Reporting Luis Prada
With independence comes responsibility, so we dug up five ways we’re falling behind our forebears. Let’s do right by them and up our game!
If the words of old people are to be trusted, America used to be good at everything. Granted, the America they talk about is one in which women were treated like dirt and black people were barely considered human, but people say we were good at stuff and we were great, so let’s run with it.
We used to be good at a great many things…and then something happened. No one knows what, exactly; but something happened and all of a saddened we started sucking at a great many things. By the time World War II ended our can-do spirit had us feeling like infallible gods, and by the time the war in Afghanistan is over we’ll feel like comically unfortunate idiots. We’ll be the geographic and cultural version of Candide – just a bunch of simpleminded fools who wander in and out of major catastrophes with undamped spirits, never quite understanding what the hell is going on.
The weird part is, people have been able to scientifically document our decline in various fields. Don’t believe it? Well, did you know that…
1) Americans Have Bad Rhythm
American pop music is pervasive and inescapable. No matter how sturdy your mental musical bomb shelter is, no matter how deeply you bury yourself within your cool underground music chamber, catchy pop tunes will always find a way to blow down the doors like a battering ram of manufactured hooks and vapid lyrics. And no matter the genre – country, hip-hop, pop, jazz, or rock – American pop music has deadened our ears, rendering us incapable of picking up on the larger spectrum of rhythms.
But babies, as it turns out, are a musical clean slate, and can detect irregular rhythms. Babies literally have more rhythm than fully-grown Americans.
Hannon and Sandra Trehub of the University of Toronto conducted two experiments. In the first, Americans and first and second generation Bulgarian and Macedonian immigrants were played music with simple meters and complex meters. The Americans couldn’t detect when the rhythms shifted from complex to simple, yet the immigrants were able to detect both because traditional Bulgarian and Macedonian music contain far more simple rhythms than American music.
In the second experiment, Hannon and Sandra ran the same test, but this time on babies, who are a musical clean slate and have no preconceived biases. If the babies looked at a monitor showing the rhythm changes in a song, it meant they were able to detect the change – and they did.
What this all means is that by producing and listening to rhythmically complex music, Americans are losing the ability to pick up on simple rhythms; thus we find it difficult to rock out to fat hairy Bulgarian guys looking bored by their own music…
2) Americans Are
Teribble Spellors Terrible Spellers
We may be the land of spelling bees on ESPN, but when it comes to spelling words that are commonly misspelled – words like “embarrassed,” “liaison,” and “millennium” – Americans are particularly awful, at least when compared to our friends across the pond in England.
The Spelling Society, which sounds like an educational version of the Justice League, is an organization that’s been around since 1908 and whose sole purpose is to simplify the English language and change any “unnecessary difficulties of English spelling.” So if you, like me, ever had to type the word “rhythm” a bunch of times and never spelled it correctly once because the word confuses your brain because it just looks like a bunch of goddamn continents, like someone slammed their face in to a keyboard, the Spelling Society is fighting for you.
Anyway, the Spelling Society conducted a survey of 2,000 adults — half were Americans and the other half Britons. Subjects were asked to spell a series of 10 commonly misspelt words. Americans didn’t fare so well. Sixty-two per cent of Americans got “embarrassed” wrong, compared to 54% of Britons. 52% of Americans couldn’t spell “millennium,” compared to 43% of Britons. “Accommodation” also proved to be a tricky word as 42% of Americans spelled it incorrectly to Brittan’s 36%. And “liaison” was a disaster for pretty much everybody, but of course, Americans failed harder – 61% of Americans spelled it incorrectly, compared to 54% of Britons.
In the grand scheme of things, this doesn’t mean much. These are words that people most commonly misspell, after all. So there’s a certain amount of failure built in to a study like this from the start. But Americans, as if it were our patriotic duty to be number one at all the wrong things, rose to the occasion and failed mightily, thus triumphing once again over our English overlords by losing to them.
Cue “America! F*ck Yeah!” and tell the Rockettes to stretch their hammies! We’ve got a victory party to throw!
3) Americans Don’t Know Anything About The Constitution
If you based your view of Americans entirely off of 24-hour cable news shows, one might venture to guess that all Americans have sewed their favorite sections of the Constitution on to the back of their eye lids so that they can see the words “guns” and “freedom” every time they blink. In a 2010 poll, Americans ranked the Constitution just below science and technology on a list of things they “love.” Thankfully, the pollsters did not ask if Americans were willing to consummate their love with an over-200-years-old document.
