Thursday, October 06, 2005

smart people

I saw "The Prince and Me" on cable a few nights ago. There was one scene where the scientifically-dull-but-culturally-smart prince is trying to explain the concept of metaphor to the scientifically-smart-but-culturally-dull maiden. It struck me as extraordinarily unlikely that someone, especially a woman, who was smart enough to go to medical school would not understand the concept of non-literal speech. In fact the whole scene was slightly ridiculous: a man explaining to a very intelligent woman that sometimes "the sun" doesn't really mean the sun.

I've seen similar scenes in other movies, but in those other movies the dullard who doesn't grasp the concept of non-literal speech was a genuine dullard (or at least a career under-achiever) so that the scene was believable. In this case it was just silly. It was just tacked on as an excuse for why the maiden would have anything but contempt for the prince: "He's lazy, selfish, and dumb, but he can explain Shakespeare! Oh be still, my fluttering heart!"

I'm not sure what to attribute this failure in the screenplay to. Is it that the screenplay writer was just not bright enough to convincingly portray a very bright character? Is it the result of a stereotype of smart or scientifically-inclined people, that they are computer-like and don't get the full richness of art?

Speaking for myself, as a very smart and scientifically-inclined person, I "don't get the full richness of art" if by that you mean that I don't see what's so great about Shakespeare (or Rembrandt or Mozart). But it isn't because I don't get it, it's just that I don't find it particularly enjoyable.

It amuses me how often in stories, love of Shakespeare is used as a measure of character. When a character learns to appreciate Shakespeare, that shows personal growth. I'd be more impressed by a character who learns to love Gilligan's Island. Now that would be a sign of personal growth.

On a related note: has anyone seen the show "Numbers"? It's about a family that includes a lawyer, a mathematician, a physicist, and some other "really smart people"(TM). I think the show is intended to appeal to geeks and to women who are turned on by really smart guys (which, I can tell you from personal experience is a tiny demographic).

As a man who likes math and science and would be interested in a detective show that deals with those things, I'd like to say that "Numbers" is an abomination. The mathematics is lame and the efforts to show how these really smart people apply math and science to their romantic lives is maudlin, insipid, and downright painful to watch.

I suspect that the problem with "Numbers" is another instance of writers who aren't themselves bright enough to believably portray very bright characters. Or maybe the screenplays are written by very bright people who don't understand dialog. It's probably all that non-literal stuff that throws them.

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