The United States is bursting with genius, but America isn’t the land of the intellect that we would generally associate with the definition of the word. Rather America celebrates the more disappointing “athletic genius.”
It seems insane, as more jobs rely on a reasonably advanced education we still insist on romanticizing jobs and talents that don’t require one. Playing any sport competitively seems like a waste as the chances of ever making it a practical use of your time has become more and more unlikely.
Even a quick glance would show that popular society focuses intently on pop icons, which are almost exclusively involved in sports or entertainment, the line between them sometimes even being blurred. At what point do we stop calling sports figures athletes and start calling them entertainers? The ones who follow the conventional perceptions of genius are ignored until you read about them in a textbook.
However there is no doubt in my mind that MLB players or contestants on “The Voice” are in fact genius, displaying an extraordinary and uncommon physical skill rather than an intellectual one.
The funny part is that we encourage everyone to play sports at a young age to reinforce the need to practice and persist, convincing ourselves that greatness or at least physical genius is within our reach. It is a great metaphor to the American dream, but on the other hand we think that people are simply born smart and they didn’t have to put in the same effort as everyone else, probably in part due to our concepts of intelligence.
Intelligence and genius are separate from one another in my mind. In fact no simple definition out there even mentions an individual’s IQ. Genius is something that’s fostered, and the denial of that will be increasingly destructive if we continue as a society to support one type of genius and not the other.
We place a strong cultural emphasis on physical talent and its success, which may be antiquated at this point, when we should be emphasizing icons whose success and image are dependent on education.
Celebrities are afforded the opportunity to commit themselves entirely to progress. Michael Phelps became the greatest Olympian in history because of near ceaseless training. If anyone committed themselves to his routine not only would they become a brilliant athlete, but possibly earn a medal of their own one day.
If we “celebritized” more young scientists, doctors or writers, we could probably get out of them the same display of extraordinary skill. But maybe the Olympics themselves are the problem. We have always attached greatness very close to our national identity, and to some greatness is best personified in physical dominance, which is the Olympics. Sports for that reason are perfect to fulfill that role of boosting morale even into present day where medals are still the most respected awards we can earn.
Even that’s ridiculous to me. America was only realized as a superpower quite recently, and the task of bringing us to such a position of power was bore on the backs of scientists, entrepreneurs and innovators. As horrible as is to say, could we really have come by such a reputation without the A-bomb.
If we displayed the same level of interest in education as we did with athletic training the US could turn out more Edisons and Einsteins, which definitely did more for the country than any Ruth or Phelps. We all recognize the importance academics provide today, in fact we ask our students to focus on them more and more. It should be about time that our respected traits matched the needs of society instead of pandering to a nearly unachievable image.