They are a staple of late night talk shows: The person on the street interviews. There are variations, of course, and a particularly popular variation is the dumb person on the street quiz. Featuring people who are too ignorant to correctly answer fairly simple and basic questions. Audiences lap them up.
Jimmy Kimmel has done several of the dumb person on the street segments and I hate them.
They are intended to make the average American look dumb, giving the rest of us a good laugh at their expense. One such segment that was done in February of this year recently caught my eye. It had a more select group of dumb Americans by focusing on dumb Republican Americans. This version was a follow up to an earlier video in which the political affiliations of the people involved were unknown. The Republican version was made in response to Ted Cruz claiming the first video showed a bunch of geographically challenged Bernie Sanders supporters.
The challenge for this dumb Americans video was to point to and identify a country, any country, on a map of the world.
A couple things occurred to me while watching the video that suggested deception on the part of the Jimmy Kimmel Live Show.
First is the main deception of which all of these sorts of people on the streets videos can be guilty: Editing.
The audience has no idea how many people Kimmel had to challenge before six dumb Americans were found who couldn’t name a single country. Both the politically unaffiliated version and the more recent Republican version show just six geographically challenged people. (The first video did have a middle schooler who could name several countries. I suspect a ringer, but that’s just me being cynical.) How funny would it be if we saw Kimmel’s staff ask, say, 60 people to attempt the task and 54 of them could do it? That would be 90%. Not so funny when it’s just 6 dumb people out of 60.
Having the power to edit means that Kimmel can present the video in such a way that it looks like every person who participated failed the challenge. It’s possible that we are shown all the people who were asked, but I have my doubts that that was the case. How many people who were up to the challenge were left on the cutting room floor? We don’t know.
And then there’s the map. The countries were in white with blue borders and oceans. Of course, none of the countries was labeled. People would just have to recognize them based on the borders. A few people were able to identify Africa, but that’s a continent not a country. In the end, none could identify any country, not even the United States.
The deception here is in how Kimmel arranged his map. The Western and Eastern Hemispheres were flipped with east on the left and west on the right. This is not how most of us grew up seeing the map of the world. The maps we are familiar with have the Americas on the left with Europe, Asia, Africa, Russia, and Australia on the right. Of the first 50 hits in a Google image search of “map of the world” only two showed the Americas on the right and one had the Americas in the center with the other parts of the world wrapping around the two sides.
This sets up a sort of mental speed bump when looking at Kimmel’s map. Sure, it’s still accurate, but that’s not what people are used to seeing. It looks weird. And that weirdness might cause confusion and get the challenge takers flustered, because they are unable to figure out why the map looks off. Being flustered might cause a cognitive disruption, which could lead to blanking on any country’s name. However, not being a psychologist, I could be wrong. Still, it feels deceptive.
So, what we get is video taken by a camera crew sent out on the streets to ask passersby basic questions. The questions ought to be easy to answer. Invariably, the passersby do not rise to the challenge and the audience gets a good laugh at the ignorance on display. “Oh, how funny it is these people are so dumb. Hahaha!”
Some people, however, get upset at the appalling lack of basic knowledge in our country. They believe it is a failing of our educational system. “How sad it is that our country is so full of ignoramuses. Why, I could easily answer all those questions! I’m so above average.”
But everyone thinks they are above average, even if they can’t name a country on a messed up map, with a camera in their face.
And that’s another thing. In order for these segments to be funny, the majority of the audience has to be able to do what the people on the street apparently cannot. I suppose the audience could just be playing along and glad their ignorance isn’t being put on display.
Whatever the reason these bits are so popular may be, I still hate them.
Images used under Fair Use.