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Monday, January 28, 2008

The Death of Outrage, or Are You Smarter Than an American Idol?

Today we bring you another in what has become a series of laments about the sad state of learning in our modern society. Though this isn't strictly about books, it does have some bearing on reading, or the failure to read. This may come to either of my readers as old news, but last night was our first exposure to what we are about to describe: Kellie Pickler appeared on the television show "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader?"

Wikipedia tells us that Kellie Dawn Pickler, age 21, is an American pop country music singer-songwriter who finished sixth on the fifth season of the Fox television series "American Idol". She has since been signed to BNA Records as a recording artist, with her debut album Small Town Girl being released in late 2006. The album has been certified gold in the United States for sales exceeding 500,000 copies, and it has produced three singles on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs charts. Ms. Pickler graduated in 2004 from North Stanly High School in New London, North Carolina.

We have watched "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth-Grader?" several times. It is a fine quiz show, vastly superior to "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" because the questions do not revolve around pop culture, and because the show involves children. We also watched because we found first-year student Marki Ann Meyer to be adorable.

On the television show, Ms. Pickler was asked, "Budapest is the capital of what European country?" She replied, "This might be a stupid question, but I thought Europe was a country." She thought it might be France, and then was confused if France really was a country or not. When told the answer was Hungary, she did not believe the host. She said, "Hungry [sic]? That's a country? I've heard of Turkey, but Hungry? I've never heard of it." The video can be seen here:

That's good for a laugh, right? "It is her innocent ignorance that makes her so cute and likable," as someone commented on the television show message boards. But look at her face, and one can see she is completely overwhelmed, she is not acting the part of a ditzy blonde for commercial appeal.

Okay, so she's not a geography major. But since she is a musician, one would expect her to know about music. When she was asked what family of instruments the piccolo belonged to, she was still lost. She had no idea what a piccolo was, and it sounded as if she didn't know what percussion, woodwind, or strings was either. So she used her critical thinking skills and decided that the piccolo was from the percussion family because they both started with a P. She also determined that Franklin Pierce was a United States President because his last name began with a P, just as hers did.

Sadly, the audience found her answers funny. According to her website, when she appeared on "American Idol", her vibrant vocals, boundless energy, bubbly personality and refreshing honesty not only won over the judges, but endeared her to viewers as well. She is not stupid, she is quirky. She is not troubling, she is charming. Incredibly, Ms. Pickler has received numerous awards from local and statewide government officials praising her accomplishments as a contestant on the American Idol television show. Why hasn't she received numerous condemnations for her astounding lack of basic knowledge as supposedly taught in our schools? This is the death of outrage.

Ms. Pickler stands out as a perfect example of many. As far as we know, every contestant on the show has either flunked out or dropped out of the game before winning. The gentleman who followed Ms. Pickler answered the very first question wrong: how many e's are in the word mathematics? Something we are supposed to be taught in first-grade spelling.

Ms. Pickler undoubtedly possesses appealing features, including many of the attributes prized by the superficial male. She certainly has a pleasant singing voice. Her website calls her life a "fairy tale". What we are being told is that one needn't be smarter than a fifth-grader to be successful, one needs only smarts; happily ever after is equated with celebrity; looks will take you further than knowledge; all our heroes are whores.


  1. I watched the American Idol series in which she was competing, and the whole 'Kerry Pickler's cute-dumb' thing made me very uneasy. Particularly as it also seemed to provoke a huge amount of very vicious personal attacks on the blogs and message boards about AI. The whole attitude towards her seemed to be hopelessly incoherent, with little to redeem it.

  2. I thought she was very appealing on AYSTAFG. And she obviously has parlayed her skills and attributes into a level of success which I have not reached. It's disturbing we don't have more substantial role models.

  3. I agree with the story, but:

    "What we are being told is that one needn't be smarter than a fifth-grader to be successful, one needs only smarts ..."

    looks contradictory.