"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 17 April 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.






Can you believe how dumb everybody is except you?

Neither can anybody else.

Everywhere you look the culture is being dumbed down at an alarming rate. College graduates can barely read. Newspapers can't put two consecutive ideas together without throwing off their readers. Formerly hip Web sites trot out special features to attract audiences who can't read long essays. Writers have to pose topless to sell their books. The SATs have been simplified, unleashing a generation of nitwits who don't know that raconteur is to repartee as firebrand is to contention. Movies, music, literature - they're all being pulped into a dull biomass that any slob in a "Who Farted?" t-shirt can digest.

This, at least, is the argument of James B. Twitchell, Cynthia Ozick, George W.S. Trow, John Simon, and an infinity of other blowhards. From the late Allan Bloom to professional snob Paul Fussell, the Alpha and Omega of intellectual fussbudgets are banding together to convince us - as they convinced us 10, 20, 100, and for all we know (we'd look it up but the library's totally confusing) 1,000 years ago - that we're turning into babbling nitwits.

The funny thing about intellectual snobbery, though, is that anybody can do it. And everybody does. You can't be a real American unless you're convinced every other American is an imbecile. You can never go wrong making that point. Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind is on the bookshelf of every close-minded twit (and hapless undergraduate) in all the fifty states and Guam. Culture of Complaint was a bestseller among people who wouldn't know Robert Hughes from Robert Earl Hughes.

When we want to get the skinny on the dumbing down of America, we don't go to authors or pundits. We have our own sources:


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