HOW STUPID ARE WE?

When I lived in Israel, there was a true story, heavily publicized in local papers, about a family who sold their house and used the proceeds to buy lottery tickets. They reasoned they had to win. Win big. After which they would buy a new house. It didn’t work out as planned. They ended up with a giant pile of worthless lottery tickets — and no house. It was a living example of “what could possibly go wrong” logic.

No people, no country, no place on earth is exempt from an unyielding belief that something great will happen in the middle of what is obviously a truly bad plan. It’s a people thing.

Watching television gives me many opportunities to ponder “what could possibly go wrong?” For example, last night, we saw an old CSI episode with Ted Danson in charge. He was using his lovely daughter as bait for a serial killer.

Really. What could possibly go wrong with that?

It took all the creativity of a team of writers to come up with a happy ending. It was unbelievable in the sense that I didn’t believe it. Garry didn’t believe it. I bet even the guys who wrote it didn’t believe it.

I try not to take this sort of thing personally. Can it be that the producers of television series think we are quite that stupid? I suppose these days, they may have a point … but they’ve been writing stupid scripts for a long time. Probably as long as there has been television.

When I worked at Doubleday, we wrote about books because, you know, Doubleday is a publisher. There were very few rules about how to write. We were allowed a great deal of creative freedom. But there was one big warning: never write “down” to your readers. As the editor in charge of the Doubleday Romance Library, I got to read surveys on who actually reads romance novels, an oft-maligned genre of literature.

These light, fluffy stories — all pretty much the same plot — always sold extremely well. It seemed that fans of the genre could not get enough of them. Yet survey after survey showed that the readers of romance novels were, of all of our reader groups, the best educated.

How could that be? Well, it turns out that many people in high-pressure professions don’t necessarily want a steady diet of serious books. They wanted books without ugly deaths or torture. They liked knowing there would be a happy ending and if they forgot to finish the book, it didn’t matter. It didn’t mean they didn’t read other stuff, but this was the marshmallow cream of literature.

Whoever is in charge of the story lines and scripts for television series have forgotten about not talking down to us. They think we are stupid. Okay, may some people are — but not everyone and not all the time. When the show gets sufficiently stupid, I stop watching. When the stories get ridiculous and the “what could possibly go wrong?” factor outweighs other entertainment values, I move on.

For me to accept a story, to suspend my disbelief, you need to give me a hook. Something that lets me accept whatever is happening as “possible.” Like, there you are on planet Alphabetazoid in the far away galaxy of ZYX900042 and everyone speaks colloquial 21st century American English. You want me to believe it? Tell me they are using their “Universal Translator.” Or they have babel fish in their ears. I want to believe, but you have to offer me a little help.

Of course, that’s useless when confronted by the vast real life ocean  of human stupidity. People who really do sell their homes to buy lottery tickets and vote for people who will destroy their lives. People who live an entire life composed of “what could possibly go wrong with that” scenarios.

In real life, I will trudge on dealing with stupidity because that’s life … but at least on television, give me a break. Help me believe. Because I may be naïve and unaware … but usually, not too stupid.

Life is stupid enough. I don’t need extra help.

45 thoughts on “HOW STUPID ARE WE?

  1. I’m kinda smart. At least I like to think so. I used to eat romance novels like they were candy, and that’s what I called them – mind candy. Something I could read in very little time without thinking about it very much. Some of them were very poorly written — amusingly so, but I’d still read ’em. One hour, done. On to something else.

    Liked by 3 people

    • You just described the audience for the genre. I used to read them too, until I finally got bored with them, but I liked that they were about as complex as the stuff on the back of the cereal box. I could put the book down and forget it and never worry that I’d missed a climactic ending. And of course, I was the editor of the Romance Library, so I got pretty good at finding the good ones. Some ARE very poorly written … but some are written by really good writers who need to make a few bucks. This is the ONE area of literature that if you can handle the formula, you can get a couple of grand per book — and probably churn one out every month. A lot of them are written under pseudonyms.

      Liked by 3 people

          • Oh my goodness, that was so long ago, those manuscripts are lost to the wind. I gave one to a friend of mine to type for me (that’s how long ago it was) and I’m sure she either still has it, tossed it by now, or swiped it for herself. Ha!

