‘Dear log, can it be true? Do all Simpsons go through a process of dumbening? Wait, that’s not how you spell ‘dumbening’. Wait, ‘dumbening’ isn’t even a word!’

– Lisa Simpson

 

It’s been a while since my last missive. Too long. It feels like a virtual slap in the virtual face of this fine website. I can hear the mutterings about ‘that lazy Australian’, and the knives, if not yet being sharpened, have certainly been taken from the drawer.

I can only offer that most generic and unconvincing of excuses – the same one employed by philandering sportsmen and murderous wives ever since mental illness was dragged into the twentieth century, became a subject of sympathy and thus exploitable – I have been depressed. And while the pop psychologist in me says putting my feelings on the page might be therapeutic, trying to write whilst depressed is like trying to tap-dance whilst drowning: monstrously difficult, and of questionable efficacy. In any event, do any of you really want to read the kind of drivel that results from ‘writing as therapy’? The considerate writer either sends that shit straight to their stalking victim, or incorporates it into the pain-shrine they are building in the disused closet.

Regardless, I have good reason to be low. Because my country is in an apathetic, political limbo. Because the two sides competing to become the Australian government were so spineless and uninspiring that they both lost the election. Because the fate of my nation now rests in the hands of three men, and one of these men – a country redneck called Bob Katter, who wears a ten-gallon hat with a suit  – this week labelled the internationally respected climate change experts Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut as ‘lightweights’.

This is the triumph of the ignorant and the stupid, the gormless, sweaty meat-sacks who resent being forced from their couches for one hour every three years in order to participate in the democratic system. And, sadly, I cannot simply hold my nose and tell myself that I’m not like them. Not any more.

 

About three weeks ago, I destroyed my 42 inch LCD TV. I had purchased it less than a year earlier for almost two thousand Australian dollars. It is now totally fucked.

If I had destroyed my TV with a gun, or by pushing it out the window of my first-story flat to the shock and dismay of my wife, or driving over it with a Prius in some kind of confusingly worthy performance art piece, it might make for a good story. I would say something about shrugging off the decaying tendrils of old media, saying no to its brain-rotting bullshit, and how I’m counting down the days to the baby boomers dying, man, so we finally can have gay marriage and legal pot. You would read it and think me crazy, or pretentious, or dangerously sexy. And I would be reassured by your praise and my swelling loins that I am better and smarter than ordinary people. Oh, so much better and smarter.

I wish it had been that way. Because instead, I learned the horrifying truth about myself.

I am one of them.

I am a Wiitard.


 

There are two key safety features to the Wii remote. The use of either might have allowed me to remain ignorant of my ignorance.

First of all, just in case a white pointy controller which you spasmodically waggle around isn’t quite penis-y enough for you, it comes encased in a thick, fleshy, condom-like sheath. In the event of the average suburban ape experiencing a herp a derp moment, this jacket theoretically offers protection to both the controller itself and whatever consumer item or fat child it is hurled at. I peeled these off mine as soon as I got them, partly because I thought them unnecessary, but mostly because they creeped me out and I didn’t want my undersexed fiancee getting any unsanitary ideas.

More sensibly, each wiimote also has a strap which is simply and easily affixed to one’s wrist. Had I taken the three seconds necessary to do this then I could be watching season five of The Wire, in big screen surround sound comfort, right now. (Alright, season two of Futurama. Alright, THAT WEIRD JAPANESE PORN I TORRENTED LAST NIGHT.)

But, of course, that kiddy-safe crap is for morons, and maybe girls. Certainly not switched-on, sophisticated guys like me. And I sure as hell wasn’t about to look like a dork in front of my friends by taking basic precautions while playing Wii Sports.

It was only about forty-five seconds after we began playing that the Dunning Kruger Effect ruined my evening, my television, and ultimately my life.

 

The Dunning Kruger Effect, simply put is this: stupid people are too dumb to realise that they’re stupid, and thus consistently overestimate their own abilities. Meanwhile, smart people tend to underestimate their own abilities (relative to others) because they assume that others are as self-aware as they are. This in turn leads to what I call the Inception Effect. An entertaining, spectacular but essentially absurd action flick is sprayed with a superficial layer of metaphysics, giving its plot the appearance of complexity. Because it’s actually pretty straightforward, the less intelligent viewer (i.e. average mainstream film-goer) is able to understand what happens in the movie. But, thanks to the Dunning Kruger effect, they believe that their superior intellect has guided them through an Escheresque masterpiece. They tell their friends that it ‘really makes you think’ and give it four stars on their blog. Conversely, the more intelligent but less self-confident viewer is disturbed when they find this supposedly mind-bending experience underwhelming. Was there a deeper meaning they failed to grasp? Was it all a sophisticated allegory? Did they miss a crucial detail during the couple of minutes they tuned out while imagining what they’d to Ellen Page in a dream? So, rather than risk looking stupid, they go with the flow. The movie gets near-universal acclaim as an intellectual thriller of the highest order (rather than the clever, sometimes striking popcorn piece it is). And consequently, the standard is lowered for everyone.

Being (as I now know) a stupid person, I overestimated my own ability. But, being previously aware of the Dunning Kruger effect, I believed that was actually an intelligent person who was modestly underestimating my own abilities. Which puts my actual level of ability many orders of magnitude below what I had previously assumed. In this case, my ability not to let go of a Wii controller when swinging it towards a widescreen TV.

