The Last Temptation of Chris

In a world where we are continually bombarded by information, images, pop trivia and random knowledge, shouldn't we retain more? I would expect us to know more surface knowledge than any other generation in history.
We may not be able to name the presidents or what order they, well, presided, but shouldn't we at least know, if given a name, whether that person was a president or not? Is that asking too much of our populace? 

As a mass media culture, we are fed cultural tidbits with every television we watch, every magazine we read and every radio we're within hearing distance of. If we don't tend to visit our local library to read more about it, we should at least recognize categories, names and general knowledge when it appears before us. We are of the Trivial Pursuit era. If I were to read an answer from the back of a Trivia Pursuit card, say 'The Gemini Program' shouldn't a thousand voices ring out, 'That's a history question!' Or, to those who think on an even shallower basis than the rest of us, 'That one's for a yellow pie!'

As you can see, I'm starting off easy on us. You don't even have to be paying attention to understand categories. I think knowing categories is a prerequisite to even show you are alive. Categories is like the coat of paint of knowledge. Getting just underneath to the actual surface, the main area of shallow, is where, I would think, not too many people would have a problem. If I said, 'The Gemini Program', this is where I would expect a thousand voices to ring out, 'That's something to do with the space program!' with maybe half of those describing how it fell in between the 
Mercury and the Apollo U.S. space programs. At least, that's what I used to believe. I figured surface knowledge was a given and general knowledge just a hair past surface. It was only when people began an in depth conversation about the Gemini Program that I used to believe the majority of us would be left behind. 

I believe this no more. I now understand that categories is about where the majority of the general populace is left behind. And a majority of the minority is left behind at surface to head on down to the area of general knowledge. I felt that by just living and paying the slightest attention to what was happening around us, we, as a generation or as a 
country or as a people, however we're grouped, accumulated enough general knowledge to at least say 'Oh yeah! I remember that!' when a Jeopardy! answer is questioned rather than a blank stare and synapses firing around nothing.

Maybe, at 26, I have already entered the age of 'these damn kids don't know nothing.' I am easily stunned to find out that someone doesn't know some inane bit of popular culture that I take for granted.

Wait--Here's an easy one: What sitcom's scripts were penned with the help of an Army handbook and map of Korea?

See? That's what I was talking about. How long ago was M*A*S*H, let alone Korea? With the advent of cable, would the teenagers of today even recognize the theme song from the show? Just because it was the biggest sitcom for, like, EVER and I was bombarded with the show from early youth and was haunted by the song (especially after hearing the lyrical refrain 'Suicide is painless. It brings on many changes, and I can take or leave it if I please'), do I expect everyone to know of it? And this is a television program. Would people understand what I meant by the 38th parallel?

I'm just trying to be fair to those people I see as 'surface 
dwellers'. Maybe there is a reason for it. Maybe I'm just being prejudiced, judging them by what they don't know that I know and expect everybody should, at least, recognize.

Wait--Here's an easier one: Does the Earth revolve around the sun or does the sun revolve around the Earth?

Last year, I laughingly told my Grandmother, 'Can you believe a huge percentage of people don't know the Earth revolves around the sun?' She blinked up at me from her brown and orange couch and asked, 'It does?' How could my own Grandmother not know this? A woman I discussed mundane philosophy with, who had intelligent commentary on many of the events happening within our time and who still looked down upon Hoover's depression era politics. Could she really not know about the sun and the Earth's 
orbital deal?

I sometimes forget that she and my Grandfather had to drop out of school at an early age to work in the orchards in California to help their Spanish family get by. Their intelligence couldn't be rated on basic elementary school physics. What they relied upon was first hand accounts of seeing the sun move across the sky to verify their truths. And how many of us would think the same thing if we had never been told?

Okay, one more--Who starred in the controversial film, 'The Last Temptation of Chris?'

Oh, excuse the typo, but you know which movie I meant, right? If you didn't, you're still not past the paint (and you're still on the level of the Blockbuster employee who made that title mistake). And I'm sure there aren't a lot of you, being as how I added the hint, 'controversial'. Right? Are my hopes still too high? Knowing that should be Christ instead of Chris puts you in the area of surface knowledge. And knowing it was William Defoe who played Chris gets you into the general knowledge area. Not a hard place to be, is it?

But now that we have that all cleared up, shouldn't we retain more? Shouldn't the blank stares when a topic is mentioned be done away with by the time we are partway through the college years? And with the disintegration of 
incomprehension, shouldn't a yearning to know a lot more than just general knowledge move us toward an insatiable curiosity to know more than the answers to the two boxes of Trivia Pursuit Genus Edition? I would hope so. But if you're still wondering what Chris's last temptation was, let 
me recommend you visit a video store and watch more about it.

-- Jeff Good,
May 26, 2000


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