Exploitation of Kid Geniuses: Great Pop Culture Tradition That's a Terrible IdeaS

You would think kids who are extraordinarily smart have enough on their plate. Not so much! argue parents whose kids' intelligence they have nothing to do with, as evidenced by the way they not-at-all reluctantly put them on game shows!

The latest chapter in the idiotic exploitation that occurs when parents put their freakishly sharp tots on TV comes in the form of a cheating scandal that the FCC has opened an inquiry into. Six days before it was set to premiere, Fox pulled the plug on My Little Genius, which was to be hosted by Kevin Pollak—who got terribly screwed here —and starring a bunch of smart, smart kids. Problem, though: the kids weren't smart enough and the producers maybe flipped the kids some answers. Whoops!

A parent of a contestant sent a letter into the FCC detailing some of these shenanigans:

The letter states that when the child said that he didn't know the British system of naming musical notes, he was told by the production staff member the names of four specific notes that "he needed to know," including semibreve for whole note, crotchet for quarter note and quaver for eighth note. "He told us that it was very important to know that the hemidemisemiquaver is the British name for the sixty-fourth note," the letter says.

Bus-ted. Good on the whistle-blower, but again, why put your kids on a game show to test their aptitude? Isn't this the kind of thing loaded with the potential to lead to a life of serious psychological damage?

Pop culture's given us our fair share of child geniuses put on display for us to marvel at. There was P.T. Anderson's Magnolia, in which William H. Macy plays Quiz Kid Donnie Smith in one of its 74 plotlines, who ends up getting fired from his job as a department store clerk only to get drunk and scream at the bartender he's so in love with, he got braces to match him.

Spoiler Alert: He's kinda fucked up.

There's also, of course, The Glass Children of JD Salinger's various stories, whose parents were retired vaudeville performers who had them go on a radio show called It's a Wise Child to put their genius on display. From a 2001 essay on Salinger by Janet Malcom in The New York Review of Books:

Salinger understood the offensiveness of his creations perfectly well. "Zooey"'s narrator, Buddy Glass, wryly cites the view of some of the listeners to the quiz show It's a Wise Child, on which all the Glass children had appeared in turn, "that the Glasses were a bunch of insufferably 'superior' little bastards that should have been drowned or gassed at birth."

Spoiler Alert: The Glass kids are all pretty fucked up. Other fictional examples: the last we heard from Neil Patrick Harris' Doogie Howser M.D. character was (SPOILER ALERT?) when he went on a show with other child prodigies and realized he was fucked up, and quit medicine to try to live his life out of the spotlight. In John Greene's well-regarded YA novel An Abundance of Katherines, child genius Colin Singleton's washed-up after high school and can't stop dating girls named Katherine. There are others, and real ones, too! Bobbie Fischer wasn't on a game show, but he did play chess in front of lots of people and become an insane anti-Semite. Parenting experts and scientists who know better than parents who ended up birthing brilliant kids think that the kids would probably be better off if they didn't know their IQs because child geniuses have a higher likelihood of going fucking nuts later on as adults. Not just in pop culture, but in "real life," too! Which goes without mentioning the parents who will do anything to have child geniuses, and the obsession over future indicators of kids' success and what parents can do to "better the odds" of their kids being super-extra-special-awesome.

Long story short, we're all probably better off that this show got canceled and that Kevin Pollak is yet again out of a job, however undeservingly. A kid who grows up well-balanced is, in all actuality, far more fascinating and worth staring at than one who has freak skills, but we all know which one sells. We should just kind of stop it and let kids be kids and let smart kids be smart kids and the other ones whatever they are. That's all. The other ones are probably better off, anyway.

[For the record: I am a Kevin Pollack fan. And it is a shitty break that his show got canceled.]