Much like this toaster (above) that I found at Target, I’m capable of throwing shade. Rarely do I do so publicly, but today I’m gonna throw a little as part of the Gifted Homeschoolers’ Forum January 2015 blog hop: Gifted in Reel Life.
Please note that this shade is being directed solely at the adults who put what I’m about to describe together and air it every week. (To minimize the risk of the ‘stars” of this show being collateral damage in my criticism, I’m intentionally using neither their photographs, their names, nor am I giving the name of the show in the text of this post.)
There’s a new reality show about gifted kids. I haven’t seen it yet. Not an entire episode, anyway.
And I don’t plan to seek it on my cable lineup (or even online) because all I need to know about the producers’ approach to giftedness is summed up in these words: “Lifetime’s all-new competition series . . . centers on America’s most extraordinary and gifted children and their families as they prepare for a national intelligence competition.”
To motivate families to participate, there’s the promise of $100 grand in college money to the “winner,” suggesting that the new show is a search for an academic Honey Boo Boo. There’s a title on the line. (For what it’s worth, the producers’ credentials include one of the “Real Housewives” shows, “Apocalypse Preppers,” and “Cheerleader Nation.”)
I suppose, if pressed, the marketing team would want us to believe that this show will help America better understand gifted kids. Sadly, there’s no shred of nuance on the show’s website about “giftedness” ever being about anything other than “academic intelligence” measurable in a competitive environment with a timer. I suppose that twice-exceptional kids–those whose academic potential is undermined by another diagnosis (ADD/ADHD, ASD, dyslexia, dysgraphic, OCD, etcetera) and who would struggle in such an environment–can stay marginalized in the public’s mind.
Maybe I will be proven wrong and somehow–much like the outstanding 1990s documentary Hands on a Hard Body revealed the human spirit’s invincibility through a car dealership’s bizarre competition for a truck–this new show will reveal something deep and meaningful.
Looking at the promo material, including video clips–one of which obviously capitalized on a major ethnic stereotypes to nudge the story along, I’m not seeing that turn around as likely.
Also, the much-hyped fact by the producers that the leading international, self-described “high IQ society” is wrapped up in the production makes me think less of Mensa, frankly, and more of gifted-centered organizations that have steered clear of the show. (American Mensa got the idea from the UK. You’ll want to read this, too.)
So, to sum up, we’ve got:
- Glorification of giftedness as “genius” and marginalization of twice-exceptionality
- Pressure on preteens to perform like academic show ponies—no, academic gladiators—for fame, money, and a meaningless title
- Reinforcement and use of ethnic stereotypes (specifically an Asian-American Tiger Mom) and a tired trope to move the action along and create dramatic tension
- The endorsement of a major-league gifted organization to add “legitimacy” and reinforce all of the above as “acceptable” ways of presenting and treating gifted children (and people) in mainstream media
Tsk, tsk, tsk.
As a wise friend pointed out, this show is poised not to appear as a depiction of “reality” as an example of “exploitation.”
What do we know about about the target audience for this new show? What kind of people do the producers seek to draw? If most viewers are typical reality show viewers, then we can probably guess:
“ . . . the attitude that best separated the regular viewers of reality television from everyone else is the desire for status. Fans of the shows are much more likely to agree with statements such as, “Prestige is important to me” and “I am impressed with designer clothes” than are other people. We have studied similar phenomena before and found that the desire for status is just a means to get attention. And more attention increases one’s sense of importance: We think we are important if others pay attention to us and unimportant if ignored.
Reality TV allows Americans to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame. Ordinary people can watch the shows, see people like themselves and imagine that they too could become celebrities by being on television. It does not matter as much that the contestants often are shown in an unfavorable light; the fact that millions of Americans are paying attention means that the contestants are important.”
Yes, by all means, let’s use a televised competition between underage gifted people to feed a culture’s insatiable desire for attention and status. Let’s pit kids against one another and let the winner take the spoils in videos that will last forever. While we are at it, let’s also make it easier for people to tease and bully gifted kids–a population vulnerable to bullying–by saying things like “if you’re so smart, why can’t you get on that Lifetime show and win some money?”
It’s depressing to me that this show made it on the air. But with the added endorsement by Mensa–as well as the full, regular participation of their official “Youth and Education Ambassador”?
To provide families with alternatives to this kind of narrow point of view, I’m working on a crowd-sourced list of media alternatives, including books, television, and film that depict giftedness and twice-exceptionality in more thoughtful, nuanced lights. You’re welcome to leave your suggestions in comments. For updates, you may want to subscribe to this site (see top right column) or follow me on social media: Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest .
Most importantly, don’t forget to check out the rest of this week’s media-themed GHF Blog Hop.