To be a blithering idiot today is not a burden ... on the contrary, it's a fashion statement

W hat is the Nineties Zeitgeist? Stupid is the Nineties Zeitgeist. It is, it is. You're just too - huh huh huh - cretinous to notice. Take Jim Carrey (please). He's the man and mood of the moment, a walking, talking, living caricature (see Ace Ventura, Pet Detective and The Mask), and he's all idiot, no savant. Carrey's lips move when other people are reading, he's what happens when cousins marry, and his latest movie - it's a hit - squeaks volumes about a culture going to pap: Dumb and Dumber is what it's called. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

To be a blithering idiot is no longer a burden. Ask Dan Quayle, Bjork or the 12 Tory MPs who managed to, oh bother, spoil their ballot papers during the recent party leadership vote (if you do ask, speak very s-l- o-w-l-y). And have you ever read an interview with Keanu Reeves? Tell me, can you read? (Illiteracy rates are up). And can Keanu even, like, talk, man, oh man, let alone string a sentence together? No. Not really. He's spent too long in room 666 of the Hotel California. But everyone's too bewitched to be bothered, let alone bewildered; they're mad about the boy.

Mindlessness is no longer considered something sad, to be ignored or, indeed, be even mildly embarrassed about. On the contrary, it's a fashion statement - very Wayne and Garth, very Bill and Ted, very Beavis and Butthead, very Generation X - and a virtue, like a good deed in a naughty world. Endure Forrest Gump and learn that life is a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get next, you cynical sonofabitch. Haven't you heard of Holy Fools? Haven't you seen Dustin Hoffman as Raymond in Rain Man? Peter Sellers as Chancey Gardner in Being There? Don't you remember Chancey's famous microwaved homily: the time for growth is never?

I guess it might be best to prepare for a world created in Mr Bean's image. The mis-spelt writing is on the wall; fewer people can afford to go to college and university, especially from the blue-collar classes, and huge education cuts, fewer teachers and bigger classes are probably removing the impetus to enter higher education anyway. Besides, who needs to master words when words are obviously on the skids?

Pop songs sound more and more like nursery rhymes, from Saturday Night to Boys and Girls to anything that raps, raggas or tec-tec-technos. Once deemed the domain of tots' low-brow tastes, animation is the form of the hour, and that genre says absorb with your eyes, not with your ears, just like computer games (bored by thought patterns, they gatecrash the nervous system) while movies today are mostly just a cartoon variant anyway. Aimed at the lowest common international denominator, the verbals are kept strictly to the minimum, as befits an era in which Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are big - humungous, actually - stars. Call them Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber. Of course, they'll demolish your bespectacled face if you do, but that's what happens when body and brawn are a civilisation's turn on and the mind is allowed to ... allowed to ... oh yes, wander.

Where was I? Words. Nowadays all you'll ever need words for is making compulsive references to this pop culture, a post-literate tic that's taken the place of discussion, debate, dissection - the way acronyms are taking the place of big, bad, hard to get through phrases (LSI equals Love, Sex, Intelligence, you don't do Ecstasy, you drop an E - see the top of this column). Thus Dazed and Confused - the perfect stupid movie title - has characters obsessively listing every episode of the US sitcom Gilligan's Island. Similarly, "heroes" of Dennis Cooper's Jerk - the perfect stupid book title - witter incessantly about that rock of ages, Jimmy Page, and fantasise (during sex) about being Luke Halpern, the boy from Flipper; this is not thinking - it's instead of thinking.

You might argue that this isn't culture, but youth culture. Wrong on two counts. The media these days are by-passing the burnt-out Slacker - no cash, no dash - in favour of the adolescent's kid brother and sister. Not youth culture so much as embryo culture. Grab them early, don't let them get bright enough to pose difficult questions ("Do I need this?"); keep them amused and their attention spans terminal - thus artificially preserving tender, but obtuse, minds. These are minds ignorant of history (they haven't heard of Nuremberg, so OJ's case really is the trial of the century) and suspicious of reasoning (makes their heads ache) or context (con-what?), bar what's needed to master e-mail.

And everything is being (re)made in their IQ. Welcome stupid murders (OJ again), stupid self-help (Everything I Need to Know I Learnt at Kindergarten - no you didn't), and stupid sex symbols - who ought to be erotic but aren't, because what does a moron know about the erotic? Pamela Anderson and Anna Nicole Smith are dumb belles - only in degraded society could these dolls be considered goers.

Now, that's really lumpen: creating Pamela and Anna Nicole and not even knowing what to do with them. Which is what you'd expect when the latest graffiti scrawl tells a shallow but terrible truth: Norman Wisdom Rules, OK?

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