The Child Prodigy Trope Explained


The Take


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everyone is born but not everyone is born the same child prodigies are objects of enduring cultural fascination are they born or made do they deserve our envy or our pity and what happens to them when they become adults she had not completed a play in seven years looking at the child prodigy type in movies TV and literature over the years we can spot some patterns they're not like other kids by the time she was two Matilda had learned what most people learned in their early 30s how to take care of herself actual kid geniuses might not be so easy to pick out but in popular culture child prodigies stand out like sore thumbs from their normal peers they don't fit our expectations of how a child looks and acts Chas Tannenbaum had since elementary school taken most of his meals in his room standing up at his desk with a cup of coffee to save time often the child prodigy behaves like a mini adult tonight's my bill paying late and tends to speak with extraordinary verbal sophistication you are under no obligation to investigate you need merely report suspicion of it is your ethical responsibility as an educator mother they're strong writers or readers brilliant with math or unusually strong game players they usually have a specialty area forgot the negative sign on the exponent they feel the weight of the world these gifted kids often seem to be robbed of a carefree childhood she wanted her to have friends and to play and to be happy do you realize the consequences of boredom for a gifted child mr. Adler filmmakers tend to use child prodigies to explore The Melancholy side of childhood you know what is it like will has an attachment disorder fear of abandonment and these characters often falter as they grow up ultimately the disappointment the child prodigy feels when adult life doesn't measure up to overhyped expectations is an exaggerated version of what we all feel as we age and so much potential fails to be realized used to be a genius no I didn't know that's what they used to say here is our take on what the child prodigy represents in our and why we project our dreams and disillusionment onto these wonder kittens you're watching it take thanks for watching and be sure to share and subscribe this video is brought to you by blink Asst the app that lets you read or listen to the world's best-selling non-fiction books in 15 minutes or less right now the first 100 people to click the link in our description below link is calm /the take we'll get a free 7-day trial of blinka streamium plus 25% off the full membership you can cancel anytime within the week for free so what are you waiting for [Music] in real life genius is a mystery who qualifies for that description where does genius come from well Newton discovered binomial theorem age 22 Einstein wrote four papers have changed the world by the age of 26 and as far as I can tell I fir I've barely made par as much as Hollywood loves movies about geniuses especially prickly geniuses played by certain actors genius billionaire playboy philanthropist often these stories aren't really interested in investigating the nature of intellect the on screen brain power is mostly being applied to pursuits like solving or fighting crime child prodigy stories on the other hand offer an opportunity for filmmakers to explore deeper inquiries of what genius really is and how it comes into being it's funny because I think I can even remember being born child prodigies are very real some people seem to be blessed with preternatural skills that result in amazing accomplishments at very young ages we all know how old Mozart was when he did all that like one and Keats big poet Keats Keats was dead by 24 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who began composing as a five-year-old is the go-to example not least because there's a whole movie about another composer being vexed by this natural masters extraordinary talent [Music] these early blooming geniuses who pull off major accomplishments at a young age are referred to in one study as conceptual innovators and they tend to garner more dramatic attention and envy than later blooming experimental innovators who make progress through experimentation and arrive at their most significant achievements later in life but even within the realm of conceptual innovators there are debates over whether child prodigies come from environment or genetic love the old nature versus nurture question in 1989 Hungarian psychologist lászló polgár wrote a book called raises Aeneas or bring up genius which claimed geniuses are made not born the author proceeded to make a very compelling case for his argument by raising three daughters who were prodigies at chess and the youngest Judith became arguably the top female chess player ever on the other hand notable child prodigies in history like 17th century Mexican writer Juana inés de la Cruz and early 20th century mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan grew up poor without access to formal education and were largely self-taught one extensive study of child prodigies found that while they tested at a variety of IQ levels they tended to have something in common an exceptional working memory which is responsible for both remembering and processing information basically if the study suggested that whether their field is art math science or music child prodigies tend to have brains that operate like an extremely high-speed computer processor meet lingual the grandma robot pop-culture depictions of child prodigies are often in line with this portrait of a young brain that's just inexplicably extraordinary movies and TV shows rarely seem to focus on how exceptional children come out of a fragile just right combination of environment talent opportunity and practice instead they tend to depict kids who are just plain miraculously brilliant often in spite of their upbringing I want to go to school Satur the question who would be here to sign for the packages we can't leave valuable packages sitting out on the doorstep now go watch TV like a good kid but while we might find it more mysterious and fascinating to think of these kids as simply born this way in many iconic examples from fiction and history these wonder kins have both nature and nurture eating their genius ethylene tannin bound kept the house and raised