Stupidity (2003) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably R for some nudity, violent images, and language
Running Time: 66 min.
Cast: Fred Napoli (narrator), Noam Chomsky, Bill Maher, Albert Nerenberg, Steve-O, Trevor Strong
Director: Albert Nerenberg
Stupidity is a documentary that explores the current obsession and societal reverence for all things stupid. We like to sit in front of the television and watch stupid shows, stupid movies, and we don't like to read. Despite having the most amount of intelligence around us, literally at our fingertips with the advent of the internet, we opt to utilize all of these tools and outlets in the stupidest of ways. We adopt stupid belief systems to try to help guide us through life (religion, astrology, self-help gurus), and even elect stupid presidents (Bush), or smart presidents that do stupid things because they believe everyone else is too stupid to notice (Clinton). In the face of world disaster, like wars and global warming, we choose to do the opposite of what we should in preventing our own destruction. Basically, we've become a world of idiots, and we fully embrace it, quite stupidly.
While the premise of the film is certainly an attention-grabber, the presentation leaves much to be desired. Using a variety of footage, the documentary explores the origins of some common words and assessments of stupidity, including the IQ test and its labeling of people as idiots, imbeciles and morons. Various interviews of people in the streets show that we don't really have a grasp on just what the nature of stupidity is, and that in itself makes us a bit stupid, because if we understood the root of our stupidity, we might have a chance of understanding why we do what we do and becoming more intelligent.
There's an ironic quality to Stupidity in that it exposes television and print media as catering to audiences as if we are stupid; many magazines tell their writers to not use big words or concepts because they want their publication to be accessible to an 8th grade mentality. Unfortunately, my criticism of this documentary on Stupidity is that it essentially does the same, perhaps for the same reason. Although clearly Nerenberg and many associated with the making of the film are intelligent people, the documentary itself is quite dumbed down for easy digestion to people that aren't all that bright. Perhaps this was intentional, because stupid people probably wouldn't watch a documentary on their own stupidity unless it were presented in a stupid fashion. Of course, by doing so, it loses the audience seeking an intelligent exploration on the nature of our own obsession with stupidity, and in my opinion, makes this documentary rather hypocritical.
What also is touched on but never explored is how we are actually intelligent creatures that seek to do stupid things or watch stupid entertainment because we don't want to think. We don't want to think about wars, global warming, or the real world issues that are leading to our demise, so we choose to embrace stupidity, enjoying the trivial distractions and buffoonery of modern life, knowing that dwelling on the fact that we are up the proverbial creek will only make us bitter, resentful, and morose.
If you look at the advancements in our technology, science, and culture, you can't help but conclude that we are a very intelligent species, the most intelligent in our known universe by far. The documentary ends with Trevor Strong's tongue-in-cheek exploration that being stupid is better for us, and the way to our salvation, as all of the reasons we are threatened with our own extinction come though intelligent inventions and means of production like the atom bomb and unhealthy oil consumption. If we were more stupid, we'd never come up with these things, and live happier, more enriching lives.
Although there are certainly some intriguing concepts brought forward in the documentary, where it actually shows its own lack of cognizance is in not understanding that it is wisdom we should be measuring, and not intelligence. They are very different things, although the film often confuses the two, even if stupidity is the antonym of both. The pursuit of acting stupid or in doing stupid things despite our knowledge that they are stupid doesn't make us stupid in terms of intelligence -- it makes us foolish, ignorant, and irresponsible -- it makes us unwise, You don't need a high IQ or a high school education to have common sense, and what we need to do to save our species, and perhaps life on Earth as we know it, is to learn to be prudent, and to revere sensibility. We are very intelligent, we just aren't using our intelligence in ways that are wise, while also finding enjoyment and meaning in acting and living like fools.
With interviews that are mere sound bytes, topics that never go in depth, and a titillating visual presentation made for people with short attention spans, Stupidity proves to be another symptom of the stupidity of our culture rather than the cure. While this is probably intentional, it isn't intelligent -- or if intelligent, not very wise.
©2006 Vince Leo