Yet, according to a 2010 study conducted by The Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier, 86% of Americans “believe that the Constitution is important to their daily lives” but only 28% have read the entire thing, and only 14% have read “most of it.” This is understandable seeing as the Constitution starts off strong with all that “We The People…” talk, but develops 3rd act issues with all that boring “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate” crap.
This is especially surprising considering the U.S. Constitution is the shortest of any major country’s Constitution, roughly the equivalent of a 17-page novel.
Speaking of “We the people…” the opening line that very strongly suggests political power rests with average citizens, only 48% of Americans think power comes from The People; instead, most believe power stems from the people The People elect to public office. Apparently, Americans think democracy is like being the team captain for a dodgeball team, and after you pick your players, you go home and hope you didn’t accidentally pick the pale, un-athletic Goth kids.
Even more depressing are the findings of a study conducted by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum – 22% of Americans could name Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, and Maggie from The Simpsons from memory and only 1 in 1,000 could name all five freedoms granted by the First Amendment. If only the Constitution were a wacky cartoon character that got in to silly diplomatic hijinks every Sunday at 8.
4) Americans Are Bad At Geography
To an outsider, America might seem like a country so up its own ass that if a major global event is going down that doesn’t involve us, we don’t care about it. This, as it turns out, is probably true.
According to a 2006 National Geographic study of Americans aged 18-24, 63% of those surveyed could not locate Iraq on a map of the Middle East, and on a map of Asia, 88% couldn’t find Afghanistan. You’d think after trillions of dollars and thousands of dead U.S. soldiers we would at least take a few minutes out of our lives to learn the physical location of the place we’re dumping all of our money and losing our children. Even sadder, these are 18-24 years olds – kids the same age as the ones doing the fighting. Snot-nosed little brats probably don’t even know how lucky they are.
Even more embarrassing, and almost equally as depressing, 67% couldn’t find Louisiana on a map of the U.S., even though the study was conducted a year after Hurricane Katrina dominated the news. And New York and Ohio? Forget it. Only 50% could find Ohio and an absurdly low 43% couldn’t find New York, which is understandable, seeing as New York is one of, if not the most culturally rich and economically vital cities in the world. But hey, maybe all that importance has hyped New York up to mythological status, making it just as unbelievable as other fictional lands like Narnia and Middle Earth and, of course, Ohio.
5) 30% Of Americans Are Born As Naturally Bad Drivers
80% of Americans think they’re good drivers. 80% — that’s a weird number, because if you go out for a drive right now and conduct your own study, you’ll find that around 80% of the people driving around you are entirely unqualified to be driving. 80% is so large you have to assume at least 5% of that 80 is made up of people that have parked their cars in someone’s living room at some point and don’t even hold that fact against themselves. “Oh, that doesn’t count, for you see, I was extremely drunk on all three occasions.”
Steven Cramer, a neurology professor at the University of California Irvine, discovered a specific gene in human DNA that, strangely, was only apparent in people that rummage through their glove compartments while going 75 in a school zone…or perform similar acts of motorized stupidity.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a protein that is secreted into different areas of the brain depending on what task you are currently performing. The protein acts as an antenna that helps brain cells in that region communicate with each other. People that have the specific gene variation mentioned above don’t secrete BDNF as much as everyone else. These people are the fumbling idiots you meet on a daily basis; the ones that never seem to learn how to do anything properly and always as you what button they need to hit to make copies on the copy machine. “Christ, Ted! It’s the button that says ‘Copy’!”
Cramer gathered 29 people – 22 without the bad driving gene and 7 with it – and had them drive 15 laps on a closed course. Then they did it again 4 days later to see if they had retained any knowledge of the course. The long and short of it is, the people with the bad driving gene were driving like they were being attacked by spiders. They hit cones and never remembered what the next turn would so it always took them by surprise – if there had been a robot stuffed with meat that simulated the mother-pushing-a-baby-carriage-across-the-street scenario, after all the bad driving gene-havers were done that course would have looked like a freak gas main explosion at a pig farm.
The scariest part of it all? 30% of Americans are born with this gene variant. So the next time you’re rolling down the highway and you count 10 cars, including yourself, 3 of those cars are being driven by comically (and lethally) dangerous morons. And if you can only detect 2 of those morons, guess what? You’re the third, and seeing as you’re reading this as you’re driving, everyone here at Man Cave would like to say, from the bottom of our hearts, LOOK OUT FOR THAT BUS!!!
Witness Luis’s previous strike in the battle against stupidity. –>