Selective Stupidity

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Look at how stupid people are! We spent weeks interviewing random passers by, and we found some people who thought that Africa was a country.

It's common for some shows and publications to imply that people as a whole (or particular people) are shockingly ignorant by taking amusingly incorrect samples from a vast number of statements. The examples can be found by combing the millions of published statements from public figures for mistakes, or by heading out and interviewing random people until you find someone who makes a mistake, or thinks it would be funny to pretend to.

Unfortunately, when shows do this to people from another country it tends to encourage bouts of Misplaced Nationalism, as it feeds the egos of those who believe people from the given country really are that stupid.

Examples of Selective Stupidity include:
  • Private Eye has a regular feature called "Dumb Britain", which lists wrong answers given to supposedly simple questions by quiz show contestants.
    • Often criticised in the letters pages. One 'dumb answer' was to the question 'Where do Panama hats come from" which was answered with 'Luton'. A letter pointed out that this was a perfectly reasonable response since the answer was obviously not 'Panama'.
  • The Tonight Show has a segment called Jaywalking, in which Jay Leno is filmed collecting examples of ignorance from people on the street.
  • Rick Mercer's Talking To Americans features segments in which passers-by are asked questions like "Do you find it appalling that 70% of Canadian children can not name the state they live in." Very few people caught on. A particularly memorable example was a mother going on about how shameful it was only to have her very young son pipe up with "Waita minute! Canada's got provinces!"
    • Mercer's also managed to dupe Mike Huckabee, George W. Bush, an Ivy League professor, and nearly every member of the Canadian Parliament since the early 1990's into saying or doing asinine things. He's a national treasure.
  • The Chaser's War on Everything, their American correspondent roamed the streets of New York asking people the date of the 9/11 attacks. Not the year, but the date. Some people got it wrong!
  • The book Non Campus Mentis features hundreds of amusingly flawed statements on world history, supposedly taken (out of context) from actual essays written by college students.

"Zorroastrologism was founded by Zorro. It is a duelist religion."

  • The Brits seem to like this, a lot.
    • Those guys are Australian, as reported in the next entry.
      • But thanks for proving this trope's point.
  • Australian satirical news show CNNNN (made by the same guys who would later make The Chaser's War on Everything) had their roving reporter in America ask passers-by which country America should invade next by placing flags on a map. A lot of people put their flags on Australia, which had been mislabelled as "Iran", "France" and "North Korea". Watch it here.
    • Julian did this with general knowledge questions in most episodes. A particularly memorable one was a man who was asked "Who was the first man on the moon?" His answer: "You know, some people don't think that happened, they think it was reincarnated in Arizona somewhere." What.
  • On Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, they once sent a woman to an environmental festival in order to collect signatures to ban "Dihydrogen monoxide" because of its harmful effects (if you inhale it, you'll die) and its prevalence (your children are exposed to it every day) and she collected a ton of them... For those whose chemistry is rusty, "Dihydrogen monoxide" is water.
    • Perhaps people should try a different name next time? "Hydroxic acid" has a nice ring to it. (For the pedants: water is a perfectly good proton donor, therefore by definition a pretty good acid. That it's also a perfectly good alkali makes no difference.)
      • Since it's also a proton acceptor and thus a base, "Hydrogen hydroxide" is another fine name.
        • Of course since those names are made up and aren't even correct scientifically it would be perfectly reasonable for people not to recognize that they mean water.
    • For those of you who are interested, here's the website for the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division.
  • Likewise, an early episode of The Man Show had the hosts collecting signatures from women to "End Women's Suffrage," just by phrasing it as if "suffrage" was a synonym for "suffering." To their credit, they did show several people pointing out how dumb that is and trying to correct people who had been duped, demonstrating that not everyone they met was ignorant enough to fall for it.
  • The game show Street Smarts bases itself around this trope. Contestants are shown clips of people on the street being quizzed and must predict whether they'll be able to come up with the (usually pretty obvious) correct answers.
  • Google once did a survey of passersby in Times Square to see how many knew what a browser was. Very few did. It was so amusing that they posted it on youtube where it proved popular.
  • Child reporters on Germany's public broadcasting channel ARD once asked members of parliament and other politicians about the internet. Among the most infamous responses was the minister of justice's reply to what browser she uses: "Brauser? Remind me again, what's a Brauser?".
  • Documentaries about the past (The Atomic Café, for instance) often try to show how (supposedly) ignorant or naive people in, say, the The Fifties were by showing stock footage of people doing or saying now-ridiculous things. The fact that the same handful of clips seem to be used in multiple documentaries demonstrates the weakness of this position.
  • Played with in the introduction to Dave Barry Slept Here:

Tragically, many Americans know very little about the history of their own country. We constantly see surveys that reveal this ignorance, especially among our high school students, 78 percent of whom, in a recent nationwide multiple-choice test, identified Abraham Lincoln as "a kind of lobster." That's right: more than three quarters of our nation's youth could not correctly identify the man who invented the telephone.