Dumbing Down

December 6, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Quiz shows on early TV combined big brains and big money. “The $64 Question” of 1940s radio became “The $64,000* Question” of 1950s television. And the questions were difficult – questions you couldn’t possibly know the answer to. Questions that people could get only if they were incredibly smart. Or if the show was rigged, which it was.

“Jeopardy” goes more for questions that many viewers can get. Even the higher-priced questions are the kind that when the contestant gives the answer, you might snap your fingers and think: right, I knew that, and I would have remembered it, too, given a little more time.

Now there’s “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” With “$64,000 Question,” you were far below the level of the players. With “Jeopardy,” you’re in the same neighborhood, though probably on a different street.** But Fifth Grader can give you that Jerry Springer sense of superiority (the show is on Fox, not surprisingly).

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

(When I first read that Sarah Palin had thought Africa was a country, I dismissed it as a canard launched out by the snarky, dissatisfied guys in the McCain campaign. Now, I’m not so sure.)

One final thought. Fifth Grader also rests on the idea that children are superior to adults, a theme that suffuses most American movies and TV shows that have children in them (think “Home Alone”). On Fifth Grader, adults cheat off the kids, peeking at their answers or copying them outright.

I got the clip from Funny or Die, thanks to a tip from Wesleying.

* About a half million in 2008 dollars

** Full disclosure: I was a contestant on Jeopardy many, many years ago.

No comments: