Who Was J. Edgar Hoover?

Given what I’ve been hearing for years about widespread ignorance among GenX and GenY’s about American history, the possibility that a significant percentage of under-40s or certainly under-30s not having clue #1 about who J. Edgar Hoover was doesn’t sound like a huge stretch. So I would guess Warner Bros. marketing is facing a slight hurdle in selling Clint Eastwood’s biopic to this demographic.

Once upon a time the brainiacs out there might have assumed that J. Edgar Hoover founded the Hoover Vacuum company back in the ’20s, but…well, maybe some do think that.

The Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer opens on 11.9.

Don’t kid yourself — more and more citizens living outside the big cities don’t know shit from shinola when it comes to basic historical data.

Ask Jay Leno about this. I saw him do a question segment with people on the street on the Tonight show a few years back, and he asked a young girl to give the last name of a recent U.S. president whose first name was “Jimmy.” She didn’t know. “He used to be a peanut farmer…” Leno hinted. The woman still didn’t know but she took a stab. “Jimmy Peanut?”, she said.

In a survey conducted in 2008, about 25% of 1,200 17-year-olds “were unable to correctly identify Adolf Hitler as Germany’s chancellor during World War II, instead identifying him variously as a munitions maker, an Austrian premier and the German Kaiser,” according to N.Y. Times piece that I’ve lost the URL for.

A CBS News story by Francie Grace noted that “allmost three out of four fourth-graders could not name which part of government passes laws. Most students thought it was the president. (It’s Congress.)

“About three out of four fourth-graders knew that July 4 celebrates the Declaration of Independence. But one in four thought it marked the end of the Civil War, the arrival of the Pilgrims or the start of the woman’s right to vote.

“More than half of 12th-graders, asked to pick a U.S. ally in World War II from a list of countries, thought the answer was Italy, Germany or Japan. (The correct answer was the Soviet Union.)”

37 thoughts on “Who Was J. Edgar Hoover?

  1. Well….Italy became our ally towards the end, but…..

    Good god. I read stuff like this and I find myself rooting for the terrorists to put us out of our misery.

    And I’m pretty sure that on more than one occasion Leno’s relatively easy history / current events questions completely baffled passers-by who turned out to be….TEACHERS.

    I don’t even want to know how many of these people could easily I.D. the names of the various Kardashians sisters out of a photograph.

    Like the maitre-de at Chez Nous, I too weep for the future.

  2. I asked a student to name their favorite President – The answer, Benjamin Franklin, was not surprising. I reminded the 14 yr old honor student that Franklin was an important founding member of our society but never President. Her back-up response was Donald Trump. Several weeks later she admitted to the class without shame that she couldn’t tell time by looking at a traditional clock. I recently had an entire class unable to address an envelope. No idea where the stamp went, return address,…..etc.. Scary.

  3. You have tounderstand about Millenials …. they know nothing before 1980. Ask them who Katharine Hepburn is. Or any other classic star.

    In fairness, it is a lousy, bland, terrible title.

  4. “outside of the big cities?” WTF? People in the big cities, the home of the dropout factories, new immingrants, etc., those are the people that know American history?

  5. This reminds me of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X back in 1992 — not a whole lot of young black teens knew who Malcolm was. Spike did a brilliant simple marketing campaign with the letter X emblazoned on shirts, hats, posters, very reminiscent of the approach Warner’s did with Tim Burton’s Batman with just displaying the bat symbol on everything and both films got butts into the theaters.

    Now I’m not saying Clint and Warner Bros. needs to go all out and carve up a catchy symbol for Hoover, but they need to cut a more exciting trailer than the one they have now. It literally looks like a History channel mini-series or something. It doesn’t register as a must see. For me I’m already sold because I like Clint’s movies, but for Joe Schmoe out there, it looks like homework.

  6. If you’re in your 30′s you remember hearing about him in 1991 as the guy who liked dressing up as a lady and was into guys. Then you’d see Him portrayed by Bob Hoskins a few years later in Nixon sizing up that Hispanic waiter.

  7. This reminds me of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X back in 1992 — not a whole lot of young black teens knew who Malcolm was. Spike did a brilliant simple marketing campaign with the letter X emblazoned on shirts, hats, posters, very reminiscent of the approach Warner’s did with Tim Burton’s Batman with just displaying the bat symbol on everything and both films got butts into the theaters.

    Now I’m not saying Clint and Warner Bros. needs to go all out and carve up a catchy symbol for Hoover, but they need to cut a more exciting trailer than the one they have now. It literally looks like a History channel mini-series or something. It doesn’t register as a must see. For me I’m already sold because I like Clint’s movies, but for Joe Schmoe out there, it looks like homework.

  8. Why does anyone involved with this film care what a bunch of 30 year olds think? That’s not the crowd for this movie. They need to worry about marketing to the people who eat dinner at 4:30 P.M. And those people know who J. Edgar Hoover is. They just don’t give a shit. So, I guess, there is no audience for this movie, which is why it’s going to tank. This will be DiCaprio’s MOMMIE DEAREST. The kind of movie you watch stoned on NyQuil.

