Stupid People Unite!

But haven’t they always run the world?

“Not all conservatives are stupid people, but all stupid people are conservatives.”

—John Stuart Mill

I hope you read Greg Hambrick’s recent “exposé” in the Sept. 3 edition of the City Paper. Using City Councilman Wendell Gilliard’s proposed ordinance against sagging pants as a jumping-off point, Hambrick “reported” on “Councilman Francis Fussbudget,” who wanted to ban popped collars in the Holy City.

“It started with the kids raising hell at the Yacht Club,” Hambrick quoted Fussbudget as saying. “Then they were stealing polo shirts from Banana Republic. Now they are nothing but cokeheads and Oxycontin users.”

It seemed like a perfectly safe spoof to me. Editor Chris Haire even gave readers a heads-up on the Contents page, describing “this week’s feature story, a satirical look at busting a sag.”

But as they say, you can never overestimate human stupidity. Orson Welles warned radio listeners that his War of the Worlds was a stage drama. That did not stop thousands of people from panicking.

Likewise, Haire’s warning did not prevent some Charlestonians from getting their noses out of joint. A storm of comments were posted to the City Paper‘s website, denouncing Councilman Fussbudget and calling the proposed ban on popped collars an assault on personal freedom.

“What is the point of calling America a free country?” one correspondent asked. “Now they are making laws about how we are allowed to dress?…

“If Councilman Fussbudget has a problem with popped collars at his yacht club, maybe he should take this ridiculous crap to the manager there…”

Wrote another: “What will be next to be outlawed — long hair or sandals?”

And another: “Freedom of expression, one of our rights, is being stepped on here, just because Fussbudget has no life of his own or any control over it.”

One reader actually got it. “Best satire I have read outside of The Onion,” he wrote. “Awesome piece.”

Awesome, indeed. Hats off to Mr. Hambrick for one of the wittiest things I have read in a long, long time.

As for the poor fools who fell for it, well, they are the price the rest of us pay for living in a free society. By themselves, they are pretty harmless, but en masse, they were able to put George W. Bush in the White House. As the saying goes, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers.

Before angry Republicans start writing in to say that I do not know who wrote the above posts, let me say that they are absolutely right. I don’t know because the posts are anonymous, and I don’t think any of these poor bastards are going to step forward to claim them. But they do reflect a popular way of thinking in this part of the country.

Satire is the use of irony to expose folly and lampoon pomposity. My Merriam-Webster defines irony as “the use of words to express something other than and especially opposite of the literal meaning.”

Think about that for a minute. It implies that things are not always as they seem. It suggests that things can have more than one meaning. It insinuates that things can be understood in more than one way.

Most adults learn along the way that life is complex, people are paradoxical, situations are … situational. The rest become cultural and political conservatives. They believe that the Bible is a literal document of creation and the history of the world. They believe that people are either good or evil. If they are on America’s side, they are good; if they are against us, they are evil. They believe that abstinence-only school programs stop teenagers from having sex. They believe that George W. Bush is a godly man because he says he is. They believe that some people converse directly with god and divine the truth in all matters, spiritual, and political. They believe it because these people tell them so. To suggest otherwise is to challenge the will of god and incur the wrath of these poor fools. They retaliate by giving us eight years of GWB.

On a personal note, these people are not a good market for irony. A couple of years ago I wrote and published a book called Wildlife in Charleston — A Children’s Book for Grownups. Sales have been close to zero because people think it’s a book for children!

The only nice thing I can say about these folks is that they make good employees, and teasing them with a bit of satire is like teasing a kitten with a mirror. But unlike a kitten, these people can vote.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.