- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2007

Perhaps we need to create a 51st state and call it Dummy — to serve as a haven for everyone who has ever bought one of those bright yellow “Dummies” how-to guides that counsel the curious and clueless on myriad topics.

The state of Dummy would have 150 million people living in it. That is how many “Dummies” guides have been sold since the “(Fill in the blank) for Dummies” format was created in 1991 by Dan Gookin, who was convinced that what the world really needed was a dumbed-down, irreverent primer on computers.

He was right. Another 1,174 topics have been written about since then, translated into 39 languages in 40 countries.

Maybe we need a Dummy country, in fact. Imagine. We could have a Dummy seat at the United Nations. There would be a Dummy ambassador and a Dummy president and a Dummy Department of Animal Control. The residents of this happy nation — remember that ignorance is equated with bliss — could be Dummyites, Dummistas, Dummeranians.

They would have massive immigration problems. One and all would want to live in Dummy so they could sit around and read little books about odd subjects and then feel good about themselves.

Just think, at the Miss Universe pageant, the announcer would swoon, “There she is. Miss Dummy …”

Why, we may need a whole Dummy planet, come to think of it, though there might be issues with Dummies from Mars, or worse, Dummies from Uranus. Wasn’t that a 1956 movie staring Buster Crabbe and Zsa Zsa Gabor?

Back on Earth, meanwhile, we have, indeed, become Dummyfied. Smith and Wiley & Sons, the official “Dummies” series publisher, has just announced it is developing a Dummies television network. We’re talking a game show, a newsmagazine — put together by A. Smith & Co., the same reality-TV production company that created “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Paradise Island.” Producers are giddy already over the amount of content they have to play with.

“Whatever topic you can think of, there’s a ‘Dummies’ book for it,” says Arthur Smith himself.

Indeed. Among 45 “Dummies” books published last year alone, readers were schooled in soccer coaching, meditation, casino gambling, Jane Austen, Arabic, thyroid problems, quilting, customer service, EBay, childhood obesity, sailing, self-publishing, autism, jazz and digital photography. In 2005, topics included bipolar disorder, the 1960s, baby massage, family reunions, frugal living, Lewis and Clark, beekeeping, old dogs and breast-feeding.

Yes, the book is titled “Breastfeeding for Dummies.”

And of course, the word Dummies is a licensed trademark that appears on Dummies-brand clothing, barbecue grills, cleaning products, automotive supplies, craft kits, sewing patterns, corkscrews, guitars, bedding plants, hair-cutting scissors, underwear. Yes, there is Dummies underwear and no doubt a guidebook on how to improve one’s love life.

Oh, well, silly us. There are 14 books on that subject, including “Rekindling Romance for Dummies” and (close off Junior’s ears now) “Sex for Dummies,” in its third edition.

The thought of playing stump the Dummies is intriguing, though. There’s already “Congress for Dummies” and “Politics for Dummies.” Taxes, commodities, cover letters, Jewish cooking, restaurant management and Rottweilers have been addressed. Our research team down the hall at the Meddlesome Mothers Desk points out that there doesn’t seem to be a “Dummies for Dummies” book yet, though.

The publisher also has yet to bring out a line for in-laws, querulous neighbors, the Democratic Party or perhaps Rosie O’Donnell. “Fleas for Dummies” might sell well. And maybe there could be a whole invisible series, for everyone who is in denial.

The publisher is always quietly looking for new titles from new experts — though it fiercely discourages would-be authors from sullying the company doorstep with finished manuscripts. It advises seeking out a literary agent or sending along personal credentials for future projects, should one have specific experiences in a given field. Maybe Bill Clinton could write one. The publisher does offer a kind word, though:

“When you become a ‘For Dummies’ author, you join the ‘For Dummies’ family,” it notes.

And while all the Dummies strut about, the Idiots are up and coming. The massive Penguin Group publishes the “Complete Idiot’s Guide to (Fill in the blank).” Also founded in 1991 as a computer how-to guide, the “Complete Idiot’s” series has sold 20 million books in 26 languages. Just to be cheeky, Penguin is developing sideline books that include the mottos “Teach Yourself,” “On a Shoestring” and “At Your Fingertips.”

It, too, is peeking around for new ideas. “Remember, you are writing for an intelligent, busy audience that doesn’t want to be patronized or bored,” Penguin states in an author’s guide.

But of course. Quick. Let’s pitch “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Complete Idiots.” That might sell pretty well.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and dummies for The Washington Times national desk. Reach her at [email protected] or 202/636-3085.

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