By Sarah Williams
Some among us, plain and simple, are born great.
There are people who have high capacities for specific talents, such as those who are math wizards or seemingly inherently know everything scientific.
The world is home to a select few highly gifted people blessed with abilities the average human can only envy.
Pop culture as a medium always strives to focus on the extraordinary.
As an escape and release from everyday tedium, it is only natural that it would gravitate towards extremes, the ends of the everyday spectrum that tend toward the fantastic, unbelievable, and unforgettable.
Hence, many highly gifted characters have graced television and film.
These super geniuses tackle the average person’s super problems with relative ease.
They are almost like super heroes, but within more modest means.
And they are almost always only depicted in two ways.
Pop culture perpetuates two stereotypes of highly gifted people: the wisecracking whiz kid or the tortured genius. There is no grey area.
On the more light-hearted side, we have characters like Doogie Howser. Doogie is a 16-year old resident surgeon and bona fide genius. He scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT at the age of 6, and graduated from Princeton at 10.
An expert in the field of medicine, he is still only a teenager and faces age-appropriate problems, like passing his driver’s test, for heart-warming chuckles.
A family comedy, Doogie Howser shows a highly gifted person with some minor struggles at normality but in the end a supportive family, close friends, and even a girlfriend to show his social ease, grace, and good wit.
On the other side you have the troubled John Nash of A Beautiful Mind or Will Hunting of Good Will Hunting.
Nash is burdened by his genius, while Hunting suppresses his due to an abusive childhood.
These characters struggle deeply internally, Nash to the point of madness, Hunting to violence and a desire to be less than he can be.
These characters are treated sympathetically, but eventually overcome their pains to take full advantage of their gifts and (with Hunting presumably) bless the world with their gifts, seeing them as such rather than as burdens.
Pop culture stereotypes make it clear: highly gifted people aren’t normal.
They’re either child prodigies, wise beyond their years in some ways while charmingly age-appropriate in others, or they are deeply troubled individuals struggling with staunch inner demons.
For actual highly gifted people in the real world, aspects of these stereotypes may resonate.
Some may feel isolated from others due to their gifts.
But highly gifted people come from all walks of life and deal with their talents in vastly different ways. Not every highly gifted person is a child prodigy, and really, it is horribly unreasonable to expect a 14-year old to have completed med school.
Nor is every highly gifted person angry, unstable, or burdened by their gifts.
On the contrary, many people with exceptional talents live normally, or at least as normally as any person with any kind of I.Q. can live.
The beauty of genius is that it pops up in the most unexpected places. Pop culture stereotypes certainly do not represent this, especially in racial or ethnic diversity, but also in life experience.
A highly gifted person could very well be affected by pop culture stereotypes.
By living a normal life, they may be the boring genius.
Or maybe they haven’t considered their gifts enough to be burdened by them.
Or maybe they aren’t that special because they weren’t a surgeon at 16.
Pop culture holds tremendous impact on the self-concept of the people represented onscreen, even those who society considers exceptionally smart.
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Photos added by site author Douglas Eby :
The Big Bang Theory tv comedy.
Matt Damon as prodigy Will Hunting, taking a break from his job as a janitor at MIT, to solve a complex math problem, in the movie Good Will Hunting (1997).