It is often used to denote persons who voluntarily acquiesce to a perceived authority or suggestion without sufficient research to understand fully the ramifications involved in that decision, and thus undermine their own human individuality or in other cases give up certain rights. The implication of sheeple is that as a collective, people believe or do whatever they are told, especially if told so by a perceived authority figure believed to be trustworthy, without critically thinking about it or doing adequate research to be sure that it is an accurate representation of the real world around them. The term is generally used in a political, social, and sometimes in a spiritual sense.
The label seems to have originated in the United States and refers to people who tend to accept and follow everything at face value, especially if it is cited in mainstream media. There is documented print usage of this word as early as 1950, in the form, "We, the Sheeple", in the Emory University Quarterly, v.6-7 1950-1951, page 64.. "The Wall Street Journal first reported the label in print in 1984; the reporter heard the word used by the proprietor of an American Opinion bookstore affiliated with the John Birch Society. In this usage, taxpayers were derided for their blind conformity as opposed to those who thought independently. Shortwave radio host Milton William Cooper used the term commonly during his Hour of the Time radio show during the late 80s and early 90s.
The term is also used more broadly to describe any person the speaker feels is exceedingly conformist.
The term is also used for those who are inordinately tolerant, or welcome government intrusion and regulation. In a column entitled "A Nation of Sheeple," columnist Walter E. Williams writes, "Americans sheepishly accepted all sorts of Transportation Security Administration nonsense. In the name of security, we've allowed fingernail clippers, eyeglass screwdrivers and toy soldiers to be taken from us prior to boarding a plane." This usage emphasizes that Americans sheepishly accept all sorts of imposed official nonsense. It describes those who blindly submit to the judgment of public servants or political parties as leading authorities, thereby empowering the civil government through their acquiescence.
In popular culture
- Former Canadian MP Garth Turner authored a book called Sheeple, about his second time in The Canadian House of Commons.
- Canadian born abstract and Neo-pop artist James Verbicky created a series of conceptual works in 2008 entitled "Sheeple". in 2010, the "Sheeple" flagship piece "Freedom Fries" was exhibited at the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach, CA
- In episode 148, Mystery of the Urinal Deuce, of the Comedy Central show South Park, George W. Bush uses the term to describe people who believe the government's official statement about the September 11 attacks.
- Emory University Quarterly v.6-7 1950-1951, page 64, By Emory University Published by Emory University., 1950
- Bob Davis, "In New Hampshire, 'Live Free or Die' Is More Than a Motto," The Wall Street Journal, February 27, 1984, quoted online at Word Spy
- "Word of the Week: Sheeple" at Macmillan Dictionary.
- "A Nation of Sheeple", Capitalism Magazine, October 19, 2005.
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