The right to be (s)tupid

In the lead up to Monday's Academy Awards, a quiz was passed endlessly around social media asking people to "Try and name a movie without the letter 'S' in it. It's harder than you think".

The quiz had thousands upon thousands of "Likes", suggesting to me the likers had reached accord with the question.

I enjoy social media; it's a fun way to share pictures with distant relatives, hit on women who work in IT and get people's unfiltered thoughts on an endless number of topics.

One of my biggest beefs, however, is how uncritical so many users become in their thinking. They see something like the above quiz and pass it on like it's gospel.

"Try and name a movie without the letter 'S' in it. It's harder than you think."

Really? A friend of mine, equally frustrated with this kind of mindlessness, took the bait.

Logically, he went to the top of the pile.

The highest grossing movie of all time. Avatar.

Second highest? Titanic.

One of the recent highest-grossers?

The Hobbit (full title, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).

We traded a few more over the phone, picking famous films.

Perhaps two of most well-known movies ever made are Gone With The Wind and The Godfather (part two and part three still don't have an S in their titles either).

Maybe we were being smart-arses? We both do like movies.

My mate asked around the lunch table at his office - strictly no IMDB, no mobile phones - and the answers came so thick and fast (Rocky, Rambo, Pretty Woman, Terminator, Brokeback Mountain, Out of Africa, Rear Window, Alice in Wonderland, Blade Runner, Chinatown) that we quickly had to add degrees of difficulty.

Only movie titles with more than four words in them.

The early frontrunner was Journey to the Centre of the Earth, then Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Big trouble in Little China, before Willie Wonka/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory appeared, to be replaced a nanosecond later by Mad Max Three: Beyond Thunderdome, then The Bridge over the River Kwai and, finally ... Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

We then looked up Wikipedia at this year's crop nominated for Best Film. Six of the nine don't have an S in their titles - Amour, Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty.

If you were a kindergarten kid you could answer Up, Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Wreck It Ralph.

If you were a Tarantino fan you also came up with Kill Bill, Jackie Brown, Pulp Fiction.

If you were a de Niro fan it was Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Cape Fear.

(We had still not used IMDB or a web search).

As usual, it was Tom Cruise who was completely over the top in this category: Jack Reacher, Cocktail, Top Gun, Legend, A Few Good Men, Magnolia, Tropic Thunder, Far and Away, The Firm, Valkyrie, The Colour of Money, Jerry Maguire.

There's probably more, but not a word of a lie, no one pulled out IMDB or a phone or a web search.

We didn't need to. We used our brains.

And sure, this was just a dumb quiz, but every day, in a thousand different ways, people replicate this mindlessness with topics as diverse as climate change, GM food, immunisation, taxation, immigration, regulation of financial markets and Barack Obama's friggin' birth certificate.

In his first trip abroad as Secretary of State, John Kerry yesterday defended Americans' right "to be stupid".

Talking to a group of German students he said: "People have sometimes wondered about why our Supreme Court allows one group or another to march in a parade even though it's the most provocative thing in the world and they carry signs that are an insult to one group or another.

"The reason is, that's freedom, freedom of speech. In America you have a right to be stupid - if you want to be."

This of course, has been gleefully seized upon by thick-heads worldwide - in social and the mainstream media - as some sort of proof Americans are dumber than the rest of us.

And then those same thick-heads will share a piece about Bill Cosby "being tired" that he didn't even write or quote you the graffiti artist Banksy's creed, which he plagiarised from graphic designer and writer Sean Tejaratchi, or tell you how the science behind climate change is irrefutable but the peer-reviewed evidence backing the safety of genetically modified crops is nonsense.

Seems the right to be stupid is pretty universal - social media has just made it so much easier.

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.