Has pop culture grown too popular? With each and every new generation, the questions about the direction our society is headed are renewed, and complaints about what’s on the radio, what’s on TV and what’s showing at the theater abound. A recent survey suggests that perhaps those questions are valid ones and that the public is more in tune with hit television shows than the document that shapes our nation’s laws and way of life.
According to a survey conducted in 2006 by the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, more than twice as many people can name two members of the cartoon family that is the center of attention on “The Simpsons,” as can name more than one of the rights addressed in the First Amendment. Out of 1,000 people surveyed, only one-in-four correctly named more than a single freedom that the First Amendment protects (there are five). More than half the respondents correctly named at least two members of the Simpson family (there are also five). And while about 220 of the respondents could correctly name all five members of the family, only one of the survey’s respondents could name all five protections provided by the First Amendment. In a parallel question, more people correctly named the three judges who make up the panel on “American Idol” than could identify three of the rights. Maybe the older generation has the “pop culture/end of the world” thing right this time.
The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights. The provisions they contain are designed to keep the federal government in check through the guarantee of certain individual and state rights. Scholars will always debate which of the amendments is most important in maintaining the society we’ve grown to know, because each is important in different ways.
At one time not too long ago, the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were a large part of the civics curriculum at most schools. Many of us can remember standing in front of our classmates reciting the Preamble of the Declaration, or as part of a group presentation of the Bill of Rights. Recently, though, the emphasis on those two documents has faded, or so some critics of public education would have you believe. They will point to this survey as additional evidence that they are correct.
In an Associated Press story about the Simpsons’ survey, Joe Madeira, exhibitions director at the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, said the survey points out the public’s misperceptions about the First Amendment, which the museum hopes to address through educational programs. Although museum exhibits are admirable and to be applauded, they are but one small step. As much as educating the public, their importance is that they draw attention to issues such as this one.
As a civics course refresher, the freedoms protected by the First Amendment are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and the right to petition for redress of grievances. It does not protect our freedom to own pets, as about one-in-five of the survey’s respondents answered.
And in case you didn’t know (although it seems most of us do), the Simpson family includes Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.
Bill Crist is associate publisher and general manager of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Wednesday. He may be reached by e-mail at bill.crist@
brownwoodbulletin.com. This is a repeat of a column that originally ran in March 2006.