Let’s talk about smart people. Not real smart people, mind you, but the pretend sort we see on American television and in the movies. Have you all noticed the recent apotheosis of imagined brilliants? (If we’re going to discuss smarty-pants we might as well start with a lot of syllables.)
There’s House, with the doctor who is better than everyone else. There was Numb3rs, with a math dude. There’s Breakout Kings, which I quite enjoy, featuring Lloyd Lowery child-prodigy-turned-psychiatrist-with gambling-problem. The dishiest is Dr. Spencer Reid of Criminal Minds, played by Matthew Gray Gubler.
And then, of course, my favorite, The Big Bang Theory. I’m not alone. The show wins awards.
Having worked in Silicon Valley for 15 years, I’ve clocked my fair share with the 180+ IQ sorts. And, for the most part, I find them quite endearing. Sheldon resonates, in all his odd, over-specified, loyal ways.
Some super smart guys function with few visible quirks. I remember once sitting in a meeting listening to Bud Tribble, known for his contribution to Mac OS and the original Mac interface. I was struck mostly by how he spoke in full, grammatically correct, paragraphs. Not a single false sentence start, an ummmm, or a missed tense. A few months later, at a Christmas party, Bud sat down at the piano without fuss and played show tunes and Christmas songs for the guests. Beautifully. Generously. Intelligence doesn’t dictate bad behavior.
But I do wonder about how similarly brilliant women are portrayed in the media.
Back to Big Bang Theory. The character of Penny provides the usual dumb blond with a heart of gold. Oh well. She’s well-written and well-played. We can’t rail against every stereotype, all the time. But how does the show deal with smart women? Much as I enjoy Amy Farrah Fowler, played by the in-real-life Ph.D. Mayim Bialik, the character seems less rich, less complex than her male counterparts. She’s a simple figure of fun. Bernadette, the degreed blond., approaches a dichotomy or two, but is nowhere near as fully drawn as Sheldon.
I think the societal conflict around highly intelligent women manifests most clearly in a very different recent series. Enter Lisbeth Salander, of The Girl Who Did Various Dangerous Things trilogy.
She comes closest, really, to the super-powered smart guys. It’s too bad that she has to be so damaged, so angry, and so at risk.
It’s Saturday morning. Let’s all engage in our favorite intellectual activities, while smiling. Have a lovely weekend.