the children and their education was her highest priority just like Pulgar ethylene Tenenbaum raises three geniuses and pens a book about it she wrote a book on the subject both explanations also apply for some of the all-time most influential fictional prodigies the glass family who appear in JD Salinger's short fiction collections like 9 stories in Franny and Zooey all seven precocious glass siblings appeared on a fictional radio quiz show as children while it's clear they must share genetic aptitude the rigorous intellectual pursuits of the oldest siblings have formed the minds of the younger ones the most brilliant prodigy among the glass family is the eldest Seymour glass who's also the most troubled in fact the glass family stories are haunted by the mystery of why exactly Seymour kills himself and this question of why the former child prodigy can't fit into or accept life as an adult gets at the potential tragedy inherent to gifted kid characters overall the second-born glass sibling buddy is sometimes thought to be an alter ego for Salinger himself we can see that mix of the fictional and the autobiographical the fanciful and the deeply sad influencing leader stories like Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums royal Tenenbaum bought the house on Archer Avenue in the winter of his 35th year and Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia this French playwright and actor joined the B charge of actors I'm afraid I'm gonna need a full name standard Jamba peacefull my year a few decades later another literary child prodigy spoke to young readers Roald Dahl's 1988 children's novel Matilda made into a movie in 1996 was the first of several major 80s and 90s works that added superior intellect to the scrappy kid adventure stories popularized earlier in the 80s what is this trash you're reading it's not trash daddy it's lovely it's called Moby Dick by Herman Melville 1985's Ender's Game featured the youngest of three child prodigy siblings being tasked with leading the planet in a fight against aliens the international fleet decided that the world's smartest children are the planets best hope raised on war games their decisions are intuitive decisive fearless 1989 saw the premiere of Doogie Howser MD starring Neil Patrick Harris as a teenage doctor your angiogram showed extensive coronary artery disease as well as the Simpsons which gave frustrated smart kids everywhere a face in the form of Lisa Simpson there's no room for crazy bebop in my country tis of thee but mr. Largo that's what my country is all about I'm wailing out for the homeless family living out of its car even Lisa wondered if she might be more of a prodigy though if she had the nurture side of the equation working in her favor as we see when she makes a friend who's even more impressive due to having intellectual parents professor Taylor I'm glad we have someone who can join us on our anagram games Jeremy Irons jammie in 1991 little man Tate explored the emotional challenges facing precocious children watch 1993's searching for bobby fisher' investigated the psychology of a chess prodigy social care penny and Good Will Hunting gave the child prodigy an angry young man form in 1997 it's probably no coincidence that little man Tate was the first movie directed by Jodie Foster who'd been something of an acting prodigy herself children any longer I feel that I can speak with you as adults many young performers have an eerie poise about them and some child prodigy movies feel like they combine the self-possessed composure of child actors with the complex psychology of Salinger stories a gentleman is a blue cardigan please [Music] it's important to distinguish between the child prodigy and a couple of other tropes that seem similar on the surface firstly the chosen one you're a wizard Harry chosen one narratives are often about characters usually boys but not always who seem normal or humble and are revealed to have either hidden talents or meaningful lineage that they must learn to grow into the child prodigy on the other hand is not usually presented as undergoing a transformation or revelation they're almost always presented as gifted from the jump Trachtenberg listed she's seven though some stories blur the lines between the two anakin skywalker for example is a hybrid of prodigy and chosen one he's directly referred to as a chosen one for the Jedi Knights and his origin as a slave child on a remote desert planet is certainly humble your slave I'm a person my name is Anakin but he also has prodigy style skills and exceptional force sensitivity the reading is off the chart over 20,000 like with a lot of child prodigies his great potential winds up causing a lot of disappointment and worse another semi-related variant is the bad seed story where the child turns out to be evil like prodigy stories bad seed narratives play on fears that a precocious child isn't quite right could be 5 dodge if I can throw a rock at you and they focus on the question of whether nature or nurture is responsible for the child's behavior or in this case to blame at its core the bad seat story offers as Ruth Franklin wrote for the New York Times a lens that reflects darkly on our assumptions and anxieties about Parenthood I want you to tell me why but the child prodigy tale isn't really about the parents raising these geniuses it's about us projecting ourselves onto these special kids to work out our feelings about youthful potential growing up and aging it looks as we may be through the best to pass things with us the best child prodigy narratives illuminate the complexities of both childhood and adulthood child prodigy characters may sometimes be depicted as wise beyond their years but they also have a certain innocence that derives from their talent they typically aren't trying to use their abilities for vast personal gain or to hurt other people you have to have contempt for your opponent's you have to hate them but that earnestness lends the child prodigies a sadness to many of them must grapple with whether they can live up to their early promise the inability to translate childhood passions into functional adulthood is what's both funny and moving about the Royal Tenenbaums where the three brilliant Tenenbaum children all find themselves nominal adults who may have peaked decades ago in fact virtually all memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbaums