More about dumb stuff

I wrote a few months ago about slow paced cartoons and how they seem to be dumbed down, or assume we are dumbed down. I pondered further following some silly Youtube videos which are based around the concept of ‘Bad Lip Reading’. The idea is that the creator takes some video content; anything from a serious speech by a president or some dialogue between characters in a popular movie and replace the words, sometimes to accompaniment of a song.

I found them to be largely humourous, in fact the first ones I watched I watched twice or more to really take them in and have a good laugh.

The more serious pondering though was the consideration of how it felt to watch someone like a president give what was originally a serious speech turned into something nonsensical. The worrying thought and feeling I had was, putting the humour to one side, “indifference”. What they were saying, real or made up, washed over me in equal merit. How could this be so?

I’m still not sure. My overall feeling about such – real – speeches, is that they matter not to me if they are real or nonsensical. Perhaps this is because I don’t ‘buy into’ politics; what a politician my say, or say they are going to do, seems to lead to no actual noticeable bearing on my life, or if it does, it’s too insignificant, or out of my control, for me to have any concerns about it (such as Brexit – I just don’t care).

Even when an actual speech is watched and listened to without having been made a mockery of, we’re often subjected to (although we might not be aware of it) nonsensical ideas, and this to me seems increasingly prevalent in this day and age.

There are a few concepts that shed some further light on this. The first was again revealed to me via Youtube, this time about something called the Overton Window. For the purpose of this post lets suppose two things are happening; 1) we’re so bombarded with utter nonsense on a daily basis, even when we’re tuning into stuff that we have probably been assuming is giving as factual and serious content, such as actual news, that we can’t differentiate, or like me, we react with indifference. This is ‘Creeping Normality‘ as Wikipedia’s page on the Overton Window suggested to me 2) We all have various ‘comfort zones’, and if something is too far out of it then we would typically reject it, but if it’s only slightly out we might be persuaded to go along with it, especially if it is persistent, then our comfort zone, or the Overton Window, has shifted, until eventually, if we compare where we were at years/decades/centuries ago (as a people), the shift has been dramatic. We don’t notice these things happening unless we really pay attention.

One way to notice the shifting normality is to find a point of reference. For this we could turn to history but we have to question who ‘wrote’ this, we might look at old photographs or video footage, but take into account our own biases, or we could turn to religious texts such as the Bible to use as a guide (but again considering who wrote, or translated, the various books, and the context and environment they were written in).

My explanatory example of the Overton Window in practice shows how things can shift to the more and more extreme over time, but in some avenues the opposite can hold true; our views, or things we deem to be acceptable, can narrow over time, indeed we can have our so-called freedoms taken away from us. Again, the pace can be such that we barely (if at all) notice it happen. Are we not being trained to be passive creatures?

A further (or actually prior thing) that made me think of the Overton Window was an old lecture Tasker Dunham mentioned on one of his blog posts called ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution’ by C. P. Snow. The very title sounded interesting to me and I was able to find a copy of the the transcript online.

It talks of a division in society between namely the sciences and humanities, and how these two sides were losing their ability to communicate or understand each other; they each exist (although not vacuumously (is that a word?), in their own Overton Window.

Speaking of vacuums and overton windows, I have watched a couple of interviews/questionings of face of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg and in the latest one he explained how since earlier this year Facebook has actively presented to users more content from their local circle of friends and family and less from news and politics, much to the annoyance of Nigel Farage. Zuckerberg’s reasoning for this sounded honest enough; the short of it being that it leads to happier users (they have a thing about manipulating the happiness of users don’t they?) However, this got me thinking about a couple of things, such as, if news and politics makes people miserable then is it right for Facebook to play with their algorithms and thus keep users in the dark (or happier place) and in their own little circle of friends, their own little world as it were without witnessing a wider picture or context? Does this not lead to the (further) dumbing down of the billions of people on Facebook who spend hours glued to the service each week? Ignorance is bliss.

It seems an Overton Window can be seen as a bubble and Facebook (as an example) has the ability to keep users within that bubble and then shift it around at will, without those within (when that becomes their world) seeing much beyond.

To end on a cheerful note, here is another Lip Reading session, this time featuring the recent royal wedding:


  1. Never heard of the Overton Window, thanks for pointing it out.

    We are the tools of our own creation: technology. It uses us to do it’s bidding.

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