Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Elasticity of Genius

Today at the office I heard someone use the word genius to describe Cee Lo Green. For the record, I have no problem with Mr. Green, or Gnarls Barkley for that matter. But genius? C’mon.

I asked for specific reasons why Cee Lo can be called a genius. They were:

1. He is doing a retro thing no one else is doing (to which I replied: So he’s a genius for recycling?);

2. He is a great showman (to which I replied: So every good front-man in a musical act is a genius? Robert Plant, Perry Ferrell, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga, Johnny Rotten? That’s a lot of geniuses);

3. He writes good music (okay, maybe this might qualify a person for some praise, but genius? Really? Next thing you know they’ll be calling Katy Perry a genius because she wrote a song that is, sadly, catchy).

To me a genius is someone who can do what no other person in their field, or, heck, no other person on earth, can do. A high IQ is not enough. One of my oldest friends has a high IQ and can’t get his shit together. I’d hardly call him a genius. No, genius is earned and Cee Lo has not earned that title.

I have a few heroes, musical and otherwise, I might call geniuses. And I suppose this is all relative and subjective, but I feel my evidence might trump the sorry three reasons listed above. My real beef is with the way people abuse words. Genius is meant to suggest a type of rare brilliance that the average person does not possess. Geniuses have minds from which we as a society benefit (or, in the case of evil geniuses, suffer) because their contributions literally change the world. It’s okay to call Cee Lo Green or Bob Dylan good songwriters or good performers or even talented. If they split the atom, then call them geniuses. In the meantime, lay off the stretching of this word. Words have meanings and abusing them robs them of their power. The more we misapply the term genius the more the actual geniuses will remain underappreciated.