In Praise of Ignorance

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Eric Burns Author, 'Invasion of The Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties'

As someone who used to host a television program on the media and popular culture, I have a problem. I know too much. I know things I should not know. I know things that shouldn't even be things.

I know that Angelina Jolie once had Billy Bob Thornton's name tattooed on her arm.

I know that Lindsay Lohan once drank and drove and was captured by the paparazzi with an inebriate's grin on her face.

I know that Paris Hilton once had a TV show called The Simple Life.

I am, as well, plagued by my knowledge of the present.

I know there is a famous person named Lady GaGa.

I know there are a husband and wife named Salahi who want attention so badly they crashed a party at the White House.

I have heard that the father of Sarah Palin's grandchild posed provocatively for Playgirl magazine.

I am familiar with excerpts from e-mails that Tiger Woods wrote to various mistresses, suggesting acts that are probably still illegal in certain Midwestern states and former Eastern block nations.

It is no wonder, then, that I have chosen to take refuge by writing history, immersing myself in centuries past, coming no closer to the present in my recent work than the life and times of Theodore Roosevelt and his relationship to his youngest son.

And yet . . .

I have brain cells somewhere storing the information that Adam Lambert, a human being who did not exist in the solar system of sensible mortals as recently as a few weeks ago, is one of Barbara Walters's Ten Most Fascinating People of 2009. I have brain cells elsewhere devoted to the prospect of Kate Gosselin's getting a reality show of her own. Yet more brain cells report to me on Jenny McCarthy's breast implants and Demi and Ashton's twitter sex and Lou Dobb's comically intense bloviations on immigrants and Nancy Grace's future in syndication and Jay Leno's move to ten p.m. and Jessica Simpson's absence from this year's Dallas Cowboys' games and on and on it goes.

I do not want to know this stuff. This is brain cell kidnapping!

But how is one to escape? Preoccupation with the past, as I have discovered, does not work. The trivia of the present is not just on the page and on the air anymore---it is in the air. One learns it by respiration, in the same manner that one inhales the fumes of a truck when stuck behind it in traffic.

As a result, I have set a goal for myself. Ignorance.

Someday I want someone to ask me what I think of a Lady GaGa and be able to say, "Who?"

Someday I want someone to ask me what I think of a Tiger Woods's affairs and be able to say, "Huh?"

Someday I want someone to ask me what I think of a Salahi entering the White House and be able to say, "Oh, my God, is that a member of a terrorist group?"

Ignorance, according to reputation, is bliss. In this case, however, it is more than that---it is a survival mechanism that must be employed by our nation's ever-shrinking minority of reasonable men and women for their own mental health, and, even more, for the efficient and productive functioning of society.

I realize, of course, that many of you may choose to be ignorant of me. So far, you've failed. You've been reading this essay and, if I am fortunate, you will read to the end and then spend a few more minutes considering the points I have made.

After that, if you're so inclined, forget you ever heard of me. Do so with my blessings. But devote the brain cells I would otherwise have occupied for purposes that are enriching and meaningful.

As for me and my cells, the moment I finish writing this piece, I will resume reading Terry Teachout's wonderful new biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops.

My plan is to shake loose my knowledge of Demi and Ashton's twitter sex, among other things, to clear out the space for this important story of a man who mattered.

Eric Burns is the former host of Fox News Watch, and has written such books as Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism.