Know Thyself

On “The Jerry Springer Show” last week, the featured guest was a trailer-trash woman who sported a Southern accent and whose hair had been teased to within an inch of its life. She was angry because her daughter, who looked like a slightly smaller version of herself, was dating a man who was not 100-percent Caucasian. The mother, whose name was Judy, was wearing tragic leather pants that fit her ample loins so tightly they were probably rubbing the ink off the tattoos that no doubt covered her lower back.

Judy was unable to coherently summarize her disapproval of her daughter’s boyfriend, other than that he came from non-Aryan stock. Why she should care so passionately about keeping her white-trash genes pure, I don’t know; if her wild, profanity-laden behavior on national television demonstrated anything, it was that her gene pool could use a good scrubbing.

But what amazed me most as I continued to watch this parade of horrors for an entire hour was the realization that while most people watch Jerry Springer and think, “Wow, what a bunch of freaks,” there are apparently some people who watch it and say, “Hey, WE should go on that show!”

How can you live in America, watch as much TV as these people apparently do, and NOT know that Jerry Springer guests are the butt of a thousand jokes? How do people not realize they’ve become living stereotypes?

I feel the same way about the people on Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” feature. This is where Jay goes out on the street and asks common-knowledge questions of ordinary people, and by “ordinary” of course I mean “stupid.” You get exchanges like this:

JAY: What is the capital of the United States?
MORON: Chicken strips?

Jay puts the stupidest people on his show, to be mocked and derided by their peers, who deserve a little derision themselves for watching Jay Leno in the first place instead of the much funnier, much more original “TV That Has Been Turned Off.”

But again, my question is this: Why do people submit themselves to Jay’s questions? Surely they’ve seen “The Tonight Show” and are aware that if they give the wrong answers, they will be put on TV. Are they so confident in their intelligence that they’re SURE they’ll get everything right and thus avoid being fodder? If that’s the case, then Jay has produced an intriguing paradox: The people he features in “Jaywalking,” who are clearly the dumbest, are the people who actually believed themselves to be the smartest.

While your view of yourself is ultimately the most important thing, I believe it is also important to be aware of how others are seeing you. If you think you’re smart but everyone else thinks you’re dumb, there’s a good chance everyone else is right. (If you weren’t so dumb, you could see that.) Time magazine reports that 30.5 percent of Americans are obese, but that only 19.8 percent THINK they’re obese. Which means there’s 10.7 percent out there who are obese and don’t realize it, which explains why some of them dress the way they do.

Whose job is it to tell people that the public perceives them as buffoons? Nobody’s. Well, mine, maybe, but probably not. The fact is, they provide us entertainment. The procession of inbred screamers on Springer; the pitiful, knowledge-deficient troglodytes on Leno; the hapless plus-sizes who cram themselves into revealing and unbecoming clothing — these are our entertainment. They are what amuses us. Were it not for a modest dose of self-awareness and common sense, the rest of us would be like them.

(Oh, and it’s Washington, D.C.)

The "chicken strips" thing was a private joke between me and three other people. Trust me, it's the funniest thing you've ever read.

In print, the descriptors "trailer-trash" and "white-trash" were replaced with "no-class." Apparently we didn't use terms like "trailer trash" and "white trash" in the Herald, not under the new editors we'd recently gotten, anyway. I remember very well sitting in the conference room with the new editors (see the comments after this column for background), going over this column. It was the day an unfavorable story about me and the Herald had run in Salt Lake City Weekly, and the day after we'd run a column in which I made fun of a blind kid I knew in grade school. Eric-Management relations were not exactly at an all-time high. While discussing this columns and how I couldn't say "white trash" in it, the decision was made to cut back "Snide Remarks" from twice a week to once a week.