Monday, November 30, 2009

The toes of genius?

The other day I visited the High Museum's exhibit on Lenoardo da Vinci. It's called, "Hand of the Genius," and it's mostly sketches of sculptures he worked on.

At the end of the exhibit there is a cork board displaying patron's responses to this posed question: "Can Anybody be a Genius?"

Great question. And my very easy and emphatic answer of "What the cuss, are you freakin' kidding me? Oh, HEY no!!" began to soften a bit the more I thought of it, and now I'm not so sure. It obviously turns on what one means by "genius." IQ is a stupid definition of genius. Yawn. There's lots of high IQ morons out there, and there's plenty of folks who may not test high on IQs who are or were geniuses in their own right. (C.S. Lewis, for example, had zero mathematical aptitude. John Lennon basically flunked out of every school he went to.)

I didn't read many of the patrons' answers, but one of them caught my attention--and fancy. I wish I had taken a photo of it, so you'd have it verbatim, but I'll do the best I can to create it. It said something like this.

"No. Not anybody can be insanely smart. Some people are just insane. Not everybody has it within themselves to set step away from the crowd and to do great things, but there are a few individuals like Helen Keller, Snoop Dogg, and Halle Berry who can change society and should be considered geniuses."

Geniuses: Helen Keller; Snoop Dogg; Halle Berry. You gotta love our culture. Ain't it the best?

My wife accuses me of overusing the word "genius." I have unapologetically used the word to describe any number of folks, and continue to think of these folks as geniuses.

So your job is to let me know whether you think these celebrities are geniuses. This is just a small sample of celebrity-type persons who I have dubbed as geniuses. Altogether without irony, I consider each and every last one of these to be geniuses in the fullest (or at least in a true) sense of the word.

* Marlon Brando (Hint: Oh, yeah, baby.)
* Meryl Streep.
* The dreamy Montgomery Clift, of course.
* And the brilliant Daniel Day-Lewis
* Scorcese (natch). Also, Scorcese. I also think Martin Scorcese is a genius as well.
* Mel Blanc
* Mel Brooks
* Three of The Beatles (Oh, you know which one didn't make the grade.)
* Jimi Hendrix
* Michael Jordan
* Magic Johnson
* Larry Bird
* Tiger Woods
* Greg Maddox
* Prince
* Larry David
* Woody Allen
* Peter Sellers
* Jim Carrey
* Gary Shandling
* Jon Stewart
* Al Franken
* Steve Martin
* Johnny Depp
* Cait Blanchett
* Bill O'Reilly
* David Byrne
* Dick Cheney (hey, evil geniuses are still geniuses.)
* Matt Groening

So what do you think?

(I'm undecided on whether Paris Hilton is a genius. I think there's a chance she's, shall we say, as folks make her out to be. But I'm not so sure. My suspicion is she's perfectly bright but has adopted a personae that has brought her fame and money.)

Guidelines for discussion: Say what want, but consider yourself warned that if you mention either their political inclinations or sexual proclivities as criteria for whether they deserve to be geniuses then you will receive a sloppy blown raspberry--pbpbth!!--as well as being designated officially as a pod person by me!

No good. Don't do it. These things don't enter the equation, thank you.


timekeeper said...

You do overuse genius and your list is all the proof one needs. For crying out are going to put a bunch of actors in a league with Mozart, Michelangelo, Galileo, Aristotle. Yeah, Depp deserves the same title because he can play a drunk pirate AND a mutant scissor bladed freak! Let's not make the word "Genius" synonymous with "Folks that have some good skills that I lack". Remember, when everyone is "special", no one is.

shinigami-sidhe said...

I actually support the genius of Paris Hilton, for the following reason. Recently she made an appearance on the show Supernatural, playing one of the faces of a shapeshifting forgotten pagan god.
While beating Hell and guts out of one of our protagonists with her exquisite stiletto-heeled show, she gave a speech castigating humanity for forgetting how to commit idolatry. The gist was the humans stopped worshiping actual Gods and began worshiping pointless things like Paris Hilton. Yes, Paris Hilton, specifically mentioned Paris Hilton as one of the reasons why idolatry is so boring nowadays.

And I deeply respect her for being willing to say that.

Michael B said...

Readers, let Shinigami-Sidhe's response serve as a model for how one should respond to my blog. First, she agrees with me. Second, she entertains me. Third, she agrees with me and entertains me.

Readers, let Timekeeper's response serve as a model for how notto respond to my commentary. First, she disagrees with me. Second, she's going to make me work to refute her. And third, she disagrees with me and is making me work.

Timekeeper, let me use a comparison. Bill James, the baseball analyst (and genius), once quoted a person who objected to a particular entry into the baseball Hall of Fame as saying, "The Hall of Fame should be reserved for the genuinely great baseball players like Willie Mays." Bill James responded by saying something like, "Willie Mays is a terrible standard for the Hall of Fame. If he were the standard for entry into the Hall of Fame, then he and maybe 2-3 other people, tops, would deserve entrance into the Hall of Fame." In other words, using Aristotle as a threshold for genius is just plain silly. Certainly there are more than five geniuses in history, right? Well, how 'bout anyone is a genius who performs at an extraordinary level of excellence in a unique and original way and who contributes to a new understanding of the possibilities of their craft or practice. That, to me, is genius. Plus I like people who make me laugh. They're geniuses, too.

timekeeper said...

Wrong. Your definition is inclusive and great for ranking lots of great (actors, golfers, authors, fill in the blank). But geniuses SHOULD be few and far between. If there is one person in the hall of fame of a certain sport as a true genius that sounds right. Lots of actors can be great. Only a tiny amount (1? 3?) should be considered genius. Your list is a whole lot of great. Not genius.

