Su­per­man tops Supremes: Amer­i­cans know pop cul­ture bet­ter than pol­i­tics

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen­nifer Harper

Sleepy, Grumpy, Larry, Moe, Kryp­ton — that’s what seems to stick in the na­tional mind-set th­ese days. Amer­i­cans are more familiar with the Seven Dwarfs, the Three Stooges and Su­per­man than with cur­rent events and world lead­ers, ac­cord­ing to yet an­other poll that re­veals our trite side.

In a sur­vey re­leased on Aug. 14, vet­eran po­lit­i­cal poll­ster John Zogby de­ter­mined that al­though 77 per­cent of us can iden­tify two of the Seven Dwarfs, only 24 per­cent could name two Supreme Court jus­tices.

“Not sur­pris­ingly, Clarence Thomas, whose nom­i­na­tion was marked by con­tro­versy, was the most rec­og­nized jus­tice — iden­ti­fied twice as of­ten as his next best­known peer on the Supreme Court — An­tonin Scalia,” the sur­vey stated.

Jus­tice Thomas was cited by al­most 20 per­cent of the re­spon­dents and Jus­tice Scalia by a lit­tle less than 11 per­cent. Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts Jr. and Jus­tice Ruth Bader Ginsburg were tied at 9 per­cent. Sixty-three per­cent were un­sure just who was on the Supreme Court. Only 11 per­cent knew that Samuel A. Al­ito Jr. was con­firmed as the 110th Supreme Court jus­tice in Jan­uary.

Sleepy, in­ci­den­tally, was the most fre­quently cited Dwarf, fol­lowed by Dopey, Grumpy and Sneezy.

Mean­while, a tidy 74 per­cent were able to name Moe, Larry and Curly as the Stooges in ques­tion — with al­most an equal num­ber able to name later mem­bers of the slap­stick team. But alas, the ma­jor­ity of re­spon­dents were un­able to name an­other high-profile group of three: only 42 per­cent knew that the leg­isla­tive, ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial branches made up the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Should such find­ings be wor­ri­some? Sur­veys that be­moan the demise of schol­ar­ship in Amer­ica are com­mon. Re­search re­leased in May by the Na­tional Ge­o­graphic So­ci­ety, for ex­am­ple, found 88 per­cent of our young adults can’t find Afghanistan on a world map, ev­i­dence of a ge­o­graphic il­lit­er­acy that “iso­lates us from the world,” so­ci­ety Pres­i­dent John Fa­hey said at the time.

Syra­cuse Univer­sity com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sor Robert Thom­son, who de­signed the ques­tions on the Zogby poll, is not quite so con­cerned.

“Th­ese re­sults are not about how ‘dumb’ Amer­i­cans are, but how much more ef­fec­tive pop­u­lar cul­ture in­for­ma­tion is com­mu­ni­cated and re­tained by cit­i­zens than many of the mes­sages that come from gov­ern­ment, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and the me­dia,” Mr. Thompson said. “There are im­por­tant lessons to be learned here.”

Still, more Amer­i­cans knew boy wizard Harry Pot­ter than Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair, 57 per­cent and 49 per­cent, re­spec­tively. And 60 per­cent knew Kryp­ton as Su­per­man’s home planet, but only 40 per­cent knew that Mer­cury was the clos­est planet to the sun.

The sur­vey of 1,213 adults was con­ducted July 21 to 27 with a mar­gin of er­ror of three per­cent­age points. It was com­mis­sioned by Amer­ica On­line.

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