So, Lance asks me to write a piece about the Village Idiot. I could tell he’d been gleefully anticipating the opportunity to display his razor-sharp wit by implying that I fit the part.
Good one, Lance…but I’m already filling the dual role of Village Drunkard and Village Letch. Admittedly this often results in idiotic behaviour, but that’s merely accidental overlap.
Let’s begin with an etymological analysis of the term, “Idiot.”
American Heritage dictionary defines the term thus: A person of profound mental retardation having a mental age below three years and generally being unable to learn connected speech or guard against common dangers. The term belongs to a classification system no longer in use and is now considered offensive.
An idiot, to be more precise, was the worst slot on the IQ bell curve. An average score is between 100-110. In days past, a measured intelligence quotient between 50-69 was termed a moron. From 20-49 earned the label imbecile. Below that, drooling and wiping feces on the test paper, was the idiot.
People have since lost all connection with the true meaning of the term. They toss it around as though it applies equally well to all classes of stupid behaviour. You often hear people say, “That guy drives like an idiot!” In point of fact, an idiot would be hard pressed to figure out how to get in the car, much less drive it.
Misusing the term is rather insensitive, too. Consider the feelings of the poor yet striving imbecile…perhaps even a well-intentioned borderline moron…when you hastily label them an idiot. It’s rude – like lumping Canadians in with Americans. Thus, we now employ the broadly inclusive term, “Deficient,” compassionately modified by the qualifiers, “Mild, medium, severe,” and the dreaded, “Profound.”
One hopes the severely deficient profoundly appreciate the extra effort involved in NOT referring to them as idiots. Personally, I doubt they notice, or care.
The VILLAGE Idiot is yet another critter. 50% percent of any population is going to exhibit duller than average intelligence (that’s the definition of average). As George Carlin pointed out, imagine how dumb the average person is. Now recognize that half the people are dumber than that. A slice of that rather dull population will also exhibit one form of odd behaviour or another, thereby drawing attention. It is from this pool that the Village Idiot emerges.
Carlin, by the way, was never Village Idiot – he’s a Court Jester. Occupation: Foole. Another gig entirely.
The Village Idiot is usually a mental deficient, but that’s not to say he’s necessarily stupid. In fact, he’s almost never a true idiot as contemplated by the definition above.
Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) in Sling Blade and Lenny (John Malkovich) in Of Mice and Men are two examples of Village Idiots who don’t score highly on standardized tests, but nevertheless possess and exhibit an enviable degree of heart and character. Of course, most Village Idiots don’t kill folks with lawnmower blades, mmmhmmm.
The Village Idiot is not to be confused with the Idiot Savants. Savants, despite suffering from any of a variety of neurological and/or mental disorders (commonly autism), nevertheless display genius level abilities in art, music, mathematics or some such. Raymond Babbit (Dustin Hoffman) in Rainman, and David Helfgott (Geoffrey Rush) in Shine are examples with which everyone is familiar. Sure, they exhibit strange and seemingly deficient modes of behaviour, but this is offset by their incredible and inexplicable talents. They ARE ten times more charming than that pig, Arnold, on Green Acres…and thus cease to be the Village Idiot.
The idiot – frequently in literature, less so in reality – is often imbued with special powers or abilities…think John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) in The Green Mile. It is also not uncommon for a village to label someone an idiot when they are, in fact, not. An important distinction must be made between the true idiot and those who society mistakenly labels as such – Helen Keller comes to mind. In casting the role of Village Idiot, it is far more common to find mislabelled idiots than true idiots. This tells you more about the village than it does about the idiot.
Every village has an idiot: Someone who exists on the fringes of the community, often the target of cruelty, less often of compassion; tolerated but not welcomed; shunned and ignored when possible; condescended to and patronized when feigned ignorance is impossible.
In fact, that’s as fair a definition of “village” as your ever likely to find: A small population containing one idiot.
If you have TWO idiots, then you’re a small town. Somewhere around a dozen idiots, you’re either a city, or there’s a problem with your water supply. At this point it becomes impossible for everyone to be personally acquainted with all the idiots running around (not to mention the morons and imbeciles, who are more plentiful…just the nature of the bell curve), so you construct a home for them and hire Nurse Ratched to keep them docile. We called the bleak white building where the kids in hockey helmets got off the bus, “The Butterscotch Palace.”
However many idiots a community has (it sure seems like there’s more than anyone needs), and whatever strategy it utilizes to manage them, it’s important to keep in mind that the Village Idiot serves a very useful and important function. No matter how bad your day is, you can always observe the idiot and feel thankful that you’re doing better than that. There is, nevertheless, a flip side to that coin, and it is this: Ignorance is bliss. If you string together a few terrible days, the happy (albeit drooling) grin on the face of your local idiot may begin to seem like an attractive and enviable state of affairs.
One final bit of advice regarding idiots in general. Never argue with one. If you do, that’s what the idiot is doing, too. That’s why I simply said, “Okay,” when Lance asked me to write this article.