Michael B said...

I think your response is a whole lot of ungenius.

Is what I think.

timekeeper said...

Your blog is great.

Michael B said...


"Lots of actors can be great. Only a tiny amount (1? 3?) should be considered genius. Your list is a whole lot of great. Not genius."

Yeah, I got it, "dear."

Andy D. said...

Not to fear Timekeeper, AMD is here to help fight the good fight. Let's double team him. "Genius idea!!"

MB. What the heck is wrong with just making "genius" an objective criteria? Which is, by definition I believe, exactly what it is?

Well let's see. I suppose because it would totally eliminate your own ability to cast that judgment on anyone. That would be one reason. Also because it would disallow you the ability to warp the word to fit basically any abstract quality or talent of a person, even wholly unrelated to "intelligence." I have no problem if someone uses a phrase like, "John Lennon is a musical genius." But that's an analogy or a metaphor or whatever... It, ain't, "genius genius" like the word means.

Also because using an objective meaning puts the decision totally in "their" hands, whoever "they" are who objectively determine "genius." Oh that's right, it's not even a person, it's just a dang test -- even better.

Ok... so I don't honestly feel that strongly about this. Just had to get in a late night shout out to TK. "Yo, TK!!!" I'm going back to my late night work reading and writing legal issues (man being a trial lawyer is sure glamorous...), plus I'm watching the lovely AnnaLynn McCord on Conan so everybody shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.


PS -- In reviewing this again now, I'm seeing that I basically broke every single one of your "blog response rules," which I have to assume were laid like a Bermese tiger trap for yours truly to dive headfirst into. Oh but I didn't insult anyone's sexuality, so that's something. In any event, "I am a genius at breaking the rules!" :)

Michael B said...

Andy: How do I word this delicately? Hmmm....I don't.

You think genius is an objective category because, ahem, you've never thought about it before or haven't read much about it.

Becuase it's far from objective.

I'm speaking objectively.

The most objective attempts to define genius is to link it to IQ, with the "official" cut-off at 136, though 140 and 180 have also been offered as possible "genius" cut-off points.

Considering, however, that IQ tests weren't given until the turn of the last century, and weren't perfected until much more recently--and the fact that there's not perfect consistency between a person's tests in his or her lifetime (childhood tests are notoriously unreliable)--and also considering the perfectly random nature of those numbers chosen to designate genius--136, 140, and 180--it should be clear how fuzzy this concept is--even at its most objective--and even less helpful as a way of determining genius given that we can't give our past genius friends IQ tests. And, no, the fact that that was a run-on sentence does not constitute its own self-refutation, fool.

A "genius" IQ of 140 puts someone about in the top 1%. That's splendid. Bravo for you, Ms. 1%. Which in the good ol' US of A puts you in a group just over three million people, and in the world that puts you in a group of seventy million people.

Seventy million people.

So, Mr. Objective, it looks like you have completely undermined Timekeeper's "there are only nine geniuses in the world" position.

To which I say, thank you, Andy D.


Andy D. said...

Very true.

But that also means, if we really want to play the numbers game, that in the US there are 297,000,000 NON-geniuses. And in the world, there are 6 billion 930 million people, who are NON-geniuses.

The point being, 1%, statistically, remains a very small figure, no matter what total population base you multiply it against. Even against the total non-geniuses, those seemingly large amounts of geniuses in the world are statistically miniscule. So, that seems "select enough" for me... "There are 6,930,000,000 non-geniuses in the world." I buy that.

I don't know how one can reason, "well, because there are 7 billion people in the world, surely much fewer than only 1% of them can be geniuses, it must therefore be a much smaller percentage, say .00001%." That seems arbitrary; to me, even more arbitrary than whatever the objective test data shows. So the point doesn't make sense. Do it.

Unless of course, it remains you who decides for us, who steps into that little circle of genius... A growing little circle perhaps, consisting mostly of actors and musicians, judging from the original posting, but little nontheless.... :)

Having said all this, it is very clear that you, me, TK, and everyone reading this blog, are all geniuses.

That, we do know.

Technoprairie said...

How about Madonna? Now there is one amazing business woman. She's been able to keep us interested in her for years and years and years.

Julie said...

I'm no genius, but...Daniel Day-Lewis? Ugh!

Michael B said...

Madonna, too. I think she's certainly savvy.

Julie: I'm going to pretend I don't understand your Daniel Day-Lewis comment. Is "ugh" the how kids nowadays mean "the best ever"? Because that's how I'm translating it with your sentence.

Anonymous said...

There must be Machiavellian undertones to someones soul for me to call them a genius, which would include Paris Hilton as well as:

* Marlon Brando (Hint: Oh, no, baby.)
* Meryl Streep.
* Mel Blanc
* Mel Brooks
* Jimi Hendrix
* Larry David
* Woody Allen
* Peter Sellers
* Steve Martin
* Johnny Depp
* Bill O'Reilly
* Dick Cheney (hey, evil geniuses are still geniuses.)
* Matt Groening

and exclude the rest.

Michael B said...

Anonymous: A most excellent list if I say so myself. It's just incomplete.

Oh, yeah.

Steven Taylor said...

The one thing I have discerned from this conversation is that to be a "genius" one has to be involved (in some way) in entertainment.

Michael B said...

Steven Taylor: Peter Sellers goes WAY beyond entertainment. No, he doesn't. Still, he's quite entertaining.