A comment on stupidity

When did society become responsible for the stupidity of individuals?

Over the last few years, there’s been a disturbing trend where corporations (and governments, through the courts) have had to start protecting the stupid. Not the mentally disabled — the stupid. Seemingly ordinary people that, on the surface, you’d probably never suspect of being a moron. And yet, these people are the ones who end up affecting the rest of us because they feel they were specifically picked upon and justified in their retribution.

What am I referring to? Cold coffee. Quiet iPods. Notices of the blatantly obvious.

I think the precedent was set when someone sued McDonald’s for making coffee. For at least the lifetime of most living individuals at the time, coffee was brewed hot. Everyone knew that. It was just one of those things you were born with knowing: coffee = hot. You never took a huge swig of a steaming cup of coffee. Why? Because you’d burn your mouth, tongue, esophagus, and probably give your stomach a good roasting as well. Just to back things up, people were usually told: “Careful, it’s hot”. As if the cloud of steam (even on hot summer days) and the burning sensation on your fingers wasn’t enough.

But spill one cup of hot java on yourself, and suddenly it’s a crime. And not a trivial one — the lawsuit dragged out quite a long time (mostly due to McDonald’s pig-headedness) and wound up with a half-million dollar settlement. The part that kills me is that this even ended up in the courts! They actually made McDonald’s fork out the dough because of one person’s stupidity. It’s hot coffee. You spill it on your lap, you get burned. It’s an accident. You suffer, you suck it up. You don’t make everyone else drink warm coffee. Given, it was 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Third degree burns come quickly. But that’s why you should be careful with it!

The rallying cry of the injured: “I will protect everyone from this insult/injury/injustice!” Meanwhile the rest of us suffer from the individual’s naivety, ignorance, arrogance, and vanity. Maybe it’s a sense of “what about me?” or “who’s going to pay for this?” — a sense of self-centeredness and a need to hold someone accountable for everything. Nevermind that the person looking for accountability was the one responsible. No-one is willing to accept that they were the cause of such a mishap — it has to be someone else, dammit!

The worst part is that this sort of thing cascades. It’s not just McDonald’s. I can’t think of the last time I had a hot chocolate that wasn’t just merely tepid.

Thankfully, smarter heads prevail outside of North America. When someone tried to bring a similar case before the British courts, they were laughed out of the room. Frankly, I’m still trying to understand why that didn’t happen south of the border.

But stupidity continues. A couple of months ago, I came across a story where Apple was being sued for allowing iPods to be too loud. People were cranking the volume on the ubiquitous personal music boxes, and going deaf.

Well, duh!

Why does Apple need to deal with this? (I’m not defending Apple, I’m defending sanity.) You play music too loud for too long, you go deaf. Since when has this not been a part of the common knowledge? It’s not a state secret, folks. You know that ringing in your ears? Precursor to tintinitis. (Talk to Peter Townshend of The Who — he knows all about it.) Come out of a loud rock concert and can’t hear well? Care to guess why? Do you really think there’s any difference between 10 foot speakers and your in-ear speakers? It’s proximity, and your in-ear listening is just as damaging.

Or at least that’s what I was brought up to know. My mother regularly told me to lower the volume on my stereo (even when I used headphones). I’m assuming that everyone else’s parents did something similar, lest we’d be a population of people talking very loudly, or resorting to sign language. And boy, wouldn’t that kill off the music industry?

The most recent example of rampant stupidity came up in a commercial earlier this year. Admittedly, I didn’t really pay too much credence to it (if nothing else, perhaps that’s just showing my — and potentially everyone’s — acceptance that people are just generally dumb) until last night. I was at a friend’s barbecue. The topic came up. And really, it begs a question:

Does Red Bull really need to state that drinking their product will not enable you to fly?

This, above pretty much everything else, really makes me wonder. The slogan “Red Bull gives you wings” is pretty good. It’s catchy, people remember it, and it’s given them licence to do some rather funny little ads. But given the sudden introduction of the warning: “Red Bull does not actually make you fly” really makes one stare at the sun in wonderment. What bozo really attempted this? Undoubtedly, they lived, since they’re the ones who complained to Red Bull (whether not not a lawsuit came into play at any point of this is actually irrelevant), and Red Bull put in the disclaimer.

Why did they put in the disclaimer? Because people are stupid and cannot figure out for themselves that humans cannot in fact — unaided — fly. Apparently one million years of evolution has not bred that little piece of instinct in some people. Who knew?

Now don’t get me wrong, there are people who do think they can fly. But they’re usually hopped up on something wild, such as acid or speed (I’ve heard the same from cocaine). Fortunately, these people usually take the liberty of removing themselves from society (either through frying their brain, or actually trying — and failing — to fly) and we rarely hear about them. And frankly, if Red Bull created a similar desire to fly as a result of the chemical compounds in their products, I suspect they’d long have been banned in the United States.

And that begs another question (which was also raised last night) — what about other products with wings? Do they need disclaimers saying they won’t make you fly? You thought commercials for maxi-pads were already bad enough. Now they need to say that “You cannot fly with Kotex wings. Please do not attempt any form of unaided aerial activity.” You know it’s just a matter of time.

So do we have to abandon literary licence? These are the little catches that often get us to look through the blizzard of advertising at something different. Without those catches, we’d be oblivious to everything. Sure, there are those who say that we shouldn’t have any advertising at all — but then we all use exactly the same things, eat the same foods, work the same jobs. Do companies need to start providing only the specifics in their messages?

  • GE: We make lightbulbs. (“GE: We bring good things to life.”)
  • At Ford, we make cars. (“At Ford, Quality is Job 1.”)
  • Delta Airlines: We fly planes. (“We love to fly and it shows.”)
  • Careful, McDonald’s coffee is hot. (“I’m lovin’ it!”)

Maybe we should just accept stupidity as a natural degradation of humanity. It’s our fate. Maybe scientists should check the cranial capacity of current humans. I’m sure it’s going down — how else could we explain the lack of intelligence that seems to run amok lately? Personally, I think I’ve got a better solution (borrowed from Denis Leary). At birth, we should all be issued a manual, in which there is a single page that states in big, friendly letters:

“Life sucks, get a helmet!”

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