From Stooges to Forrest Gump, we are getting dumb and dumber


January 12, 1995|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff Writer

Of all the disturbing developments in our lives, surely the most disturbing is this: Suddenly it's cool to be dumb.

All around us, the Culture of Dumb is in ascendancy. In fact, the dumber you are, the better. Dumb as a rock. Dumb as a fence post. Sitting slack-jawed, vacant-eyed and slobbering in front of MTV -- these are all good things now.

Remember that old put-down: "Well, he's no rocket scientist"? Today that's considered the ultimate compliment to some. These people will actually come up and kiss you for saying that.

Everywhere, the leering Culture of Dumb is elbowing its way to the forefront.

The movies trot out one dumb guy after another. Forrest Gump was a blithering idiot. And look where it got him. Among other things, he became a college football star, war hero and millionaire. Plus he married a gorgeous woman. By the end of the movie, people were treating him like he was Thomas Edison.

Now comes "Dumb and Dumber" with Jim Carrey. It grossed $9.2 million last week and has been the leading moneymaker the last four weeks with $78.9 million total. And Jim Carrey, after playing terminally dumb guys in the hits "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "The Mask," is elevated to High Priest of Dumb.

Because of his reliance on goofy faces, stupid voices and overwrought delivery, they're calling Jim Carrey the next Jerry Lewis. I don't know. In "Ace Ventura," there's a scene where Carrey drops his pants and -- you have to see this to believe it -- feigns speaking with his butt. So compared to Jim Carrey, Jerry Lewis is Ted Koppel.

Dumb isn't confined to movies, of course. Dumb is all over TV. Who's dumber than Al Bundy, Homer Simpson, Beavis and Butt-Head? This is the Murderer's Row of dumb.

The Tim Allen character on "Home Improvement" appears to be getting dumber each year -- pretty soon he'll be shaving with a Black & Decker sander. And what about Jerry's sidekicks on "Seinfeld?" Kramer is now so slow he's officially functioning at a third-grade level.

The dumbing down of sitcoms continues at a pace that is breathtaking. Think back to some famous dumb guys of past sitcoms. Fonzie on "Happy Days?" Please. Compared to Al Bundy, Fonzie is a staffer for the Yale Law Review.

The shrinks and sociologists and behavioral scientists, they don't know what to make of this blossoming of the Culture of Dumb. Although some, the ones with vision, the ones with courage, the ones who recognize a reporter on deadline, are willing to take a stab at some theories.

"It's kind of like we're slipping back to the [Three] Stooges," says Baltimore psychologist Jim Dasinger, evoking painful, long-suppressed memories for this writer. "Like we're going back to simpler times. . . . Going back to a sillier level helps us escape from a stressful world.

"Here's another thing: If I'm dumber and more hick-like and more simple, I don't have to be as responsible. So we reduce the pressure on ourselves by dumbing down. Oooh, we're getting into some deep psychological stuff now, aren't we?"

Absolutely, doc. Keep up the good work.

How pervasive is the Culture of Dumb? Consider this chilling bulletin: According to the Washington Post, the autobiography of the ultimate dumb guy, George Lindsey of the old "Mayberry RFD" show, will appear in bookstores this spring.

The title -- this is where it gets ugly -- is "Goober in a Nutshell." This is why people pull their car into the garage at the end of the day and sit there with the engine running.

Speaking of dumb, this is absolutely true: Three years ago, I went on a "three-hour cruise" with part of the old "Gilligan's Island" cast, namely Gilligan (Bob Denver), the Professor (Russell Johnson) and Mary Ann (Dawn Wells).

It was a promotional stunt for a reunion movie they were doing. I don't remember much about the cruise, having decided that the only way to get through the whole thing was to remain close to the ship's bar.

But I do remember Denver at one point saying he was thinking of writing a book about the show.

Naturally, I laughed it off, figuring the poor guy had been at the bar even longer than I had.

Well. Now comes Denver's "Gilligan, Maynard & Me," an affectionate look back at "Gilligan's Island" and that other dumb show he did, "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis."

Meanwhile, the Professor -- who, by the way, did not waste his time with me and Bob Denver; he was probably typing in a stateroom down below -- came out with a dumb book of his own last year called "Here on Gilligan's Isle."

Then again, compared to "Goober in a Nutshell," the Professor's book sounds like "Exodus."

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