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Dumbing down

[duhm]
The term "dumb-down" was coined by Ken E Smith of Colorado according to the Oxford English Dictionary, which has the official definition of the term as used by Mr. Smith. Dumbing down is viewed either as a pejorative term for a perceived over-simplification of, amongst other things, education, news and television, or as a statement of truth about real cultural trends in education and culture.

Some authorities believe that the audience — be it of television or print media — is being fed a mass-produced, poor quality, and populist diet that reflects an ever-decreasing audience attention span. These ideas have been in circulation for many decades in the social science literature on mass culture argued, for example, by Richard Hoggart, Rosenberg and David Manning White, and Raymond Williams. The sentiment has its roots in the Matthew Arnold and F. R. Leavis approach to high culture, particularly the former's Culture and Anarchy.

The concept "dumbing down" can point to a variety of different things but the concept always involves a claim about the simplification of culture, education, and thought, a decline in creativity and innovation, a degradation of artistic, cultural, and intellectual standards, or the undermining of the very idea of a standard, and the trivialisation of cultural, artistic, and academic creations.

The term can be seen as subjective since what is labelled as "dumbed down" often depends upon the values of individuals of specific groups. Pierre Bourdieu discusses how the practices of dominant groups in society are legitimised to the disadvantage of subordinate groups. However, there is also evidence that knowledge of areas outside that defined by popular culture has diminished progressively in the late twentieth century (see Dumbing Down link below).

Education

Increased participation in higher education has attracted the maintenance of distinctions through the construction of the category Mickey Mouse degrees. Psychology, sociology and media studies are often the key targets in media discourse, although the defender of these subjects argue that the representations of such disciplines are often inaccurate.

In the UK, there is now an annual moral panic every August when GCSE and A-level results are released. The pass rate by students has consistently risen for past two decades and Grade inflation is attributed to rising pass rates. Comparisons between examination questions are often produced as evidence of dumbing down (in mathematics as syllabus has been continuously cut during the past year. For example, an algebraic equation would be compared to a recent question about a "real life" problem).

A secondary school physics teacher, Wellington Grey, ran an Internet petition, stating that "I am a physics teacher. Or, at least I used to be." According to him, "Calculations — the very soul of physics — are absent from the new GCSE.". Few examples he listed ranged from "`Q:why would radio stations broadcast digital signals rather than analogue signals? A: Can be processed by computer / ipod [sic]" to "`Q: Why must we develop renewable energy sources?’"

In teaching history, Simon Schama has been accused of 'dumbing down' through his various television series and coffee table books, such as A History of Britain, The Power of Art, and Rough Crossings. Indeed, the term 'Schamafication' has been used to suggest that this is a neologism equivalent to McDonaldization or Disneyfication.

And, of course, educationalists are increasingly concerned that Wikipedia itself is becoming a major source of ideas and information, and there are voices to be heard that this internet facility is also contributing to 'dumbing down'.

Media

Increased competition and the introduction of econometric methods have radically changed mass media. Media consolidation has reduced both the breadth and depth of stories covered by mass media. Cost reduction leads to the elimination of foreign bureaus and correspondents in favor of news releases by political parties or businesses.

Ratings and audience tracking promotes the most simplified writing and articles with the widest possible interest. This often means celebrity gossip, entertainment marketing, and sensationalism.

Complicated argument is made as simple as possible in order to "sell it" / communicate to the largest number of people possible.

There is an argument that television contributes to 'dumbing down'. Cultural theorists including Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, Neil Postman, Henry Giroux and Pierre Bourdieu have all made statements against the uses of television. Stuart Hall, on the other hand, is more favorable towards the critical use of television.

Some believe that Hollywood nepotism is contributing to the volume of shows that would not otherwise have access to the media based on their own merit.

Some believe that the dumbing down phenomenon is being waged on purpose in order to coerce an ignorant populace into following popular and political trends.

Computing

Some old-timers and hackers in the computer geek community regard the rise of GUIs in place of command line interfaces, the commercial exploitation of the Internet, and the consequent great increase in use by the non-technical public, as resulting in a great dumbing down in these areas, with the following of "proper" standards (technical and netiquette) declining precipitously.

As a response to the growing accessibility to the internet, the phrase Eternal September was coined, referring to the period starting from September 1993 when 'newbies' were no longer encountered only at the start of the academic year.

The use of short cuts, abbreviations, improper grammar, SMS language lead to speculation on a populace that is too lazy to communicate properly. Others believe that today's fast paced society needs to reduce the time it takes to get a point across in order to raise productivity.

Other Uses of the Term

The term has been appropriated as a jocular phrase for simplifying instructions, explanations, and so on, as in "could you dumb it down for me?"

References to dumbing down in popular culture

The 2005 film Idiocracy portrays a society 500 years in the future massively dumbed down by low-IQ people enthusiastically outbreeding the most intelligent parts of society.

American rapper Lupe Fiasco attacks dumbing down lyrics on his song "Dumb It Down" saying "They told me I should come down cousin, but I flatly refuse, I ain't dumb down nothing."

American rapper Jay-Z was quoted on the song "Moment of Clarity" off of his "Black Album" saying, "I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars / they criticize me for it; but they all yell "holla!"

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