Stupidity is contagious – just watch the television news headlines

From mindless juries to Mantelgate, it seems a new virus is raging

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The Independent Online

TV nice-guy Ben Fogle has had a psychotic episode. The former Countryfile presenter was drinking at a pub in Gloucestershire when his drink was spiked. On arriving home, he told reporters, he freaked out, started doing Monty Python silly walks, and tried to climb out of a window. It is not easy to imagine the scene. In fact, as I watched the item on the news, I began to wonder whether I was not the one having an out-of-body experience. Ben said he became “hypersensitive” and genuinely worried that he was going crazy. That was exactly how I felt.

Suddenly, nothing on the TV news quite made sense. Or, rather, the sense it made was menacing and slightly strange. I imagined Ben on his involuntary trip – fogling, as it will now become known in the drugs underworld. His eyes started out of his head as a Labrador began to speak to him in rhyming couplets, and the Barbour jacket hanging by his front door started a ghostly dance. I knew at this point that I must be fogling too – that the news I was watching contained some great, eternal verity if only I could grasp it.

The bulletin continued. In an important court case, the jury had asked the judge if what they imagined could be considered as evidence. When he replied that it certainly could not, the jury had concluded that, in that case, it was unable to reach a verdict.

Suddenly a great drug-induced truth was there before me. It is absolutely fine, in 2013, to be very stupid. In the past, a person who was a touch slow would, if serving on a jury for example, try to conceal any confusion about what was going on.  Now, I realised with a dazzling, drug-induced clarity, stupidity was a basic human right like any other. It could be proclaimed as proudly in a courtroom as on a reality show or the vox pops of the TV news. Just because a person fails to understand something, there is no reason to take their view of it any less seriously.

I was really fogling out now, and began to wonder what would happen if our leaders tried this new stupidity thing in an attempt to win votes. Hardly had this terrifying thought occurred to me when the next item appeared on the news. It proved my wildest, most paranoiac fears! A novelist had written an interesting article about public perceptions of royalty. Not only did the tabloid press respond with the newly-fashionable stupidity, but so did both leaders of the Labour and the Conservative parties, harmonising their mindless disapproval like Don and Phil Everly.

At this point, I was almost climbing the wall with anxiety. What if stupidity was a Sars-like super-virus of the mind which made even the moderately bright become dunderheads – without knowing it? I switched channels to the Brit Awards in the hope of being cleansed and reassured by music. Here, surely, talent and originality would be rewarded – Amy Winehouse was up for a posthumous award apparently, while Richard Hawley and the Rolling Stones were on shortlists. But no, one after another, prizes went to the bland, derivative and undemanding, as if stupidity had the music business in its thrall too.

Back on the news, there were reports from a big trial in South Africa, with a limbless man, and a blundering policeman called Botha who turned out to be under suspicion for murder himself. I suddenly realised, with my fogling mind, that the entire news bulletin was being written by the comic novelist Tom Sharpe in a return to the wild and dangerous comedy of his early South African novels. Briefly, I felt relieved. Sharpe writing the news was at least better than the stupidity virus taking hold. Just then an item concerning Sally Bercow and Twitter came on. I made for the window.