            Liked by 2 people

      • Yesterday — August 1st, 2017. I saw an elderly gent ahead of me on the checkout line at our local supermarket. He seemed a bit wobbly and unsure as he looked over the various lottery cards. It took him 5 minutes or maybe longer before he chose an impressive bunch of lottery tickets. He awkwardly reached into his rear pocket, 3 tries later he pulled out an old wallet. He pulled out a wad of bills and paid for the lottery tickets. He laughed strangely and limped away. I don’t think there’ll be a happy ending.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. The only Programme ibother with on TV is The Eastenders and that is the advancement of a soap series, otherwise TV is finished for me. Now and again Mr. Swiss finds an old jewel to watch. I don’t read romance, it bores me, I wonder what that says about me. I like a strong story line with a twist and a little bit of fantasy

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read romance when I was working and I had no brain left at the end of the day. Also, I was the editor of the Doubleday Romance Library, so I actually HAD to read them. They paid me to read the books. Best job EVER.

      Now, I read history, science fiction, and mysteries and that’s pretty much it. Time travel. Vampires. The undead, but not zombies. I don’t really like zombies. They are not sexy.

      Most of my problem with books is that it’s hard to something different. So many books seem to be copies of books I already read — so much alike. I start books, get bored, dump them. And just because I like one book by an author, I may not like the rest of them.

      We watch a lot of British, Australian, and Canadian stuff. I’m sure there’s plenty of junk on their TV too, but we get the ‘export’ version which I think is better than the average show. And they have some really good murder mysteries.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Dear Marilyn, this is my first time here as WordPress suggested your blog. I really enjoy your comments and the intelligent, articulate banter here in the comments. I just clicked on follow and will look forward to the future. Have fun, be well,
        Howard

        Liked by 4 people

        • Very nice to meet you and I am enjoying your intelligent comments written in whole sentences. I worries me how few people can do that these days … and how many wouldn’t know what you were talking about if you were to mention “whole sentences.” No one taught them, so how are they to know?

          Liked by 2 people

    • I think a lot of people have already lost whatever they had … and the rest of us are going to have to fight like mad to get it back. The idea of books as “light entertainment” is actually funny these days when so many people don’t read anything at all. I think I’d cheer if I saw my granddaughter reading a comic book.

      Liked by 2 people

        • We have a generation that doesn’t read. Doesn’t CARE that they don’t read. Doesn’t (apparently) understand why reading would benefit them. They don’t care if it would help them learn things. They aren’t interested in learning anything outside whatever is required professionally. I find it frightening.

          Liked by 3 people

          • I winder what the statistics are o reading these days? I know a lot of youngsters who do read… but many who don’t read anything beyond those books they are forced to read at school. That worries me too.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Marilyn, I totally agree. In my 68 years I have always loved reading since boyhood. Even today, I still prefer a physical book or good magazine to the e-book, audio book etc. Of course I am a PC junkie and get the latest news on the net but I still most enjoy settling in with the Sunday NY Times.
            There are so many sad things about young people today and I am a father and grandfather so it hits home. All my life I have encouraged everyone to read and inform themselves as part of being a good member of society. Of course most get all their daily info from TV and that is why so many series buzzwords are now part of our language…LOL:)
            The one thing I am heartened by is with the PC and the ‘net even in remote villages in the 3rd world, like Afrika, can gather around their one shared PC and connect to the net via cell phone. This is a huge advancement for children that would have been basically uneducated. Hopefully this coming generation will be able to advance their people.

            Liked by 4 people

            • I spent my life wrapped in words and I find it more than a little frightening that so many of the younger generation don’t read books. They don’t read anything … except maybe texts. I don’t care that they aren’t reading the classics, but to read nothing? That, to me, says our intellectual life is slithering away.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Although I don’t read romance novels it is a very hot genre, whether for adults and teenagers. Good way to make a living for starving writers. Nothing wrong with it as long as you can write them. Which seems easier than it is, I think. Even if the writing itself is rarely extraordinary. I rarely watch TV these days. The news are so horrible it seems like watching science fiction only really happening. I love science fiction but good quality. So I read instead. Maybe I should consider romance 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • My romance with romance lasted less than a year, probably because I read very fast and by then, I’d more or less eaten all the good ones. They are a very standard formula. For me, they were good reading when my brain was whirling and I needed to calm down. Also some are much better than others. Like science fiction where you read the best stuff first and after that, you begin to struggle to find books that are almost as good as that first amazing batch. I’m STILL struggling. I think my first couple of years of discovering all the great old authors of sci fi have been unmatched by anything I’ve read since — with a few exceptions, of course

