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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

So You Think You're Smarter Than A Character?

Smarty-pants! It used to be a playground epithet for anyone who did really well in class. While very few of the "cool kids" wound up being brains, they were still some of them who excelled at everything. My high school valedictorian was not only on the honor roll and took AP classes, he was also quarterback of the football team and popular with the ladies. I also kind of hated him, even though he was honestly a nice guy.

I've been reading through Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint lately when I came across his idea of the virtues of characters we hate. The villains. And one of Card's assertions had me thinking. He says that "the American audience resents any character who is smarter and better educated than other people," which is because "any obvious display of intelligence or erudition suggests elitism, snobbery, [or] arrogance."

That got me thinking about a couple of shows I watch, namely Bones and my on-again-off-again affair with House.

Dr. Temperance Brennan is the top forensic anthropologist in her field. She's not afraid to use large words, and in fact, she uses scientific terms when regular words will do. When dangling her fingers in front of a baby, she tells the child to watch the "dancing phalanges" instead of fingers.  Not only that, but she will flat out tell someone that they aren't as smart as her, or will compare and contrast another character's credentials or IQ to her own. So why do I love her as a character? She's highly intelligent, world renowned in her field, a multiple novel best seller, erudite, unafraid to show her vast knowledge, or to point out another character's flaws in logic and intelligence. By all accounts as the normal "American audience" I should hate her.

Dr. Gregory House is a sarcastic curmudgeon who is convinced everyone lies, and is so adept at finding the reason for his patient's health issues that even after he's thrown in jail--he still has a job. Does he flaunt his intelligence? Yes, usually while denigrating his fellow doctors. He talks crap about anyone who disagrees with him, because he's spouting his superior medical knowledge (and it's not lupus), his crazy theories, and he's always, completely and utterly right. House is also a lonely drug-addict who has few friends. So, I'm supposed to hate him, right? So, why am I always rooting for him?

Do we forgive these super geniuses because of their social awkwardness and anti-social behavior? Or are we less afraid of intelligent characters than we think?

Can you name other popular characters, those genius techs that spout tech knowledge like no tomorrow, those genius doctors, those super-smart CSIs? Do you hate intelligent characters?

2 Comments:

At January 11, 2012 at 7:27 PM , Blogger Anthony said...

Dr. Who.

 
At January 11, 2012 at 11:20 PM , Blogger B.C. Matthews said...

The Doctor is an excellent example. He's an actual doctor (or so he hints) and spouts out advanced physics, even though he sometimes just comments on "timey stuff." Though having the experience of 900+ years doesn't hurt either...

 

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