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By Doug Brunell | July 6, 2006

Just when I’m convinced people can’t get any dumber …
Not too long ago I was involved in a training based around — and this is rich — telephone etiquette. I had to watch a VHS tape presentation on how to use the telephone in a business setting. (Why this needs to be trained is beyond me, but I had to roll with it. ) The training film was made by Video Arts and starred none other than John Cleese, who helped establish the company in the 1970s. Okay, so it couldn’t be all that bad.
Truth was, it wasn’t that bad. It looked like it was filmed around 1984, and it had some humorous moments, so the training wasn’t a total wash. What surprised me, however, was the utterly insane ramblings that came from two the people in my training class. One woman, who was in her late thirties, said right at the beginning of the video, “His accent is so fake.”
“He’s British,” I told her.
“It’s so bad. It’s obviously fake.”
“He’s a famous British comedian. ‘Monty Python.’ World famous.”
Once other people appeared on the screen and started talking, she shut up about the fake accent. When the video ended, however, she said, “Well that was funny, but it was so old. It looks like it was filmed in the ‘70s or ‘80s.”
I couldn’t disagree with that. It did look like it was filmed in the ‘80s. It’s what another woman in her mid-twenties said that blew my mind.
“No,” the other woman asserted, “it’s new. It’s on DVD. It was just made to look like it’s the ‘80s because it’s funnier that way.”
Sweet f*****g God what I wouldn’t give for a people hunting license.
First of all, it wasn’t on DVD. I saw the VHS tape go into the machine and saw it pulled out. At no point did it magically transform into a DVD. Second, and I’m sure most people know this, movies older than 2002 do occasionally make it onto DVD. And third, since the look of the characters and props in the video were not the focus of the story, it should seem (at least to rational people) rather unlikely that they were “made to look” like they were from the ‘80s because it’s “funnier.” The humor was in the situations, not the hairstyles, but that’s a moot point. The big thing that set off alarm bells in my dizzy head was the fact that this younger woman thought that because something was on DVD (which it wasn’t) that it couldn’t possibly be from the ‘80s (which it was).
This leads me to an interesting question: Are my expectations of people too high, or do I have a right to be mad about this stupidity?
I can kind of understand someone not being familiar with John Cleese. I would have expected that from someone who wasn’t close to forty years of age, but maybe this lady led a sheltered life. It is conceivable that not everyone pays attention to famous people. After all, Cleese is not a household name like Cruise or Hanks. Not everyone likes British humor, either, and there are those out there who just don’t watch very many films. So maybe, just maybe, I was out of line when I was startled by this woman’s claim that Cleese’s accent was fake.
What about the other woman, though? Was I right to be stunned into silence by the idea that the media medium (the mistaken DVD in this case) dictated how old something on it could be? I don’t think so. I have CDs with blues music from the 1920s, which is well before CDs, cassettes or even 8-tracks. I have VHS tapes of movies from the 1930s, and DVDS with films from the ‘50s. I’ve seen digital slideshow screensavers of Renaissance art. There are e-books of some of Dickens’ most important works. So no, I was not out of place with this one.
A wise man once told me that as long as there were fools in the world, I’d have a reason to get up in the morning. I guess that’s true, but this was disturbing nonetheless. I mean, here was a room full of “professional” people, and at least one of them seemed totally oblivious to the concept of DVDs and what could be done with them. I’m about ten years older than this woman, but I don’t think the age gap accounts for her lack of understanding. I can’t even say that there are other people out there that are her age who think the technology is so new and cutting edge that no films prior to its invention can be stored on the DVD. That just doesn’t make any sense no matter how you look at it.
I don’t expect people to be as into exploitation films as I am. I don’t even expect people to understand the difference between Region 1 DVDs and Region 2 DVDs. At this point in my life I don’t even expect people to know the difference between widescreen and pan-and-scan. But I do think people should have at least some knowledge of how things work. Are there functioning adults out there who think automobiles run on leprechaun dust? Of course not. So why would anyone think you couldn’t put an old film on a DVD? Where is the logic there?
I can hear some of you saying, “Maybe this chick doesn’t watch DVDs.” She does. In fact, one day she told she had bought something like a dozen of them on her lunch break. So she is familiar with the format. She knows what they are. I, on the other hand, remain baffled.
It took a John Cleese instructional video from the ‘80s that maybe five thousand people have seen to show me that there is really no gauge to measure the depths of human stupidity. After hearing the second lady drop some knowledge about DVDs, it made the first person seem like Einstein. Fake accent or not, she couldn’t even touch this other woman.
I walked out of that training feeling like I had stepped out of a “Monty Python” sketch. It was a bit surreal and kind of dry, but underneath it all there were some disturbing truths. It also made me happy to know that for all the stupid things I’ve said in my life, none could ever match that DVD comment.
Cleese’s accent is fake, and DVDs are for new movies only. That was my world that day. And I wonder how George W. Bush took office a second time. Boy, do I fear the future.

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