Beauty and the Geek
So my husband has become oddly enthralled with this reality show called "Beauty and the Geek" (WB network) and to humor him, I watched part of it last night.
The show may take its place in the pantheon of pop culture salvos that create images of bright young people that stick in the collective mind. How many former gifted kids who are now about 30 can remember being called Doogie Howser? Yup, more than a few.
On one level, this reality show is better than most. It's redemptive -- we learn that the "geeks" are pretty cool, even if they do play Dungeons and Dragons or can fix a Rubik's cube behind their backs. We learn the unapproachable, glamorous "beauties" are nice girls who are eager for a project and are genuinely impressed with the geeks' intelligence (and that these young men tend to be nicer than the presumed studs most of them usually date).
But boy do we have to get through a maze of stereotypes to get there. The "geeks" are male. They're told they're chosen because they're highly intelligent, but really it's because they have certain trappings that people associate with the brainy. For instance, most wear thick glasses. Their clothing styles were not picked after religiously paging through Men's Vogue. The Dungeons and Dragons reference is just gratuitous (come on -- aren't gamers more likely to play Magic or one of the online games like Project Entropia now?)
One of the reasons many of us had a visceral bad reaction to the Prodigy Puzzle cover story in the NY Times magazine a few months ago is that the illustrations all featured stereotypes of gifted children. They had bad hair, bad glasses, weird clothes. But at least in the NY Times magazine pictures, geeks could be male and female. In the Beauty and the Geek universe, women cannot be both brainy and beautiful. That's trouble if that stereotype sticks in the public's mind.