Jay Leno's "Jaywalking" Accurate or not?

Jay Leno has a piece that he does from time to time. Leno will go out on the street and ask “normal people” questions on History, Geography, and, Politics.

A number of people assume that the USA has 52 states.

A number of people can’t tell you who Al Gore is, but they sure know who Leo Dicaprio is.

A number of people think that the (US) Civil War took place in the 1950s.

I believe you get the idea.

My question is not if the answers are scripted. (On a person by person basis, I (sadly) know that people are indeed this stupid.) I am just wanting to know how many answers Leno doesnt show.

Are we really as stupid as Jaywalking makes us out to be?

Also, a Game show was made on this sad state of affairs. Its name was Street Smarts.

Did Mike Judge overshoot by 400 years with his movie “Idiocracy” ?

Fairly majorly tangential to the OP question, but I was once in an argument that Americans aren’t particularly stupider than Europeans and pretty much the average populace of any country is fairly scary.

The thing is that “knowledge” and “intelligence”, while related, are still different things. Most people are disinterested in learning about things which don’t effect them. To an American, foreign nations generally don’t seem to have much effect. To a European, it’s more worthwhile to know what’s happening in the US or Germany or France or wherever since you’re more likely to be doing business over national borders, so they end up seeming more worldly. But, they’re still only picking up the knowledge that they need to, so worldliness isn’t a proof of intelligence.

So what I did was to look up what percentage of the population of various nations buy stuff via spam email. :slight_smile:

The US was about consistent with France, much better than Germany, and Brazil was just off the charts. Apparently if you want to find stupid people, Brazil is where you want to head, they were way above all the other nations listed.

I’ll do some searching if I can find the study again.

I can’t answer the OP definitively, but I did watch Street Smarts a few times, and I noticed that the audience (presumably made up of average Americans) had fun laughing at how stupid the average Americans in the street were. I think the disconnect was a combination of the show filtering for the more amusing answers, and the interviewees realizing that sandbagging gave them a better shot of making it on the show.

Some of you are, but not many. It’s a selection thing.

Where does this come from? I remember believing this for a long time. Sure, I’m not American so it’s not as bad, but where the hell does it come from?

Not heard it before. My guess would be from people confusing 48 contiguous states with 50 (the total number of states), plus two non-contiguous.

The US does have some land that isn’t part of any state, and which could be considered for statehood but there’s no discernable way to parry this into +2 except arbitrarily.

We also have some states that would be happy to split (like California into North and South), and it’s basically understood that to add one state, you have to add a second at the same time so that both major parties get a state on their side. So if the US does ever expand it’s number of states, it will almost definitely skip 51.

:confused: I don’t think so. It looks to me like two states have been added in tandem only three times in history, and only once since the Civil War. Today, what other contender would there be aside from Puerto Rico?

It’s the reason I’ve generally seen bantered about for why Puerto Rico or a California split hasn’t been accepted. If I recall the discussions from GD correctly, in the case of Alaska, one party had a significant majority in both houses in congress and the presidency so they were able to power it through. My brain might have just made that up though. I’m not sure what words to search for in GD.

You’re on the street and Jay Leno comes up to you and asks you a question. You can either give him the correct answer and your friends will never believe that you talked to Jay, or you can give a dopey answer and wind up on the Tonight Show. What are most people going to choose?

People aren’t disinterested – they’re uninterested, because they don’t think enough about their own best interests.

THe suspicious thing about “Jay-walking” is NOT that there are so many stupid people. It’s that there are so many stupid people who give hilariously wrong answers, AND who are happy to show off their ignorance on TV.

If I walked up to a random person on the street with a camera crew and a microphone and asked “Who’s the current Secretary of Defense,” most could not name Robert Gates. Most would either mumble, “I dunno, sorry” or guess some other prominent person in the Bush administration (“Um… Colin Powell?”). Most would then stare at the ground and say, “Geez, this is embarrassing. Do you HAVE to put this on the air?” THOSE kinds of dumb people aren’t entertaining. The entertaining ones are the ones who assert confidently that Leonardo Dicpario or Britney Spears is the Secretary of Defense.

But face it- VERY few real people, even woefully uninformed people, would gleefully say that Britney Spears is Secretary of Defense, and then happily appear on followup “Jay-walking” game shows to show off their stupidity in front of millions of viewers.

So, my guess is that “Jay-walking” is self-selective. It attracts people who are both dumb AND eager to get on TV, no matter how.

Exactly right, astorian. If you’re willing to give a dumb answer just for the thrill of being on TV, then you are dumb.

That was my first WAG. My second is that it gets confused with the fact that there are 52 weeks in a year and/or 52 cards in a deck, so that people have in the back of their minds that there are 52 of something significant.

I’m guessing that the 52 includes Puerto Rico and Washington DC. I’ll bet most non-Americans do not know that the district containing Washington does not have the status of statehood.

It must be a common misconception, because I’ve heard one or two people from Taiwan assert the same thing to me (that there are 52 US states).

Don’t be too concerned – it’s not any sort of rule or requirement but in the past it HAS been done that what states are admitted was influenced by maintaining “balance” (e.g., pre-Civil War, slave v. free states) either by number of states or by total electoral vote, but that was strictly a political decision by the sitting Congress.
The “52” has various ways of worming into people’s minds, all which have been mentioned in the thread – misapprehension of the legal status of the major Territories; confusion about how many contiguous states there are; a vision of “52” as a significant number; and, I venture a guess, a fit of “hmmm… the stars are 50, everyone says 50… I remember 50… but no way, that can’t be so simple, there’s got to be a trick…”

As to “Jaywalking”, what astorian said.

I think a better example is Cash Cab, the TV game show that takes place in a taxi. The contestants are picked up because they hailed a cab in NY. They’re asked general knowledge questions until they get to their stop. Three wrong answers and you’re kicked out on the street. Most of these questions are a good bit harder than “Who is Al Gore”, but people do surprising well. And if they’re stuck on an answer, they can pull over and ask a random person on the street. Those random people also do pretty well. So I’d bet Jay’s segment is very heavily editted, or the idots give an asnine answer so they can get on TV.


I would guess the other contender as either Washington D.C. (as mentioned earlier) or Guam. Especially since both participate in Federal election primaries.

I think people come up with 52 states because they’ve seen beauty pageants (like Miss America and Miss USA) which will include PR and DC, and throughout the evening the hosts talk about “our 52 contestants”.

A lot of people are pretty dim. I bet if I stood on the corner of Times Square and started asking people what city the Olympics were being held in, I would get a fair amount of stupid answers. All you need is a handfull for a funny TV bit.

I’d be willing to bet that if I put on a nice blazer and stood on the street with a microphone and a friend with a TV camera, I could jigger with people all day long. (In my line, we call this “social engineering.”)

I say “How many states are there in the United States?”

The mark answers “Uhhhh…Fifty!”

I say “And what about Alaska and Hawaii?”

At this point, you can hear their gears slipping, and they respond “Oh, 52!”

There’s a handful of psychological things at play here. I’m portraying myself as authoritative. I’ve dressed well, I’m groomed and I speak confidently but not condescendingly. If you look honest and important and sound honest and important, the majority of people out there will believe you, even if your flat-out intent is to deceive or confuse them.

They gave a correct answer. But, my response makes them think they forgot two states. Add to this the intimidation factor. Thrusting a microphone at somone’s face and holding a TV camera two feet away will make most people go a bit glassy as they’re fixated on that mic, and on the camera lens that’s about the size of a dinner plate just inches away, and some little corner of their brain is going “HI MOM!”