Judging by a spate of recent programs, SBS TV has invested a lot of time and energy into promoting the concept of the ‘child genius’. Firstly there was the Insight special, hosted by Mark Fennell, which focused on the plight of so called ‘gifted’ children and their, at times, obsessive parents. Surprisingly none of the kids would reveal their IQ scores for fear of being stigmatised (the shame of being too bright!). That was promptly followed by a Dateline program which looked at the number of children in India with high IQ’s, in particular two young students plucked from the slums via a Mensa test to have their education thoroughly upgraded.
Perhaps both programs were a precursor to SBS’s new reality style show Child Genius, in which the search is on for Australia’s brightest child. Quiz shows that target children are of course nothing new and older readers might remember the original Quiz Kids radio show from 2GB in the early 40s, later revived on ABC TV in the 60s. Based on an American show, the ‘headmaster’ in charge was the very proper John Dease, in real life quite a bohemian, a social activist and supporter of many left wing causes.
Since the Quiz Kids there have been a number of similar TV shows like It’s Academic and The Great Australian Spelling Bee in which often traumatised kids compete to see who is best at essentially what is rote learning. Child Genius is pretty much in that mould, although like the modern reality show it attempts to personalise the various contestants and their parents with back stage interviews and snapshots of their home-life. Here’s little Freddy solving his Rubik’s cube for the umpteenth time whilst other kids are out spraying tags and loitering around the local shopping mall.
It’s all very cynical and calculating, constructed so that hopefully you form a personal bond with your favourite young brainiac and tune in week after week to learn of their fate. In the episode that I watched the kids were confronted with a series of questions relating to Australian marsupials and were obviously briefed beforehand to swat up on this particular subject. How differentiating between a hairy nosed and a common wombat indicates a degree of super intelligence escapes me completely, but not the producers of Child Genius. No doubt the questions will get more challenging as the series progresses but the whole concept of ‘genius’ being defined by the ability to answer a batch of random quiz questions is total bollocks.
SBS could certainly do with a series highlighting kids with exceptional talents but should definitely ditch the descriptor ‘genius’ – one that is usually applied to people like Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking and Galileo. There are lots of young kids doing remarkable things in Australia, whether it’s caring for the environment, working on their own inventions, becoming politically active at an early age, composing and performing music and looking to actively protect the actual habitat of both hairy nosed and common wombats.
Australia’s original quizmaster, the forward thinking John Dease would probably turn over in his grave if he knew that a tired old format from the 40s was being revived in 2018, upgraded to anoint the winning quiz kid with the title of ‘genius’.
Has anybody got a spare Rubik’s cube – I would like to take a sledgehammer to it!