Episode 680 - Intelligence in Fiction

Mar 25, 2024

Today we're talking about the depiction of “intelligence” in fiction! There are a lot of ways this shows up: the genius detective who can understand any clue and uncover any lie, the amazing doctor who can understand any disease, the computer nerd who can do ANYTHING with computers, the genius savant with Asperger's, the crafty serial killer with plans within plans…

Topics and Show Notes

Mostly though these depictions are absolutely fictitious, simply based on tropes, like the action-man James Bond/Jason Bourne type “spy” trope which doesn't exist in reality and yet that's how we always think of spies. They're generally exaggerated to the point of silliness. The depiction of an “intelligent” person in fiction often involves wearing glasses; dropping quotes (usually Shakespeare); an obvious odd quirk that makes them not fit in well with others- being nerdy, dressing badly, talking weirdly, shyness, meanness; and they're almost always a polymath, in that they know about EVERYTHING, not just the field they specialise in.

Recently I've been binging the series Bones. It's about a group of scientists who perform special forensic tasks for the FBI. They're all super geniuses, especially the main character “Bones”, Temperance Brennan, who all the other charters frequently acknowledge as super brilliant. The dumbest person in their team is Angela, the artist, who's main role is to do sketches and reconstructions of the dead and provide an intuitive counterpoint to the cold scientists. Ironically she'd have to be by far the most intelligent person in their group and one of the most intelligent people in the world because while the others have very narrow specialties she's a genius at computer programming, mechanical engineering, code breaking, and and makes intuitive leaps that are impossible for normal people. It's a very silly show in its depiction of and understanding of intelligence, with the “smartest person” (Bones) actually being the dumbest in the group while the dumbest one (Angela) is the smartest.

Two of the main bulwarks of intelligence in fiction are Sherlock Holmes and serial killers, which are actually related. Sherlock is from a late 19th century stereotype of an intellectual superman. He's aware of the smallest detail, has a clinical, analytical mind, he drops quotes, he's classically educated, he has “no time for fools”, doesn't relate well to others, and is prone to obsession. His relationship to the modern depiction of the fictional serial killer is his rivalry with the character Moriarty, on which serial killers tend to be based- not on the character but the battle of wits. In reality serial killers and psychopaths are never very intelligent, the trope seems to be based on Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dalmer having reasonably high IQs but neither ever came up with fiendish plans or devised clever clues or plots, their crimes are simply gross, evil. and absolutely selfish, but in no way clever. This has resulted in the fictional serial killers typically matching the intelligence of detectives in an evil, dark reflection.

The trouble with depicting intelligence in fiction is usually that the writers don't know very much about it so they trick us by having other characters react to their genius character as if they're amazing, or showing the genius by having the character perform some massively exaggerated act like solving an incredibly hard puzzle, or creating one, dropping random quotes, or just telling us that the character is smart.

Some of my favourite intelligent characters are Abby from NCIS, Egon from Ghostbusters, Nero Wolfe from the Nero Wolf Mysteries, Daria, Sherlock Holmes, the Villain behind glasses from Log Horizon, John Crichton from Farscape, Doctor Who, and Mr Spock from Star Trek.
What are your faves? The characters from Big Bang Theory? House? Lisa Simpson?

This week Gunwallace has given us a theme inspired by Gamma Blue Smoldering of Creel - Heavy rocking fire. This is a hammer forging red hot steel on an anvil, rhythmically pounding it into shape, slamming into it with thunderous blows,drawing out the metal into a brutal sword of pure rock!

Topics and shownotes


Featured comic:
Cafe Strange - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/news/2024/mar/19/featured-comic-cafe-strange/

Featured music:
Gamma Blue Smoldering of Creel - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com /Gamma_Blue_Smoldering_of_Creel/ - by Odebear, rated E.

Special thanks to:
Gunwallace - http://www.virtuallycomics.com
Ozoneocean - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/user/ozoneocean
Kawaiidaigakusei - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/user/kawaiidaigakusei
Tantz Aerine - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/user/Tantz_Aerine/
Banes - https://www.theduckwebcomics.com/user/Banes/

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