*(Editor’s note from 9th November, 2016: “Yes, they am.”)
British people believe Americans are stupid.
Not just some Americans. All British people believe all Americans who have ever lived are stupid. Albert Einstein. Noam Chomsky. William Faulkner. Abraham Lincoln. Jonas Salk, Donald Trump. All stupid, because they all are, or were, Americans.
They’re a little less quick to declare Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor or Muhammad Ali as idiots, because they don’t want to come across as racists. But actually since all those people are Americans, in addition to being black or latino, they are also, ipso facto, dumbasses. Or, er dumbarses. Dumarses? What do I know, I’m an American.
And maybe we is stupid. There’s an awful lot of evidence we be so:
- There’s that video of a teen beauty pageant contestant rambling about maps.
- There’s that time George Bush said: “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”
- There’s all those times George Bush said other things.
- (EDIT): And now there’s the election of Donald Trump as our 45th president.
I guess those examples alone are probably more than enough evidence for the citizens of Britain to declare their intellectual superiority over every one of 330 million Americans. There is a whole cottage industry in the UK centred around cataloguing every dumb thing Americans say and do. “Front Page of the Internet” megasite Reddit has a popular sub-reddit devoted just to this topic. Virtually any article in left-wing rag The Guardian that mentions America is a magnet for comments about fat, clueless Yanks. Same with the Daily Mail (which, truth be told, at least consistently believes that all foreigners are idiots).
But the only way you could truly understand how ingrained this belief is, would be if you moved to the UK as an American expat. The alleged mental inferiority of Americans is a topic that comes up just about any time someone mentions the USA. In fact, right now there’s a British person somewhere, right now reading this blog, defensively disagreeing with my core premise, but also thinking to himself: ‘typical stupid American.’
Have Brits always thought of Americans as stupid?
I don’t think so. This is, I believe, a relatively recent phenomenon. Back in World War II, Yanks were considered “overpaid, over-sexed and over here.” They were seen as a bit crude-mannered and overly enthusiastic, but also as capable partners in the war on Germany. No, the idea that all Americans aren’t just unsophisticated – but in fact mentally inferior, didn’t really come about until the early 1980s.
It’s all Ronald Reagan’s fault.
Reagan was America’s first president to proclaim that a refusal to accept facts in the face of evidence, was an admirable trait to have as an American. He railed against “intellectual elitists.” He declared “facts are stupid things.” He was the beginning of the U.S. Republican party’s transformation from a cadre of William Buckley-esque, free-market intellectuals, into a gang of mouth-breathing, anti-science, quasi-religious rednecks. It is these, modern Republicans who are so well known to a British audience eager to read about examples of American stupidity.
- Did you hear the one about the man so careless with his gun, that he left it with his 3-month old baby, who shot him in the face with it? That man’s a Republican (and you just know that baby is going to grow up to be another right winger).
- How about the “museum” of creationism, featuring humans riding dinosaurs, created by, and for Republicans.
- And you know those Americans out there claiming that the Confederate flag is all about “state’s rights” and not a pro-slavery symbol. Every single one of them is a Republican. Some have likened the removal of the Confederate flag from government buildings to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. Pretty stupid, huh?
It’s Republicans who oppose healthy eating programmes for children, claim global warming is a hoax, declare President Obama to be both a secret Muslim and a communist, and who frequently exercise their second amendment rights by accidentally shooting themselves – sometimes doing so twice in the same year. They make moronic pro-rape proclamations, including the one about how “legitimate” rape can’t cause pregnancy, as women’s bodies have a way of “shutting that thing down.” They even propose building ridiculously unfeasible and unnecessary, giant “Game of Thrones-style” walls across America’s borders with Mexico and Canada.
Then all these anti-intellectuals go on to quote passages from a bible they clearly don’t understand, or in some cases they just make up their own bible quotes, to justify their epically idiotic beliefs and actions.
In short, it’s them who are dumb.
But it’s not like the other 59% of Americans who aren’t Republicans regularly turn up as the subjects of British newspaper articles giving every detail about how they quietly go about their business of: believing in science, not flying racist flags and not misunderstanding basic human biology in order to minimise the horrors of rape. But trust me, we’re out there, even if you don’t notice. Don’t misunderestimate us.
Despite all those Republicans, Americans overall still somehow rate about the same as Britons in most international IQ surveys. In other words, on average, Brits are about as dumb as Yanks but unfortunately, America doesn’t have an infrastructure of anti-British newspaper columnists out there tracking and obsessing over every instance of a British person acting stupidly. Trust me though, there are quite a few intellectually inferior British folks out there – probably more than you would ever realise. For example, there’s those British kids who think the Queen invented the telephone, there are videos showing British people not able to name how many sides a triangle has, and of course, there are those recent news reports that the British Prime Minister once inserted his, er, prime member into a dead pig’s mouth. Believe it or not, that story barely made any splash at all in the American papers.
