You know who’s really stupid? The people who write questions to Parade Magazine.
Parade is that weekly thing that comes in your Sunday paper, wedged between the color comics and the Circuit City ads. It’s a “magazine” in the same sense that corndogs are “food”: only technically and by the broadest of definitions. Mostly, Parade has very short, soggy articles about non-controversial topics such as socks, why eating rice is good for you, and Jerry Lewis. The articles are not boring, but they are not interesting, either. If you talked about the things in these articles at dinner parties, people would listen politely and then instantly forget everything you said.
There are two regular features that involve stupid people writing in with questions. One of them is “Ask Marilyn.” The Marilyn who is the object of the asking is Marilyn vos Savant, listed in the Guinness Book of World Records under “Highest IQ.” For some reason, this makes a lot of people — stupid people, as I mentioned — worship her like she’s an all-knowing oracle. They ask three major kinds of questions:
1. Advice that could just as easily be asked of friends and family, except that friends and family are morons, whereas Marilyn is super-smart and presumably will therefore give only the soundest of advice.
2. Factual questions, i.e., questions that have a definitive, objective answer. These ones amaze me. A couple weeks ago, Ron Selva of Bethel Park, Pa., asked: “If all the roads in the United States were laid side by side, what area would they cover?” Marilyn answered that they would cover an area about the size of Indiana. What I’m wondering is, what magical powers did Ron Selva think Marilyn had that he did not have himself? Does he think only people with genius IQs can look things up on the Internet?
3. Brain-teasers. This is where they try to stump Marilyn, which is impossible, for she is omniscient. They’ll ask something like, “What does this series of letters represent: IAEEOIEIAEOOIE.” And then Marilyn will give the answer, which is, “They’re the vowels in the opening line of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’)!!!” And we are delighted by her vast knowledge and by her ability to pluck meaning from obscure patterns.
The other Parade feature that invites stupid people to ask questions is “Personality Parade,” by Walter Scott. This is not the same Walter Scott who was a popular Scottish poet in the early 17th century. In fact, Walter Scott isn’t even this person’s real name. He’s actually Edward Klein, and he’s a biographer and former Newsweek editor. (I learned this by harnessing the power of the Internet. Just kidding, of course; I asked Marilyn and she looked it up for me.) “Personality Parade” is about celebrities, and people write in with the dumbest questions you can imagine. Most of them could be easily answered by going to the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com), or by Googling the person’s name with a couple other keywords (e.g., keira knightley anorexia bag of antlers). But no. Instead, people write to Edward Klein aka Walter Scott to ask him.
Now, I’m sure Edward/Walter is a busy man. Many of us find our days filled to overflowing just maintaining one identity; Edward/Walter has to handle two. So I would like to take over “Personality Parade” for him. I will do this for a nominal fee, and my work will always be cleanly written and submitted on time. As my audition, here are some actual questions he has printed in recent weeks, accompanied by the answers that I would have given.
Q. What do you think of Clay Aiken’s new hairstyle?
— Chris V., Spokane, Wash.
Are you kidding me? Why do you care what I think of Clay Aiken’s new hairstyle? Why do you care what ANYONE thinks of Clay Aiken’s new hairstyle? Why do YOU care about Clay Aiken’s new hairstyle?! Do not write to me again.
Q. Wherever I turn, I keep hearing about a new movie called “Snakes on a Plane.” What’s the story?
— John Boyer, Milwaukee, Wis.
Your question has two possible meanings, both of them stupid. One is, “What’s the plot of ‘Snakes on a Plane’?,” and the answer is, “Well, there’s this plane, and there are some snakes on it.” The other is, “What’s the story behind the movie ‘Snakes on a Plane’?,” and the answer is, “Well, someone wanted to make a movie that would be popular, and he thought that a story about snakes on a plane would do the trick.” If there is a third, less stupid meaning behind your question, you have not conveyed it.
Q. Brandon Routh, star of “Superman Returns,” must be aware that his predecessors — Christopher Reeve and George Reeves — met untimely deaths. Reeve died as a result of a riding accident. But how about Reeves?
— Ted Cahill, Boston, Mass.
Wait a sec. So you know that George Reeves died in an untimely manner, yet you allegedly don’t know what that manner actually was? I call bullcrap. I say you’re a shill, trying to get me to plug the upcoming film “Hollywoodland,” which tells the story of how Reeves died. (Note: That is exactly what Edward/Walter did.)
Q. I know Daniel Craig is the new James Bond, but who’s the new Bond babe?
— W. Pierce, Orlando, Fla.
This question took a lot of work to answer. I had to go to the Internet Movie Database at www.imdb.com. Then I had to type “Casino Royale” (for that is the name of the new James Bond film) in the search box. Then I had to scan past Daniel Craig’s name in the cast list to find Eva Green’s, listed right under his. If you need any further help with the names of movie cast members, let me know. I’ll come over to your house and hold your hand while you spend five seconds searching on the Internet.
Q. I know “20/20’s” Deborah Roberts is the wife of “Today’s” Al Roker. Can you tell me more about her?
— V. McCoy, Martinsburg, W.Va.
Q. I say Kurt Russell played the boy in Disney’s “Old Yeller.” My daughter says it was someone else. Who’s right?
— Laurie Kerr, Bowling Green, Ky.
I’m right. You’re both wrong, just for asking me this question. In the time it took you to debate the matter and write to me, you could have found the answer yourself on the Internet. You’re familiar with it, right? It’s this series of tubes that brings information to people via their computers. Do they not have that yet in Kentucky? Anyway, Tommy Kirk played the boy, not Kurt Russell.
Q. I’m disappointed that Taylor Hicks won on “American Idol” instead of Katharine McPhee. What was your reaction?
— Peter Campbell, Madison, Wis.
Disgust and contempt. Oh, sorry, I thought you meant my reaction to your question. My reaction to the “American Idol” outcome was semi-hostile indifference.
Q. We saw a trailer for the animated film “Barnyard,” and I bet my wife that the father cow is voiced by Sam Elliott. Who wins?
— Wade B., Lubbock, Tex.
Well, in a situation where both parties are clinically retarded, no one really “wins,” do they? But the answer to your question is that the cow is voiced by Charles Nelson Reilly. At least, that’s what I’m telling you. Maybe I’m lying. If only you had some way of finding out for yourself….
Random, unmotivated meanness. What's more fun than that? Considering the whole point of Parade Magazine is to provide something innocuous and inoffensive to read over Sunday breakfast, it's kind of funny that it enrages me so.
Anecdote that was deleted because it didn't really fit the tone of the column: A few weeks ago, someone asked Marilyn this brain-teaser: "Which part of a car travels the farthest?" Marilyn's answer, and presumably the correct one, was: "The keys!" This is the rare instance of Marilyn's answer being even stupider than the question, because of course the keys are not actually PART of the car. I happened to be visiting my family in California when this issue of Parade was published, and over the course of the day, as each family member read the paper, he or she would say aloud, "The keys aren't part of the car!," and we would know he or she was at that moment reading Parade. I cite this as evidence that any random member of the Snider family is smarter than Marilyn.
Oh, and visit this fun site for instances of Marilyn being flat-out wrong.
Upon reflection, I discovered a third possible meaning of the "What's the story with 'Snakes on a Plane'?" question. He could have meant "What's the story?" in the sense of "What's the deal?," as in, "I keep hearing about this movie, no matter where I go. What's up with that?" That is a somewhat less stupid question, though still not one you should be asking Walter Scott.