 

There is a special kind of dissociative state that kicks in when one is struck with a sudden and shocking misfortune. Time slows. The mind imposes an immediate, self-protective state of denial, making everything seem unreal, almost laughable. Stunned, the brain whizzes uselessly in a search for an impossible solution – how can what has already happened be prevented?

But it is real. I have just killed my TV. The screen is a fractured rainbow (and not the ecstasy-inducing double kind). My friends are standing there in horrified embarrassment. This is not what they signed up for. My wife is pale and slack-jawed. She is not angry, or disappointed. Rather, she is experiencing something much worse – a glimpse of her future. Stuck with stupid. I try my best to make light of the situation and lessen my friends’ discomort, but there is no way to undo the revelation of my true nature.

I am one of them. The lost and the damned. The mindless and the selfish.

An ordinary, everyday idiot.

 

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Time to print this off and send it to Zooey Deschanel. I know she’ll write back this time, that bitch.


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CHRIS KENNETT lives in Melbourne, Australia. He is a writer behind some of the most - and least - successful programs on Australian television. He also did a bunch of radio and theatre work, but because it was all unpaid it failed to impress girls at parties. He vaguely remembers a time before the Internet hyper-dumbified the planet and turned him into a dribbling click slave, but can't be sure. Shit, he should really write a screenplay or something.

16 responses to “The Dumbening (or I, Wiitard)”

  1. mellygoround says:

    I love the Dunning Kruger Effect; it’s my favourite of all the effects, including the special ones. But now I love the Inception Effect more.

    Inception is Disney in a fancy suit.

  2. Sorry about your TV and your country, man. If it helps we probably all come from shitty countries, or if not, we probably all see them as shitty.

    As for the Wii thing… You at least did get a good story out of it. A bit embarrassing, maybe, but funny.

    And “dumbening” is something we all feel from time to time. I’ve been feeling it this past year and for my sake and my sake only I shall say this: It’s in your head. You’re probably just feeling Wiitarded temporarily.

  3. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Okay, I have a light saber attachment for my Wii remote … which I’m pretty sure makes me an even bigger Wiitard than you. I hope this makes you feel much better, even if you don’t have a television.

    Ah, your Inception Effect theory is brilliant!

    And please don’t be gone for so long next time.

  4. Matt says:

    As I understand it, the first generation of Wii remotes didn’t have that little wrist strap, which lead to inadvertant epidemic of smashed television screens worldwide, and thus convinced Nintendo to reengineer the unit with the strap and the pseudo-flesh. So really…not only has Dunning Kruger lead to you overestimate your own intelligence, it also kept you from learning from the mistakes of others.

    Of course, easy for me to say, as I’ve never laid hands on a Wii remote in my life – a PSP is currently the zenith of videogaming technology available to me at the moment. I’d probably do the same thing, though my 22-inch flatscreen is a much smaller target.

    “Because the fate of my nation now rests in the hands of three men, and one of these men – a country redneck called Bob Katter, who wears a ten-gallon hat with a suit – this week labelled the internationally respected climate change experts Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut as ‘lightweights.'” Holy shit, there’s a Down Under analogue to George W. Bush? Wow, sorry – you guys are proper fucked.

  5. Cheryl says:

    Sorry about your TV. Note to self: should I ever acquire a Wii, leave both the condom and the strap intact.

    The “Inception Effect” is brilliant. It was the best movie about a van falling in a river that I have ever seen. I could watch it over and over again. Only I tuned out to imagine what I could do to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a dream. That boy is cougar-bait.

    Once in awhile, even the most brilliant have to do something stupid enough to keep the rest of us from worshipping you like gods. Just think of your little accident as a public service to the rest of us 🙂

  6. Gloria says:

    “trying to write whilst depressed is like trying to tap-dance whilst drowning” – god damn, that’s great. Kudos.

    I contend that therapeutic writing proferred for public consumption is fine – as long as its well written and thoughtful and interesting. But that’s me. To each her own, I suppose.

    Sorry your country sucks.

    The problem with reading your essays while at work, Chris, is that I can’t hide the fact that I’m doing so. When my coworkers and superiors walk in my office, my red face and boisterous laughter is a dead giveaway that I am not doing work. My job is not that funny.

    Thank you for The Dunning Kruger Effect. I knew there had to be a name for it. 🙂

  7. Gloria says:

    Based on the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry for The Dunning-Kruger Effect would imply that I’m simultaneously both highly competent and highly incompetent.

    The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes.[1] The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence: because competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. “Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”[2]

  8. Judy Prince says:

    This is Zooey under a brilliantly clever assumed name, and I don’t want you to send me any of your wiistoopid thoughts doubtless conceived in the moments your attention had dis-spanned from trying to grasp the subtle layered meanings in _Amelie_ into dreams of what you’d do to Ellen Page in a dream, you headshrunk piece of malt-‘0-meal.

  9. dwoz says:

    Stuck with Stupid.

    Brilliant.

  10. Simon Smithson says:

    I hate that damn Dunning Kruger Effect! It’s ruined my life! I guess. Probably. Wait, has it? I need to think about this.

  11. sony 42 inch televisions…

    […]Chris Kennett | The Dumbening (or I, Wiitard) | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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