Wednesday, September 14, 2011

TV Thinks We Hate Smart People, and TV Writers Think We're Too Dumb to Know Why

Sweetie really enjoys the show House.  In fact, the boys do, too.

I'm the only one that doesn't like it.

Gregory House is supposed to be brilliant, in an aloof and dispassionate kind of way.  Hugh Laurie, the British actor who plays the American Dr. House with no British accent at all, achieves the dispassionate delivery very well.  Dr. House doesn't like anyone at all.  He doesn't appear to care for his patients, not for his colleagues, not anyone.  Of all the doctors you could have treat you, his bedside manner would be the only one you would remember.  Where any other doctor will have the usual platitudes and couch bad news in careful language, House just drags it out drops it on the floor.  Boom, bad news.  There it is.

The character is deeply flawed.  I can only say that his lack of impulse control and unrelenting destruction of relationships is so deep and so willful that it must be the result of some kind of neurological damage.  No one can be that hateful, can they?

Maybe they can.  Obviously someone imagined a doctor so disinterested in his patients, the patients themselves are only a vehicle that delivers the episode's puzzle to the main character.  The feelings of the patients are glibly rattled by Dr. House, disregarded when inconvenient, mocked when House has a minute or two to spare on the patient.  At least he's acknowledging their existence when he does that, most of the time he doesn't bother.  House is brilliant, diagnosing bizarre and contradictory constellations of symptoms, eventually arriving at (usually) the correct diagnosis and saving the patient.  But he does it the same way a bulldozer removes a tree: brutally, finally, with no regard for the environment in which it is performing its function.

Perhaps the single greatest miracle of House is how he manages to get through entire seasons without having been knocked cold by an angry patient or patient's spouse.  If I was in a room with him for any length of time, I'd probably measure his width and length on the floor with a big left jab.  Because he's a jerk nonpareil.

Big Bang Theory features three extremely intelligent young men and Sheldon.  Where the young men are the upper half-percentile on the intelligence scale, dreadfully clever fellows who theorize about quantum physics and design space station parts, Sheldon is smarter yet.  And he is utterly alone.  His wants are needs, and the needs of others rank below his wants.  He exists in a universe similar to our own, but incontrovertibly separated.

BBT also features Penny.  Penny is the attractive girl who lives in the same apartment building.  She is not especially smart except unlike Sheldon, she can drive a car, get a joke and sit in any chair, anywhere.  Sheldon might be very intelligent, but he is also woefully incomplete.

This is a recurring theme I've seen in TV shows.  People who are incredibly gifted have to also somehow be handicapped.  The writers of these shows seem to think that we, the viewers, have to be able to whisper to each other, "look, they're not perfect.  At least we still have _______.  We can do _________."  You fill in the blank.

It's entirely possible that we, the American TV viewing public, can handle being presented with someone who completely outstrips us in every measure.  Lord knows I got used to that in gym class, I can handle it.  I'm never going to be a superhero or have a headful of luxurious wavy hair or win the Nobel prize in any category.  I can accept that there are seven billion people on this planet, a great many of whom no doubt exceed me in any or many qualities.  It's okay, I can take it.

Stop trying so hard to be so diplomatic.  Like the ridiculous soccer games where every kid gets a trophy, even the kids on the losing team, it gets pretty insulting.

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