The reputation of Americans as a nation someone out of the clue loop about the human makeup of the planet we all share is something of a legend. According to a recent National Geographic-Roper survey on geographical literacy:
- Only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a mapâ€”though U.S. troops have been there since 2003.
- 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia. (It’s the largest country in Africa.)
- Half of young Americans can’t find New York on a map.
Moreover, this video on YouTube references the same survey to sound the call that fully 20 per cent of British youths cannot locate the U.K. on a map. Perhaps the USA is being a bit unfairly singled out here.
Regardless, one way we deal with such sobering news is to make light of it, and this is not necessarily a bad thing; through humor vital messages can be delivered, and we can have a good laugh besides.
One example we’ve seen recently is a map of what may (or may not) be Europe in the popular comic strip Luann, drawn by cartoonist Greg Evans. In this strip published in American newspapers on Sunday, 17 Feb, the main character is asked by her parents what she learned in school today … and Luann gives them a literal gallimaufry of people and places.
In the middle panel is the cartographic joke; a thing looking vaguely like Europe but mixing everything up; Great England jostles just off shore between the British I’ll and Europe; North England shares space on what might be the Scandinavian Peninsula with Denland and Iceway; continental states include French, Mexico, Grease, and Ohio, the numeral 7 appears in several countries for no apparent reason, and a long word describes the mulligatawny in the center of the landmass â€“ rendered unreadable by the multiplicity of colors, shapes, and boundaries.
Of course, the character here isn’t ignorant â€“ she’s a high-school student doing the best she can with a welter of information being relentlessly dropped on her daily, making this more a commentary on where ignorance can spring from than what damage it might cause.
And as far as the damage geo-cluelessness can produce, nobody does satire better than the esteemed Onion News Network, who gives us here a report on America sending billions of dollars to Andorra, a prosperous western European microstate, because someone thought it was in Africa:
This image, a screen capture, shows the detail of the map of Africa the State Dept. was working from. They were sure that Andorra was in the purple area marked ??? somehow (noting also the nations of Mumbamu, to the north; the infamous Claw Island, and “Congo”, covering the northern fourth:
Andorra: They were sure it was in there, somewhere …
This all simply stands as proof that humor can make the unfunny contemplatable, and this can perhaps give us the courage to address the situation. And, along the way, we’ll have a pretty good laugh, and a memorable joke or two.