Bertolli Makes Us Dumber

Just as sick people have an ethical duty not to spread their illnesses, ignorant people have a duty not spread their ignorance far and wide. This duty is not observed with much fealty by school teachers, much less the writers of TV shows and commercials, so my expectations are low. Still, there are limits.

In a current television commercial for Bertolli’s frozen Italian foods, a distraught Italian chef sings of his abandonment by his restaurant patrons, who are all home enjoying the restaurant flavor of Bertolli’s. His song is sung to the tune of an opera, because he’s Italian, see, and whoever wrote the commercial is sure that while Americans are about as enthusiastic about opera as they are about fox-hunting, they know that operas are sung in Italian, by Italians.

But the chef is singing an English parody to Carmen’s aria in “Carmen,” which is a French opera about Spain. There is nothing Italian about it. Using a French opera about Spain to make a point about Italian food is idiotic, unless 1) you don’t think the audience is culturally literate enough to know it, or 2) you are too culturally illiterate yourself to know it, which means you have no business conveying information of any sort to audiences that include impressionable children who still have a breathing chance of appreciating music on a higher order than Lady Gaga.

We become dumb, misinformed and culturally ignorant in tiny increments, but we get there.  Those who collect a paycheck and earn it by making us dumber should be ashamed of themselves. If they can’t make the effort to be literate themselves, the least they can do is not spread their ignorance to others.

8 thoughts on “Bertolli Makes Us Dumber

  1. I will add this to my list of reasons why I no longer own a TV.

    I do have a question, though. How can someone that is ignorant (not knowing that they don’t know) not spread their ignorance? To use the example of sick people, this is like someone being contagious and able to infect others before they experience the symptoms of being sick. While not knowing that you are sick would not negate your guilt in getting others sick, the lack of knowledge would have prevented you from taking proper steps in keeping others from getting sick. The ignorant person is still guilty for spreading their ignorance. However if they were aware of their ignorance they may have taken steps to either learn and be less ignorant or to keep their ignorance to themselves.

    Or is my premise about ignorance mistaken?

    I am supposing that ignorance is a state that people are unaware of. As I think about it, that is not always the case. I am ignorant about how calculus works and I am aware of that ignorance.

    So, does the ignorant person have
    (1.) a duty not to spread the ignorance they are aware of
    or
    (2.) a duty to not spread all things they are ignorant of regardless of whether or not they are aware of their ignorance?

    • An ignorant person has the obligation to either 1) shut up or 2) get educated. I face this every day, to give one example, on Ethics Alarms. I’m a pretty eclectic guy, but this blog takes me into areas I have expertise on and areas where my knowledge is thin or tenuous at best. Very often I consider a metaphor, or a quote, or a historical reference, and I am just not 100% sure of it, so I do the research and check. Someone who is so ignorant of opera that they don’t know Carmen is French opera must know they are ignorant of opera, and that whatever knowledge they think they have is suspect at best. One dip into Wikipedia would let them know that its an idiotic choice for an Italian food commercial.

      You may be ignorant of calculus, but you wouldn’t start a blog about it, would you? I had a debate here and on a commenter’s blog regarding his comments about freedom of speech. He has a new blog dedicated to the topic, and he obviously has no idea what he’s talking about. Obvious to me, that is. Who knows how many people he will have misinformed before he’s through? Now he may be in your second category, while you, and calculus are in the first. My post applies to the first; I don’t know what you do about the second, except that members of the first category who violate their duties create more of them.

      I just saw a re-run of “NCIS” that had an old Tom Lehrer song in its plot. A character said the song was written by “a Harvard professor.” Tom Lehrer was an MIT professor. Now millions of Americans know the song and think Lehrer was a Harvard professor. The ignorance multiplies. The writer had a duty to check his sources.

  2. I have to admit, I am one of the culturally ignorant. I have seen “Carmen,” and I am aware that it is about Spain, but I was unaware that it was a French opera. That’s because I know squat about opera. So until you pointed out this discrepancy, it would never have occurred to me.

    I blame Al Gore’s fact-challenged pronouncements on global warming for lowering my IQ to that of a rabbit.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I just saw a cute bunny go by … 🙂

  3. Well, I didn’t know a darn thing about Carmen (though I find this amusing). I think I just believe it’s a bit ignorant to have these stereotypical Italians listening to opera in the first place. Don’t the Italians have junky pop like any other country?

  4. 1. Things we know we know.
    2. Things we know we don’t know.
    3. Things we don’t know we don’t know.

    Everything fits into these 3 categories. If we can just open our minds to always consider things might be #3, we’ll be better off.

    As it pertains to Pop-Culture, I try to consider it as entertainment and only as a reminder of things I know I don’t know. Using Bertolli or NCIS as a reference for any real facts would be simply irresponsible. But it would have been nice to have more consistent and quality information.

    As an aside – I think I would like it if commercials that used music identified the music with a ribbon on the bottom of the screen. I think eventually I would have connected the tune to “Carmen”, but identifying music and tunes is much more difficult than checking the facts of words.

  5. It is easy to understand how someone would think that Tom Lehrer was a Harvard professor, if one was familiar with the lyrics of the song that was on NCIS, since it ends with an absolutely atrocious rhyming of “Haaahard” and “discavard.” However, I agree that ignorance is no excuse.
    I deal in the world of criminal defense, and you may rest assured that I have heard the latter innumerable times.

  6. Lord, talk of ignorance. My previous reference should say “Haahvard.” My Dad always told me to never undersestimate the general cussedness of inanimate objects, and that was even before computers.

  7. Frankly, I think you’re fighting a losing battle. Eons ago, when I was in elementary school and junior high, we (1) memorized one classic poem each week; and (2) took music appreciation as a requirement (singing as we went).

    Today’s public schools are cutting budgets by cutting all the arts, poetry is an afterthought, and even elective, after school music is being cut to the bone.

    Where are these children supposed to learn about music and poetry early in life, or find an interest that will carry them through to adulthood? College now is not the “liberal arts” as we knew it; it is preparation for a career in a specific field.

    Don’t blame the ad-men. They know their audiences are all ignorant, and just find a fun tune that will work with their pitch.

    Blame the schools, the educators (if you want to call them that), or the parents (if they can find time between two jobs or are not in generation one of the school cut-back class). If ad-men (sp?) had any idea that any of the audience knew about “Carmen” they wouldn’t have used it. Or, if THEY knew about “Carmen” they wouldn’t have used it.

    This is just basically a harbinger of the end of the civilized world as we used to know it. People rail and rail about the “elites” running things… well, not to sound too snobbish, perhaps there’s a reason for that. Not that home-grown philosophy doesn’t have its merits, but centuries of thought, literature, music, and art are being lost, and it’s our own fault. We have at least two generations now of morons. No wonder we also have morons running the country.

    PS to Jacob Hanson: You’d BETTER own a TV. You owe it to yourself (and your family, if you have one) to know exactly what you’re up against. Knowledge is knowledge. And you need to know what’s happening in the world around you. How else can you fight it?

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