I generally avoid opinion pieces in this blog, but I feel compelled to at least mention a phenomenon I’ve noticed for quite some time. Since 1976, in fact, when the TV show Family Feud debuted. I’m quite sure the general idea has existed for much longer, but it was with that show that I fully realized what was happening. In short, all public enterprise is dumbing down. This is most noticeable in forms of entertainment, but it exists in all forms of commerce and even government and educational institutions.
Why do I call it the Family Feud Effect? Because that show perfected the concept in a way that was sheer genius. Before that time, quiz shows were popular, but appealed mostly to people who were good at quizzes, i.e. smart people. Shows like The $64,000 Question, Concentration, Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune all required considerable intelligence or a good memory, or both. The A students had an advantage over C students as contestants. Many viewers liked to compete with them in their own living rooms, and I’m pretty sure the demographic of fans was generally of higher IQ than the overall TV-watching public. Of course there were exceptions: The Price is Right, for example. I doubt being an A student had much advantage there. It appealed mainly to the acquisitive, although the prizes were a big appeal for everyone on all quiz shows, I’m sure.
But the creators of Family Feud found a way to make it a disadvantage to have a high IQ. In case you’re not familiar with how the show works, it’s quite simple. The producers first quiz the audience members about categories that have multiple valid answers, such as “Things that are delicious” or “Brad Pitt Movies”. The most popular answers are tabulated and stored. The contestants, with no prior knowledge of those questions, are then given those same categories on the air. They earn points by matching the answers previously given by the audience. The more popular the answer was with the audience, the more points that are awarded. Thus the people with the biggest advantage are those that are the most average. A low IQ is not an advantage either.
This was driven home to me when one of the categories was “People named Alfred.” I think Schweitzer and Neuman were among the top answers given by the audience. But I was stunned to discover that one of the top answers was Einstein. As I’m sure you, my intelligent reader, know, Einstein’s first name was Albert, not Alfred. That is why you would have done poorly on that question. Another example is when the moon was one of the answers for “Planets.” These wrong answers simply wouldn’t occur to the intelligent, well-educated individual. This is what I mean by the FFE.
The reason this is so important is that in a wealthy society like ours, money is to be made and power is to be held by appealing to the most people, especially those who are most easily influenced. Advertisers want eyeballs. Politicians want voters. That pesky bell curve tells us that means go for the person of average intelligence or even a little below. When TV was relatively new and relatively expensive, the demographic was also relatively intelligent and well-educated. It made sense to create programming that appealed to that demographic. But when TV’s became present in 99% of American households, that ceased to be true. The same phenomenon occurred with books and newspapers years earlier, and is happening with the computer and smart phone now, among other forms of media. As an author and book reviewer I notice it with sadness in best sellers of today. There’s probably nothing to be done about it, but if you see the acronym FFE in any future blog posts of mine, at least you know what I’m talking about.