Can you imagine the uproar in the UK, if the U.S. president was accused, by credible sources, of copulating with a Kangaroo or having coitus with a koala? Fleet Street would find that news-worthy. Very newsworthy.
But Americans’ national identity isn’t heavily invested in comparing our intelligence to that of British people. We don’t particularly care if your prime minister is idiotic enough to commit porcine necrophilia. We don’t notice such things, and we don’t care. And that’s the key.
It’s not stupidity that is the quintessential American trait. It’s obliviousness.
That’s the difference. Yanks generally have a high tolerance for being subjected to public opprobrium. They’re not concerned if you think they’re ridiculous, evil, or even just plain stupid. As a society that prizes individualism, it’s in the American DNA to ignore the opinion of others. British people, on the other hand, are raised in a class-conscious culture where they’re taught from an early age not to bring attention to themselves. Know your place, don’t grumble and for the love of all that’s holy, don’t embarrass yourself. Those are British values.
Americans couldn’t be more opposite in this regard- we don’t care what people think of us, even if they think we’re stupid. Usually, we don’t even notice what people think. This can be incredibly liberating.
Take the story of Tommie Woodward, from Orange Texas. Earlier this year, he saw a sign next to a pond he wanted to swim in: “No swimming, Alligators.” A bystander saw him preparing to jump in the water and tried to warn him of the danger- having seen a giant alligator nearby just moments earlier. Tommie’s response was just about the most American thing I’ve ever heard of. He shouted: “Fuck that alligator,” and then dived right into the water. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly he was immediately killed and eaten by an alligator. It was Texas’ first recorded alligator-related death in almost 200 years.
Shouting “Fuck that alligator” is the key to our success
You may think that Mr Woodward was a stupid American. But for every Yank that we lose to an entirely-avoidable alligator attack, we’ve got another one or two who have become wildly successful through ignoring other people’s warnings and not being afraid to make idiots of themselves.
There’s Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who both dropped out of school to start computer companies. There must have been someone back then telling them: “don’t drop out of college to start a computer company in your garage, you nincompoops.” If they had listened to these ‘haters,’ Mr Gates and Mr Jobs would never would have gone on to create Microsoft and Apple, two of the most valuable companies in the world. In their own ways, they shouted: “Fuck that alligator!”
The ultimate alligator-f*ckers: Donald Trump and Inspector Clouseau
Donald Trump is stupid. There’s really no question about that. He says stupid things, he does stupid things, he even looks stupid. But you would be unwise to misunderestimate him. Not only is he incredibly rich, he has a real shot at being the next President of the United States. He’s successful not because of his stupidity, but in spite of it. He pretty much goes around shouting “Fuck that alligator,” at everyone and everything, all the time, in his business deals and his politics. And somehow, it works for him. He’s kind of like an American version of French Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the character created by Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther movies. Someone so doltish and inept that he literally bumbles his way to the top. For some Americans, it’s fascinating and maybe even validating to watch his ascension- it’s like a validation of their “I don’t need no fancy book-learning- what do you know, you pencil-pushing braniac” point of view. For the British though, it’s a horrifying spectacle – they don’t identify with Clouseau, but with his Nemesis: Chief Inspector Dreyfus, who is neither oblivious nor stupid.
For every Clouseau, there’s a chief inspector Dreyfus
Dreyfus is the kind of person who would never shout “Fuck that alligator.” He is serious, hard-working and completely resentful of Clouseau’s undeserved success. In fact, his obsessive fascination with Clouseau and his stupidity eventually drives him insane. This is the dynamic that defines Britain’s contempt for America’s perceived lack of intelligence. For every Clouseau there is a Dreyfus. For every Homer Simpson, there is a Frank Grimes, for every Derek Zoolander there is a Hansel, for every America, there is a Britain.
Now maybe I’ve stretched these metaphors a bit too far, but which cartoon character, fictional French detective or English-speaking country would you rather be? Would you want to be the on the sidelines, complaining about another character’s or country’s stupidity, or in the limelight, diving into potentially alligator-infested waters, where the danger, and the opportunities for success are greater?
In the 2006 movie Idiocracy, director Mike Judge showed us a version of America in the future – one where generations of idiots breeding with other idiots have resulted in a society completely devoid of intelligence. The U.S. is ruled by the imbecilic but muscle-bound President Camacho. He is a former wrestler who wields a machine gun and makes policy statements like “Shit. I know shit’s bad right now, with all that starving bullshit, and the dust storms, and we are running out of french fries and burrito coverings. But I got a solution.” President Camacho is clearly a flawed character, but I’d argue no more so more than David Cameron. I’d rather have a President who is capable of metaphorically shouting “fuck that alligator” at any obstacles he faces, than a Prime Minister who may have literally fucked a dead pig. That’s just stupid.