Politics

The New Book "Welcome to Dumbfuckistan" Speaks Volumes About American Culture

April 10th 2016

By:
Matthew Segal

Ian Gurvitz is a Hollywood-based TV writer and producer who recently authored a new book that mourns the deteriorating state of America's national political dialogue: "Welcome to Dumbfuckistan: The Dumbed-Down, Disinformed, Dysfunctional, Disunited States of America." ATTN: recently caught up with Gurvitz to better understand why our body politic has descended into what he calls "a celebration of the dumbest common denominator." (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)

Welcome to Dumbfuckistan

In describing "Welcome to Dumbfuckistan," you say "America may become the first world power to crumble under the weight of its own stupidity." Can you elaborate on the key tenets of this stupidity?

At the core of our national mindset is a cocktail of faith, ignorance, and philosophical relativism. We’re not taught to think; we’re trained to believe. And we believe that having the right to our beliefs renders all beliefs equally valid. Evolution and creationism are posed as two competing theories on the origin of the universe. We embrace over-simplistic solutions to complex problems. Illegal immigration? Build a wall. International terrorism? Bomb the shit out of them. Stupidity has been granted a seat at the adult table of intelligent discourse and it’s affecting our culture, our politics, and our lives.

phil-robertson-duck-dynasty

Who is to blame for this stupidity? Institutions or individuals?

Both. Institutions cling to power by polluting the national dialogue with false narratives, talking points, and lies. “Seat belts don’t save lives.” “Nicotine isn’t addictive.” “Climate change is just a theory.” When you can fight government regulations by conflating corporate greed with economic freedom, or stall social progress by hiding discrimination under the banner of religious liberty, you’ve pulled off a dazzling display of misdirection. But if individuals were more skeptical the lies wouldn’t take root. We’re just too easily manipulated. We’ve gone from the low-information voter, to the no-information voter, to the anti-information voter. Hence, the Tea Party.

You write "apparently, it takes a village full of idiots to elect a village idiot," in referencing our elected officials. Is all of America stupid in choosing their public representatives, or just parts of it? If so, what parts are the worst?

It’s red state America and the hard-core right wing, with its embrace of economic policies that nearly sent us into a second depression. Along with the culture warriors, and their belief that American life should be grounded in the ignorance and superstitions of people who lived thousands of years ago. This is encapsulated in Mike Huckabee’s God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, a book based on the premise that there’s a divine intelligence who created a vast universe, yet has a special place in his heart for fat, heavily armed Christians with high cholesterol. Just look at the electoral map. America is basically pockets of intelligence in a large pair of fat pants.

Kim Davis

What was the inspiration for writing your book / what catalyzed it?

The catalyst was the 2008 election, and the ascendance of Sarah Palin. I sat there gobsmacked that someone so remarkably unqualified and pathetically uninformed was being touted by a major political party as a candidate for vice president; someone who would have been one malfunctioning defibrillator away from getting her fingers on the nuclear button. It was stupidity on parade. The more she talked, the angrier I got. At some point it was either stroke out, pop a Xanax, scream at the TV, or scream at my laptop. What kept me going was the 7-year, monolithic, politically motivated Republican obstructionism against President Obama, all in an effort to reclaim the White House. What inspires me now is Trump, who is Palin 2.0.

2 Chainz on Nancy Grace

You are very critical of cable news in your book. What are the 3 most broken elements of cable news?

Cable news, like network news, is subject to ratings and financial pressure. Because of that pressure, they tend to trade left/right slugfests for analysis. This allows politicians or their surrogates to float propaganda-laced talking points into the culture, unchallenged. Though, I don’t think all networks are equally culpable. Some raise the intelligence bar, and more than occasionally demonstrate flashes of insight, leading to an outbreak of actual journalism. This is MSNBC. Others seem to have traded flash for substance, and pretty people for journalists, with shows that feature sexy graphics, and bombastic music. And everything is “breaking news!” All too often is more noise than news. THIS… IS CNN. And one just provides an angry echo chamber along with craven political pandering, all to advance a very specific agenda. This is Fox. News has become decentralized. The upside of this decentralization is that we’re plugged in 24/7. The downside is that we tend to live in the echo chambers of those shows that reinforce our political leanings, and what’s often lost is perspective, or a trusted national figure, an ombudsman for truth. Frankly, some should have to refer to themselves as “news-themed shows,” until they can demonstrate that they are serving the public interest by debunking lies and presenting facts.

TV Ratings Say A Lot About America

If you were declared president of a cable news network, what immediate steps would you take to fix it?

Lose the holograms, flashy touch screen graphics, pretty people, bombastic music, and “breaking news” flashes. Replace them with facts, content, context, and substance. Stop pandering. Change the mission from increasing ratings to digging for the truth. Challenge guests. Debunk lies and talking points. I think journalism has a responsibility to inform, and not just report. Of course, this will never happen, as it would be like trying to take candy away from a child. I think the assumption is that the gimmicks are needed to break through the clutter.

superman-under-dress-shirt

Throughout the book, you talk about a change in culture, specifically with movies, which you argue have gotten dumber as the decades progress. Why is this?

Money. Mass entertainment has gone from a product that reached the masses to one that reflects the taste of the masses. Instead of stories based in the human condition, they’re based on Comic Con. Movies are about box office, franchises, and merchandising. What suffers is the culture. And a dumbed-down culture is a dumbed-down electorate. Ultimately, we get what we ask for. The culture has been dumbed down for our consumption because we consume it. Junk food wouldn’t sell if we didn’t eat it. Crap movies wouldn’t get made if we didn’t pay to see them. Our culture is a reflection of who we are and how we think. We have met the enemy and he is us.

kylie-jenner

You write, "the most popular network shows these days seem to be singing contests, dancing contests, dating contests, cooking contests, diet contests, ninja contests, even business contests." Why is America obsessed with contests?

Maybe it’s in our western DNA, going back to the heroes of Greek mythology. Or maybe the contests are a metaphor for American life – which has become a mad scramble for money, glory, fame, and ego. Trump’s nastiest insult is calling someone a “loser.” We’ve even perverted the idea of freedom into the single-minded pursuit of one’s own goals and what’s been lost is any sense of social responsibility. It’s a strange irony that as obsessed as we are with our lives we’ve lost the difference between standard of living and quality of life. We’ve reduced the good life to a fat-ass bank account, and a big-ass Mercedes, parked in front of an ugly ass McMansion. We are engaged in the relentless pursuit of stuff, even though he who dies with the most toys, still dies.

martin-luther-king-jr

In the end of your book, you confess there has been some progress in America, but lament the perpetual slowness of it. What, if anything, do you think can be done to speed it up?

Martin Luther King said that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. The same could be said for the arc of American history. It also bends toward reason and sanity. But it’s a slow, slow, bend, and with each step forward dumb America has shrieked and howled like a wounded animal. It took 100 years to get from Civil War to the civil rights movement. And, still, 50 years later, racism still lurks in the body politic. What speeds it up is old minds dying out and young minds being educated, not indoctrinated, particularly about religion. Evangelical Christianity has a stranglehold on American life, all based on a juvenile, superstition-based, notion of religion. We’re never taught the philosophical and experiential foundations underlying all traditions. We’re never taught that myth is metaphor, not history. We need a second reformation in this country, though instead of railing against corruption and the selling of indulgences, we can rail against superstition and stupidity, with the goal of arriving at a more subtle and sophisticated understanding of the subject.

Where can interested parties find the book?

Amazon. Paperback and Kindle. If you like it, tweet about it. Put a nice review on Amazon. If not, have the decency to keep it to yourself.