Miss Teen SC’s stupidity part of larger problem

by Jim Longworth

Recently Miss Teen South Carolina Lauren Caitlin Upton became the poster girl for the dumbing down of America when she uttered an incoherent response to a simple question. Asked why one-fifth of Americans cannot identify the United States on a world map, Upton replied, “I personally believe that some, uh, US Americans are unable to do because some, uh, people in our nation don’t have maps, and I believe that our education such as in South Africa and in the Iraq and everywhere such as, and I believe that they should, our education over here in the US should help the US, should help South Africa, and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future for our children.”

The Miss Teen USA pageant was broadcast nationally by NBC, but within hours of Lauren’s idiotic remarks, another 2 million people visited the internet to watch the gaffe over and over again. Comedic parodies also popped up on the web, and Upton had become the butt of a huge joke. And so NBC and the pageant went into damage-control mode. They arranged for Lauren to do a live interview with Matt Lauer and Ann Curry. The two air-headed hosts fed Upton some of her responses in an effort to explain away the young woman’s stupidity.

Curry: Everything just came at you all at once.

Upton: Yes, everything just came at me all at once.

Lauer: Did you draw a blank?

Upton: Yes, I drew a blank.

Upton went on to say that she was “in shock” when she heard the question (come on, it was about geography, not pornography), then she contradicted herself by saying that she never really heard the question. Which is it? If Lauren isn’t lying, and really couldn’t hear the question, then she had a remedy. Even a 10-year-old spelling bee contestant knows how to ask for a word or phrase to be repeated.

Nevertheless, Curry,(herself an adult version of Upton only without the looks) ended the segment by slapping high fives with her sister in stupidity, shouting, “Good girl, you!” Lauer (the male version of Miss SC who got his big break in showbiz by learning how to parrot whatever his producers told him to say) assured Lauren, “Don’t let it get you down.” It was like watching the bald leading the blonde.

Okay, so NBC did its due diligence and tried to help the ditzy girl save face by having two other ditzes lob softballs at her. But following the faux interview, something even more bizarre occurred. Suddenly people started to sympathize with Upton, and excuse her comments as a “human mistake.” Having revealed that she hoped to attend Appalachian State University, Upton was even defended by Neal Lineback, a professor emeritus of geography at ASU who said, “I think she only heard a little of the question.” Come on, Professor. I like to look at pretty girls as much as the next guy, but you shouldn’t let your lust cloud your judgement.

Seriously, Ms. Upton is stunningly beautiful, but her lack of intelligence is not at all cute, and is, in fact, indicative of a much larger problem in our society.

These days, beauty (like athletic prowess) is exalted above intelligence and rewarded disproportionately in that regard. Aspiring to become a professional model, Upton will no doubt make more money in one year than Prof. Lineback has made in a lifetime.

And it is no coincidence that on the same day that Lauren’s gaffe made headlines, so did a report on how SAT scores have declined nationwide. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a big fan of SATs as an indicator of someone’s true abilities or potential, but the report did remind me of just how much we as a nation have lowered the bar of expectations for our young people. It is a disturbing phenomena that has been growing for decades, and one that has manifested itself in a myriad of arenas.

In the late 1970s, for example, the Episcopal Church trashed its traditional Book of Common Prayer in favor of a more modern version. All of the beautiful Old English phrasing was removed so that young people could better understand the text. It was the first time I remember a systematic attempt to dumb down a product. Youth will be served.

Then began the politically correct, feel-good era where every kid is a winner and no one is a failure. Ask folks in High Point how that turned out. “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino revealed that she graduated high school without being taught to read. And last year another Guilford County high school student told the news media that she didn’t know who Columbus was. Youth will be served.

Higher education lowered its bar as well. I taught for a few semesters at UNCG. My students came from all disciplines – music, psychology, science – and only about 20 percent of them could write or verbalize a coherent paragraph. As far as I know, they all went on to graduate. Youth will be served.

Today we live in an e-mail society which forgives poor grammar and misused syntax. Parents don’t seem to care. Youth will be served.

CNN now allows YouTube to control questioning for presidential debates. As such we were treated to queries from several young people who looked like they were high, and one question from a talking snowman. Pretty cute, huh? Youth will be served.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, of which I am a member, decided to let Ryan Seacrest host this year’s Emmy show because we needed to attract younger viewers. Gone are the days of emcees who excelled in public discourse as well as in comedy and drama. In Seacrest we have someone whose big achievement is babysitting competitors in a hyped up “talent” show which celebrates mediocrity by making instant stars out of people with very little talent. Youth will be served.

And on the big screen, movies with intelligent dialogue have given way to films filled with special effects which dwarf the acting, all because young people have a short attention span. Youth will be served.

And then there are minor-league baseball games, where young boys used to learn about the national pastime from listening to dad explain the rules and nuances. Today that experience has degenerated into a cacophonous mish-mash of loud music and sound effects. The rite of passage has been replaced by funny mascots in parks where little boys can’t even hear dad speak to them even if they wanted to. Youth will be served.

Newsflash: Catering to kids is only dumbing them down further and robbing them of their right to grow into adult society by learning about – and adhering to – its norms and traditions.

Education Resources Informational Center recently listed a report by several noted authorities about why today’s students have declining verbal skills.

The report cited the following reasons: parents who work, divorce; substance abuse, stressful classroom environments and increased use of television.

Are they kidding?

Television was more important to society in the 1950s than it is today, but that’s when people of all ages watched news and documentaries. Families have always been dysfunctional, and classrooms have always had some element of stress.

No, the reason why young people can’t read a map is the same reason Lauren Caitlin Upton can’t speak or think on her feet. They have been overly served by adults who think it’s necessary to cater to kid culture. They aren’t pressured to understand the history of their families much less their nation, nor are they encouraged to conform to societal norms which they should first embrace before trying to change or discard. They get by on mascara, muscles, Cliff’s Notes and instant messaging, and are defended by robotic apologists like Matt Lauer.

It is also ironic that many of today’s teens brag about their skills with oral sex, but lack any skill in oral communication.

Adults of each generation have always warned that America was going to hell in a handbasket, and now I think they were right. Not because of Elvis or the Beatles or P Diddy, but because young people lack common knowledge and appreciation of what will be expected of them as future adults. It’s the same logic that tells us the problem with illegal immigration isn’t with the immigrants themselves, but with those who fail to assimilate in order to preserve their culture.

Miss Teen South Carolina may be stunningly beautiful, but her actions were neither cute or excusable. Her lack of intelligence is a tragic reminder of what happens when youth continue to be served by “US Americans.”

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today, which can be seen Friday mornings at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7), and Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on WMYV 48 (cable channel 15).