at they raced by two decades of betrayal failure and disaster they're even stuck in childhood down to wearing some of the same outfits they were as kids signalling that they don't want to move on from this era of past glory we only meet Will Hunting as an adult but he's completely crippled by the abuse he endured as a child and needs to let the past go it's not your fault it's not your fault in searching for bobby fisher' the sad real-life fate of chess prodigy Bobby Fischer hangs over the lead character Josh even though Fischer himself is only seen in archival clips in school before he dropped out but I miss Eddie chess books well the teachers thought other things if child prodigy movies don't show adult versions of the characters there might be other grownups to serve as cautionary tales in Magnolia Stanley Specter is an unhappy quiz show champion berated by his controlling father Stanley you could have been a front come on and it's implied that if he continues on this path he could be headed for the sad adulthood of William H Macy's quiz kid Donnie Smith a former contestant on the very same gameshow grown up and miserable after his parents took all his money I used to be smart I'm quiz kid Donnie Smith from TV child prodigy characters with their heightened sense of youthful promise and potential stand in for our own goals and our own inevitable adult disappointments there's obviously something wrong with him and he's taken off his shoes and one of the socks and actually I think he's crying the average kid growing up may not be subject to the same exterior pressures as a prodigy but it can feel that way inside their head cool kids whispering at three o'clock judging us we all have certain talents abilities or qualities that make us feel unique or special in some way or another plenty of conventional Hollywood narratives tell us that this specialness will help us triumph in the end achieving our goals and realizing our dreams as the lego movie spoofed and the prophecy states that you are the most important most talented most interesting at most extraordinary person in the universe another one of Wes Anderson's movies Rushmore features the youth max Fisher who wants badly to be treated like a child prodigy my top school is where I want to apply to our Oxford in the satphone my Safety's hard that's very ambitious so he founds amazing clubs writes his ambitious plays and romantically pursues sophisticated women twice his age I say he wants all of this so much that he winds up failing out of his beloved private school out of sheer obstinacy he's one of the worst students we've got Anderson is aware that the difference between obsessive kids and genuine child prodigies may not be all that huge and they can both lead to adults who feel let down by failing to sustain an existence that's magnificently impressive and larger than life I always wanted to be a Tenenbaum you know Magnolia stresses this to ultimately the amazing ability of the young quiz show contestants won't do much to help them emotionally later on it barely helps them in the moment wait for the commercial break then you can go just hold it Stanley is most impressive act in the film is his realization of this and his quiet but firm insistence that his father must treat him better dad you need to be nicer to me Matilda to must find the strength to assert herself which in her case involves breaking away from her toxic family entirely adopting Miss Honey look I don't have time for all these legalities one second dad I have the adoption papers child prodigies and movies and TV like so many tropes can be used in lazy or clumsy ways the most common pitfall is creating a child prodigy who is essentially a supernatural all-knowing being remind me again why we can't put you and a gifted school because it's better for my psychosocial development for me to interact with the peer group at enormous voluntary screenwriters love to create kid characters who basically sound like omniscient miniature adults fundamentals are the building blocks of fun those who Mikhail Baryshnikov I'm sure he's never heard of I know anything that she was the one but I don't when this tendency is applied to a child prodigy character it's gonna be a high grade ependymal or glioblastoma i am i right it can turn into exactly what stan lee and Magnolia is alluding to when he has his breakdown a cheap parlor trick cuz I'm not a toy what a doll I'm made to feel like like a freak my answer questions' smart then again sometimes these gimmicks can lead to genuinely heartfelt depictions Doogie Howser MD is a sitcom that uses a child prodigy for an easy high concept hook sure but it's also a pretty thoughtful sitcom especially considering it debuted in the era of full house and step by step there's no proof that he did it's totally unfair for me to suspect him it's racist and I feel lousy about it cumulatively the best child prodigy stories do their part to demystify the idea of genius in the first place instead of either glorifying or villainizing kids with enormous intellectual capacity these stories offer a window into the struggles and frailties we all experienced growing up well did you at least think the characters were well-developed what characters this is a bunch of little kids just up in the animal costumes good night and whatever your IQ the path to a satisfying adulthood is the same develop emotional maturity face the past and learn to appreciate a life that's far from perfect well surely life is full of pain and drudgery but the trick is to enjoy a few perfect experiences were given in the moment if you're new here be sure to subscribe and hit the bell to get notified about all of our new videos this video is brought to you by blink Asst the app that distills key ideas from nonfiction books into bite-size text and audio blankets expansive library features over 3,000 titles and categories like society and culture philosophy and history if you're not sure where to begin we recommend Trevor Noah's inspiring memoir born a crime and Susan Cain's quiet which looks at how our world undervalues introverts so if you want to join over 13 million people worldwide in the reading revolution click the link in the description below link is calm slashed the take the first 100 people will get a free 7-day trial of blinka streamium and 25% off the full membership you can cancel anytime within the week for free [Applause]