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The Big Duh!
by Mad Dog


The truth is, auctioning off a can of Prince Albert tobacco on eBay just so you can send a follow-up email saying, "Now that you have Prince Albert in a can why don’t you let him out" just isn’t funny.
     For years I’ve been told that if you ask a stupid question you’ll get a stupid answer. Unlike "The harder you work the more money you’ll make" and "Pauley Shore just needs to find the right vehicle", this saying happens to be true. It’s a shame no one in the media seems to have heard it, though. Lately they’ve been asking a rash of stupid questions, consulting experts or taking a survey, never stopping to realize that they’re the only ones who didn’t know the answer in the first place. Somewhere along the line reportable, rhetorical, and ridiculous have become one and the same.

     Remember a while back when there was a rash of hoax items put up for sale on eBay? First someone tried to auction off a slightly used kidney. Then someone else put a baby up for sale. The next thing you knew there was a brain being offered to the highest bidder. (I have to admit I did bid on that one. After all, I could tell it was a good deal since it obviously hadn’t been used much.) Through all of this there were newspaper articles and TV stories about it everywhere, each one asking the burning question, "Why are people doing this?"

     Well, duh! When we were younger why did we randomly call people on the phone to ask if their refrigerator was running? Certainly not because we thought saying "Well why don’t you run after it?" was hysterically funny. We did it because we could. And, of course, because eBay didn’t exist yet.



Instant gratification would be our national mantra if only it didn’t take so damned long to say because of all those syllables.
     "But that’s a far cry from kidneys and kids," you’re saying, confusing it with the greasy, soggy dish you ordered in a pub in London last year because some guy with more empty pints in front of him than teeth in his mouth recommended it. Well this is the ‘90s. It’s almost a new millennium (in case nobody has mentioned it in the last four minutes). And the truth is, auctioning off a can of Prince Albert tobacco on eBay just so you can send a follow-up email saying, "Now that you have Prince Albert in a can why don’t you let him out" just isn’t funny, even though it is better than most of the forwarded jokes your friends keep sending you when they’re supposed to be working.

     I didn’t go to journalism school but I did take one course in high school, which makes me as much of an expert on this as anyone. I remember being taught that a good story answers the questions: who, what, when, where, and how. Maybe they need to update this and start asking themselves: "Who didn’t know that?"

     Time magazine has also started subscribing to the Big Duh! Not long ago they ran an article about the return of the short story because several compilations made the bestseller list. In the article they said editors were theorizing that the short story’s newfound popularity is due to the increase in creative writing programs in the ‘80s which caused writers to have a lot of short stories hanging around. Right, and the brain trust that decided we need a movie version of "Hogan’s Heroes" will get a Nobel Prize in economics next year, too.



I want to know whether people buy Snickers because they think it will make them laugh. I want to find out whether running for President makes you boring or if only boring people want to be President.
     Face it, we’re an A.D.H.D. nation (I say while popping Ritalin like Altoids). We have no time to waste, no attention span to speak of, and no—what was I saying, again? Oh yeah, we have itchy fingers that hit the remote or click the mouse button if something bores us, which generally occurs after three consecutive seconds of anything that doesn’t include Jennifer Lopez or George Clooney. Six seconds if it’s the two of them together. Instant gratification would be our national mantra if only it didn’t take so damned long to say because of all those syllables.

     Thus, short stories are the perfect literary form. They’re concise, they don’t have many characters to keep track of, and you can finish one in about the same time it takes to dry your Ricky Martin T-shirt in the microwave. Duh!

     But wait, there’s more! A consulting firm recently released a survey that said people who shop online do it primarily for convenience. Wow! I could have sworn they did it because they were on a diet and wanted to avoid the temptation of Mrs. Fields’ and Cinnabon at the mall. Another study just out says teenagers who drink or use drugs are more likely to be sexually active. Incredible! Who would have imagined that alcohol and drugs would loosen anyone up?

     Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the media always asks stupid questions. In fact, sometimes they ask very intelligent ones. The problem then is they have to be careful who they pose them to, especially when there are people like presidential candidate George W. Bush around, a man whose primary talent seems to be coming up with stupid answers to perfectly good questions.

     I need to find out who it is that dreams up these articles and surveys. Something tells me they’re making big bucks coming up with questions that have obvious answers and I want a piece of the action. I want to know whether people buy Snickers because they think it will make them laugh. I want to find out whether running for President makes you boring or if only boring people want to be President. And most of all I want to know exactly who it was that decided to remake Hogan’s Heroes. And no, it’s not so I can nominate him or her for the Nobel prize, it’s so I can ask the question we all already know the answer to: "Do you really think anyone’s going to go see it?"

1999 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read them, but don't ask stupid questions.

 

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