Today, we offer a spot of Uninformed Commentary by formerly respected journalist and currently desperate wordsmith Bud Buck.
It’s “genius grant” time again. And apparently all 23 of this year’s honorees will accept their prize.
The no-strings-attached $500,000 awards from the MacArthur Foundation go to people who didn’t apply and don’t know they are under consideration. Their potential is assessed in secret and honored in public when the mantle of “genius” is quite suddenly placed on their shoulders. So it comes as a complete surprise, unless you are the sort of person who fills your idle moments with casual daydreams about your own greatness, posing rhetorical questions like this:
“When will someone else notice how amazing I am?“
Alas, most of us are exactly that sort of person. But with the passing of each October 1st, we who were anticipating a gentle tap on the shoulder feel unjustly neglected.
“SHE got a ‘genius’ grant? With ME, right here in plain sight?”
Don’t get me wrong, the winners are nice enough people,but I believe they have allowed a Trojan Horse into the stockade. Now they will have to carry the “genius” title around everyplace they go and have it applied to them in everything they do. In other words, it will be Hell. The first time a recipient is in the slightest way baffled by the menu board at McDonalds, they will hear these taunting words:
“This shouldn’t be hard for you. You’re a GENIUS.”
And let’s face it. Everyone is a dolt sometimes. That’s why I think these MacArthur grants are really a secret behavioral experiment designed to test the proposition that every human has an inflated sense of her own worth. The organizers are searching (so far in vain) for the one smart person wise enough to refuse any prize that comes with the onerous burden of the “G” word in its title. How can you continue to operate as a contributing member of society when everyone is constantly looking to you for brainy magic and measuring you against their outsized expectations while quietly hoping for your failure?
Yes, you may say you’re up to it, that it wouldn’t change you. But imagine receiving the call and doing the subsequent news interviews. There will be congratulations. You’ll be invited to parties. You’ll get introduced in a specific way. Let that title sink in. It will always be attached to your name from here on out. “Genius Grant Recipient” How does that make you feel about yourself? How do you view the non-“Genius Grant” people (meaning just about everyone)? Still feel like you won a prize? Don’t.
It’s a smugness bomb, aimed at your soul.
It’s so obvious! The real “genius” is the one who says “no thanks.”
That’s what I’d do – not that I’ll ever get the chance.
– Bud Buck
I don’t know if Bud is making a surprisingly cogent point about human nature or begging to be given the MacArthur Prize next year. Or both.
What prize would you most like to win?