      Writing it IS harder than it looks. There’s quite a trick to writing to a formula and making it sound real. I found it hard to put my head into that place and it got increasing hard with passing years. My own cynicism made romance complicated. At some point, I stopped believing in happy endings. I love happy endings, mind you, but I had a lot of trouble making them happen. In romance, all endings are happy. Or the book isn’t a romance.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. My romance novel is usually detective fiction.But Lynn prefers non-fiction, usually having to do with the holocaust or Native American history. I don’t get it. If we go to see a film, it has to be based on a real life story. I don’t see the romance in any of it.

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    • Well, we do NOT do that. Garry worked too many “real life” stories. Now, we both yearn pure, delightful, entertainment. We both love cop shows and police and crime stuff … but not “real” crime. Garry did a lot of real crime and I think that’s part of the reason his brain is unglued. 40 years of crime and violence is unhealthy.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Good Post!

    Your plea for TV to give you a break (from stupidity) and help you to believe has an inherent and fundamental flaw i’m afraid… That is NOT it’s function or purpose. 😦

    This is because basically you and Garry (and likely every single reader of your blog) are not the intended or target audience. I believe that, much as in the Movie industry, the main audience is the typical American teenager or possibly those in the 20-35 age group as a secondary consideration.

    As i am realising and recognising more and more these days, TV is basically just a method of placing as many paid advertisements in front of as many people as (they think) possible, and lately also unpaid adverts for their own channel’s programs. Which is why audience numbers are decreasing when taken into consideration with the increasing popularity/competition of internet based media.

    it’s official – TV now Sucks for people of any generation before Gen X.

    Our problem is we’ve all seen too much and have learned to see through the bullshit the younger generations are more than willing to swallow in large doses.

    It’s getting close to Kool-aide drinking time, i fear.

    love.

    Like

      • Marilyn, that is so true. Over the years I have loved a number of quirky TV shows and movies that were later deemed cult classics (I guess because they were not a huge financial success). The first one that pops into my mind is Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074021/combined There are always talented people at every level of all the arts that resist the boring and try new ground, thank God.
        I think with the fever pitch of competition today from all media we will see a return of some excellent programs. Really hope so.

        Liked by 1 person

        • There are some excellent British, Canadian, and Australian shows. And we’re re-watching (3rd time) West Wing, just to remind us that we used to have a government and to enjoy some really brilliant scripts. …

          You never know when a stroke of intelligence will overtake the dull stupidity of producers. Netflix and Amazon have been producing some exceptional high quality material — not always to our personal taste, but a big step above most network offering … so there is hope. But I don’t think it will be the networks producing it. Netflix and Amazon and other cable stations have really grabbed on and begun producing some classy material. More, please. Give me MORE.

          I LOVED Mary Hartman. I think when the guy drowned in the chicken soup, I nearly died of laughter.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I grew up like you did with television as a form of entertainment. I still find ‘some’ out there but not much. And, if it wasn’t for the mute button on my remote, I’d probably throw a shoe through the screen at the ads especially those for the reality shows. Now, those make me think that they assume we are all stupid. 🙂

    Like

    • We have a DVR — from the cable company — and it is a saving grace. It’s the same price as a standard box would be and they don’t even offer standard boxes anymore. The service to run the DVR is a couple of dollars a month, but it makes watching shows bearable. I don’t think we could go back to commercials. The only things we watch in real time is news and sports. Even news, we sometimes put it on pause and catch up with it after it’s about 20 minutes into the run. But this is also why Networks are not doing as well. I think we have all pretty much had it with commercials. It wasn’t too bad when it was two, maybe three commercials on a break, but now the breaks run longer than the show surrounding it.

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  7. Scanned through this thread, with delight. Hmmmm…. someone still reads? Must admit, I’m Kindle addicted now, because my arthritic hands don’t hold a real-deal book anymore. Do I know I might have to fall back? Sure. Meanwhile, I’m glad to take it easy on those hands.

    Having said that… must heed to my bed now. The rapid pulsing of my sweaty bosom, and my aching…. well, yeah, off to bed.

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