Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Controversial Pick For A Genius

The most recent person I referred to as a genius, and a creative one at that, would not be received as such with resounding agreement by many.  In fact, the statement did not even find much agreement with the small group of friends I shared it with.  The man I named was Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy.  The incredibly spot-on way in which MacFarlane captures some familiar human interactions in his adult cartoon caused me to blurt out the word genius.  Here is an example below.  Of course, when I made the "genius" claim I was not conducting a scientific cognitive study.  So let's see how MacFarlane stands when compared to some researched indicators of genius.

Phenomenal Achievement:

Seth MacFarlane has absolutely never won a Nobel Peace Prize nor will he ever be known as a person who left an impact on the world.  He has possibly left an impact on American culture, but not the world.  However, he did not set out to do those things.  MacFarlane can only be measured by achievement in his field - television.  Even there, I don't believe his achievement is phenomenal.  Family Guy was not the very first cartoon with adult-level humor (The Simpsons, Beavis and Butthead).  It has been one of the most popular and successful television shows of the last decade or so.  Still, it certainly does not tower above the rest, even in the comedy genre.  So, ultimately I do not think Seth MacFarlane has reached a level of phenomenal achievement that would work him into the genius conversation.

Superlative Intellect:

Unfortunately for our friend Seth MacFarlane, this vertical is where he seems to fall short from the genius category.  There is no evidence that MacFarlane is extremely intelligent or has an incredible IQ.  There is little to suggest that he has an unusually high intellect at all.  Then again, maybe this is the category where his true creative genius is hidden.  Possibly, as the text suggests, there are bits of genius which cannot been measured or tested.  In Family Guy, viewers find themselves presented with certain social anomalies and perspectives of famous celebrities which they have never seen before; yet they somehow immediately and humorously click.  Watch the clip below.  Though this human reaction to pain had never so much as crossed my mind, I recognized it in this scene as soon as I saw it and could not stop laughing.  Perhaps there is some sort of superlative cognitive ability to recognize humor in the inane which MacFarlane holds similar to Jackson Pollock's ability to find beauty in chaos.  This is why MacFarlane is a creative genius by my standards, if not by scientists'.

General Intelligence:

This portion of the genius discussion should pique some interest in the case of Seth MacFarlane.  He has shown a reasonably wide range of talents in his television and film career.  He provides the voices for many of the cartoon characters which he has created in his writing.  He has also given a shot at directing, to some success.  Here is the interesting one though: recently Seth Macfarlane released an album of vocal swing jazz.  The album was successful and demonstrated his vocal talent as well as his legitimate knowledge of the less-than-modern genre.  This may just be the peak of MacFarlane's interests which reveal his general intelligence.  Possibly in the years and projects of Seth MacFarlane's future we will truly determine whether to let the word "genius" slip out around him.

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