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Stephen Collins Headshot

What do George Bush and Andrew Lloyd Webber Have In Common?

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Talk about guilty pleasures, Deal or No Deal is the apotheosis of the dumb-down of the TV game show -- absolutely no skill required. It's the equivalent of watching someone continually betting everything on the flip of a coin. When, we wonder, glued to the screen, will their luck fail them? Usually, it's right after they've won enough money to retire on. Then, up to their ears in audience-induced hubris, they're egged on to make one more bet. They lose, and go home with $10.

It's "great TV."

The audience actually boos the few contestants with the discipline to quit when they're ahead. The same audience wildly cheers contestants who lose all their money, while Howie Mandel is likely to tell them they "played with a lotta heart."

The latest Deal or No Deal clone is called Power of 10, and I caught it the other night.

If you haven't seen it, contestants guess the outcomes of national polls. The question I tuned in on was, "What percentage of Americans think that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream?

English majoring dies hard - I had to know the answer.

A comely Alabama blonde was the contestant. Her husband, coaching from the sidelines, admitted he didn't know who Andrew Lloyd Webber is. (Hey, they're from Alabama, they're apparently straight, and she said she'd never been to a Broadway show. Why should either of them know who wrote Cats?)

The answer? The percentage of Americans who think that Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream? (insert drum roll).....28 percent.

The same percentage of Americans who approve of Bush don't know who wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Wait, I thought -- is there...a connection?

Not really. But...28 percent is pretty amazing -- in both cases. How can so many of us be so clueless about...you know...that English playwright guy?

And how can so many of us still approve of Bush?

The man who brought you Iraq, Alberto Gonzales, the unprecedented decline of American international prestige, the denial of global warming...?

To be fair, it's not Bush's fault that reality TV and game shows are taking over the networks.

But it is Bush's fault that we're in Iraq, that the Justice Department is led by a dissembling nincompoop, that we lag the rest of the developed world in most things green, and that he can't, or won't, pronounce "nuclear" correctly. (I know that last one is old news, but...does he think it makes him more folksy? Are Laura or his aides afraid to correct him? Does he not comprehend, or respect, the irony that he wields such massive nuclear power himself? My guesses: yes, yes, and yes.)

It's a great country. 72 percent great, anyway. (That's 100 minus 28.) If it were a letter grade, it would be a C-.

And C-, I suggest, is the grade that most of the developed world would give us if they had to grade America right now. The Brits might be tougher. They're disillusioned that American lies helped lure Blair into Iraq, and they're more likely than the French or Italians to take offense that 28 percent of us don't know who wrote A Midsummer Night's Dream and still approve of Bush.

28%. C-. It's one snapshot of where we are. There are others, to be sure, but, please, bring on Inauguration Day, 2009.