before. Turns out it's just now opening. No time this last trip, but it's on the list for the next time. Check here for info.

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