Stupid-Proof

Yesterday a seventeen year old was hit by an Amtrak train about a mile from where I work. On the news people said that she was talking on her cell phone at the time and that the train blew its whistle and people tried to get her attention but that she was too wrapped up in her phone call to notice. They also said that perhaps there should be fencing to stop people from crossing the tracks.

 

Nevermind that thousands of people cross train tracks every day without getting hit by trains or that tax dollars could probably be spent better just about anywhere else. No, instead of doing things like paying teachers more money in order to properly educate people, why not instead spend that money stupid-proofing the world? Trains aren’t like lightning or earthquakes which can happen anywhere at any time. Trains are on tracks, they’re huge, and they’re loud. It’s also fairly common knowledge that trains don’t stop on a dime. And any four-year-old knows what train tracks look like. So it’s visually huge, audibly loud, and there are tracks showing exactly where a train will go when and if at train arrives. If the sight of a train, train tracks, and a whistle blowing does not stop you from staying on train tracks, what makes these people think that a fence will stop any given moron?

 

This of course is just an example of how we seem to continue to stupid-proof the world. Warnings on coffee cups that the coffee is hot, commercials with disclaimers telling us not to attempt whatever we see on television, hour-long TV dramas that have flashbacks to things we saw at the beginning of the hour are but just a few examples off the top of my head. It’s this stupid-proofing that’s allowing the world to fill up with so many stupid people. It used to be that if you were too stupid, you’d get killed, but now, a stupid person does something stupid and gets killed, and they want to fix it so it won’t kill more stupid people. I think it makes a lot more sense to just let the stupid take themselves out on their own.

 

Now I’m not proposing that stupid people need to die. That’s a little extreme even for me. What I’m saying is that if you do something stupid (such as get hit by a train), you should not expect any protection from the outside world. Like they say; if you’re gonna be dumb, you better be tough.

 

Also I’d like to point out before someone says I’m not respecting the dead or that they were almost hit by a train and they aren’t stupid or whatever else, let me confess that I too have almost been hit by a train.

 

When I was sixteen, some friends of mine and I decided to go down to the Nelson Bennett Tunnel. This tunnel is in Ruston, which is essentially North Tacoma. The Nelson Bennett Tunnel is a little more than a mile long and curved. This means that once you get a little ways inside it you cannot see either end of the tunnel. We had heard that in the time it takes to walk through it, only one train goes through. Luckily we were teenagers and thought to ourselves, “One train? Fuck that. We can handle one train.”

 

So we went into the tunnel and shortly afterward a train came through. First we heard it. Then we felt the ground rumble. Then we saw the damn thing. We all crouched against the wall as the train approached. Then something happened. It took a minute to figure out what it was. For a moment I thought we had been hit by the train and this was death. I eventually realized it was a sound. It was the train whistle and the sound had nowhere to go in the tunnel so it was so loud it felt like a physical force. A few moments after that, I thought the train had past and I moved to get up, but my friend Gabe stopped me and put his flashlight on the tracks. There were all these flatcars going by that I didn’t even see. He saved my life.

 

Now having told you that, I want to say that if I were to have been killed that day, it would have been because I was doing something stupid. Do I think they should have put up fences to stop us from going there? Well it doesn’t matter because now they have. Right now to get to the Nelson Bennett Tunnel you have to go over or around at least one fence. And you know what? People STILL go to the tunnel. Why? Because you can’t stop stupid. And since you can’t stop stupid, there’s no point in trying to stupid proof the world. It’s a waste of time and money. People are going to continue to do stupid things no matter what you do. And even if you succeed in stopping someone from doing something stupid, you’ve most likely only saved them long enough to do something else stupid.

 

Yes, I’ve done many stupid things in my life and I will do many more stupid things I’m sure. And yes, it’d be nice if I don’t die while doing something stupid, but if I do, let’s hope that everyone puts the blame on me and not anywhere else.

-Jack

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Stupid is…..just stupid.

When I worked at the policed department in police records, I used to play a game as I transcribed the writings of various cops. It was called ‘Spot the Stupid Person’. I have this theory that in every crime there is at least one stupid person. Whether it’s the bank robber who wrote a note on the back of his own deposit slip or the teenage runaway who gets in a stranger’s van, there’s always at least one stupid act involved. 

So last night I watched most of a movie called Alpha Dog. It was on cable and my wife wanted to see it because it has Justin Timberlake in it. There was a black hole of nothing on television last night so there it was. The vast majority of the movie had a bunch of teenage and twenty-something drug dealers, drug users, and gangsta wannabes posturing about how tough or cool they were. One guy owes another guy money and so they kidnap his little brother, but it’s never a plan. They don’t ever say, ‘Okay this is what we’re going to do.’ Instead it just sort of happens. And not all of the wannabes like this idea but they go along with it because…..um….well…they are stupid. 

Usually in any given crime drama I can play a variation of ‘spot the stupid person’, but the problem with Alpha Dog is that there wasn’t one stupid person. They were all stupid. It was amazing in that there wasn’t one smart character in the entire movie. I’m not talking about people who make bad decisions based on a lack of intelligence. I mean the sort of dumbasses that always took the fun out of a good party. These were always the guys who’d start fights for no reason or start smoking pot in the front yard as a cop drove by. And they’re exactly the sort of people that I simply don’t have the time or energy to endure any more than I have to. So I got up and went to another room but before I did, I said, “I bet the Elvis character kills the kid”. (When the movie was over my wife told me I was right.) 

Now I’m sure there are people who might say that this movie had a predictable plot with stupid characters because it was based on a true story about some stupid people who did predictably stupid things, but that doesn’t excuse it. Just because something really happened doesn’t mean it’s automatically a good story. (If it did, then James Frey might have told the truth when he wrote A Million Little Pieces.) The fact of the matter is stupid characters ruin a good story. 

Forrest Gump was not stupid. He was simple. Simple can be charming. Simple can be entertaining. Rain Man was simple. Stupid characters make for bad storytelling for a number of reasons. Both Gump and Rain Man have a logic to their thoughts. Stupid people don’t. Stupid is just stupid. There’s this idea that in order to care about the characters in a story you have to redeem them in some way. This isn’t true though. You can’t just have ‘bad people doing bad things’. This isn’t true though. What you need to do is explain their intelligence. It’s okay if they aren’t brilliant. It’s not okay if they’re just stupid.  

Think of your favorite movie. Who is your favorite character in that movie? I’m willing to bet it’s a character with at least a little smarts.

-Jack