  9. To be fair how many people can name any Head of FBI? I’m not saying it’s acceptable, I’m just saying people will remember what it used daily.

  10. They’re selling the movie just fine. The tv spot has Dicaprio doing his thing, stylish clothes, women, and explosions. I doubt telling young people it’s about the former director of the FBI will matter one bit

  11. Naomi Watts was on Fallon last night promoting this… Did ANYONE have any idea she was in it? I know the sell is Leo! and Clint! and J. Edgar Hoover!, and that Naomi isn’t necessarily box-office gold, but seems weird she hasn’t been in any of the publicity I’ve seen for it…

    I’m also wondering if Clint’s ever gonna tire of this militantly desaturated charcoal-black Tom Stern look and go back to some nice, sunny BRONCO BILLY/SUDDEN IMPACT-era BLUE SKIES and naturalistic flesh tones.

    Not that I don’t love Clint, but if there’s one thing that totally gives his recent work that snoozy, homework vibe, it’s the desaturation.

  12. At this point in his life, these movies are just bowel movements to him. Now it’s on to the next three. (I eagerly await 2014′s ODE TO BILLIE JOE remake).

  13. They should have released this closer to Christmas when college kids and high-schoolers have winter break. That’s when young people are most likely to see a movie like this because they’ll attend with their parents when they never would have seen it with a group of their friends. See The Aviator, Walk the Line, JFK, etc.

  14. Even if they did know who Hoover was, I’m not sure why they’d care to see a movie about him. He was the John McCain of the Mad Men era.

    In a survey conducted in 2008, about 25% of 1,200 17-year-olds “were unable to correctly identify Adolf Hitler as Germany’s chancellor during World War II, instead identifying him variously as a munitions maker, an Austrian premier and the German Kaiser,”

    But then, hey, my argument about Inglorious Basterds making money ‘cus the tea-baggers equated Obama with Hitler, and Americans don’t know jack-shit about the latter-was absurd.

    As for not knowing who Carter was, well, the guy was really just a fill-in after Nixon and Ford.

    “More than half of 12th-graders, asked to pick a U.S. ally in World War II from a list of countries, thought the answer was Italy, Germany or Japan. (The correct answer was the Soviet Union.)”

    They’d be 2/3 right if it was the other World War.

  15. They need to focus more on the explosions, and downplay the aging. The aging is confusing (it worked in Ben Button because that was the plot), and no one knows who the founder of the FBI was except for history buffs and old people.

    And you can’t cite Leno as a source of why Americans are stupid; he’s taking a sample of LA people, and only showing the stupidest of them. And to believe that Hitler was the Kaiser and not the Chancellor is perfectly reasonable.

  16. “Even if they did know who Hoover was, I’m not sure why they’d care to see a movie about him. He was the John McCain of the Mad Men era”

    ?????

    That makes absolutely no sense.

  17. “Don’t kid yourself — more and more citizens living outside the big cities don’t know shit from shinola when it comes to basic historical data.”

    K. Bowen has it right: the kids MOST likely to know who J. Edgar Hoover was are the kids far, FAR removed from big city school systems.

    You don’t get out much Jeff, or at all?

  18. But all high school history textbooks published in this country are written to satisfy the political leanings of the Texas Board of Education, so how can this be?

    .

  19. How completely out of it does a blogger have to be to believe these kinds of trivial historical factoids retained in memory is what constitutes education? You can look that shit up in five seconds on your fucking iPhone. Join reality and try to get some idea about what matters in life, but commenting on a movie blog I know I’m barking up a dead palm tree.

  20. Yes, the ultimate horror on Leno’s terminally depressing “Jay-Walking” feature came during a segment he did while standing near the Lincoln Memorial. He asked a tourist if he knew the name of the figure honored in the building behind them. The man didn’t know. Leno asked what the man’s profession was, and he replied, “Schoolteacher.” He was taking his students on a tour of DC at the time.

  21. People are undoubtedly stupid, and arguably moreso in L.A. than just about any other major city in the States, but make no mistake about it — that Jay-Walking segment is as staged as Claudia Schiffer’s “relationship” with Copperfield.

    I actually doubt Leno knows who the hell Hoover is, though…all that motherfucker ever does is read shit (and by shit, I mean terribly subpar reheated punchlines) off cue cards.

  22. “my argument about Inglorious Basterds making money ‘cus the tea-baggers equated Obama with Hitler”

    “As for not knowing who Carter was, well, the guy was really just a fill-in after Nixon and Ford.”

    This is a cry for help.

  23. They’re selling the movie just fine. The tv spot has Dicaprio doing his thing, stylish clothes, women, and explosions. I doubt telling young people it’s about the former director of the FBI will matter one bit Gold Investment Report

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  25. Is true that all you have seen and read,sometime when it is raining I have to move my office in the walk to keep working.
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    I had a put up a couple of very droll comments but they were “accidentally” erased by Jeff. I’m sure that my saying that if the grain monks ever got together with the 1.85 fascists they could make Jeff feel sufficiently oppressed to write his own “Darkness At Noon.”

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