Just Say No

Today, we offer a spot of Uninformed Commentary by formerly respected journalist and currently desperate wordsmith Bud Buck.

It’s “genius grant” time again. And apparently all 23 of this year’s honorees will accept their prize.

The no-strings-attached $500,000 awards from the MacArthur Foundation go to people who didn’t apply and don’t know they are under consideration. Their potential is assessed in secret and honored in public when the mantle of “genius” is quite suddenly placed on their shoulders. So it comes as a complete surprise, unless you are the sort of person who fills your idle moments with casual daydreams about your own greatness, posing rhetorical questions like this:

When will someone else notice how amazing I am?

Alas, most of us are exactly that sort of person. But with the passing of each October 1st, we who were anticipating a gentle tap on the shoulder feel unjustly neglected.

“SHE got a ‘genius’ grant? With ME, right here in plain sight?”

Don’t get me wrong, the winners are nice enough people,but I believe they have allowed a Trojan Horse into the stockade. Now they will have to carry the “genius” title around everyplace they go and have it applied to them in everything they do. In other words, it will be Hell. The first time a recipient is in the slightest way baffled by the menu board at McDonalds, they will hear these taunting words:

This shouldn’t be hard for you. You’re a GENIUS.”

And let’s face it. Everyone is a dolt sometimes. That’s why I think these MacArthur grants are really a secret behavioral experiment designed to test the proposition that every human has an inflated sense of her own worth. The organizers are searching (so far in vain) for the one smart person wise enough to refuse any prize that comes with the onerous burden of the “G” word in its title. How can you continue to operate as a contributing member of society when everyone is constantly looking to you for brainy magic and measuring you against their outsized expectations while quietly hoping for your failure?

Yes, you may say you’re up to it, that it wouldn’t change you. But imagine receiving the call and doing the subsequent news interviews. There will be congratulations. You’ll be invited to parties. You’ll get introduced in a specific way. Let that title sink in. It will always be attached to your name from here on out. “Genius Grant Recipient” How does that make you feel about yourself? How do you view the non-“Genius Grant” people (meaning just about everyone)? Still feel like you won a prize? Don’t.

It’s a smugness bomb, aimed at your soul.

It’s so obvious! The real “genius” is the one who says “no thanks.”
That’s what I’d do – not that I’ll ever get the chance.

– Bud Buck

I don’t know if Bud is making a surprisingly cogent point about human nature or begging to be given the MacArthur Prize next year. Or both.

What prize would you most like to win?

56 thoughts on “Just Say No”

  1. Good morning. I don’t usually side with Bud Buck, but this time I do. The problem with awards is that you have to pick a person over other people to get the award. How do you know that the right person has been selected? There could be another person who is just as deserving or more deserving that will not get the award. I think that it would be best to not give out awards. I accepted an award once because it was given to me by an organization that I supported. I didn’t want to turn down the award because giving out the award was a regular part of the annual program of the organization. If there had been some way to get out of accepting the award without creating a problem, I would have turned down the award.

    I know someone who received a MacArthur genius award. This person had done some exceptional work. However, he seemed to have the problem that some people have who are founders of important organizations. He was forced out of the organization he founded because he was having problems running it. I don’t know if getting the MacArthur award contributed to the problems he was having running the organization. I think it is possible the award did have a negative effect on they way he operated after he received it.


  2. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    The MacArthur Prize would be great. A Nobel Prize would also be acceptable. Or the lottery, but thatis not a prize for achievement. And I would need to remember to buy a ticket. An
    Oscar perhaps, but then I would need to be in the movies.

    OK. a prize for living well.


  3. How about a “Not a Genius” award. That is an award I could accept without feeling guilty about being picked over another person. If anyone has any extra money they would like to give out, I think they should just give to the first person they see and tell them they are getting one of the “Not a Genius” awards. Even a genius could get the “Not a Genius” award because everyone would be a potential candidate to get the “Not a Genius” award.


      1. Okay, but I hope that Stephen and Bob would have their feelings hurt if they are left the list of candidates for the Not A Genius award.


  4. I’d like to earn an IgNoble Prize for those guys have better awards parties. People don’t understand how important the IgNoble winners are. A recent winner studied how well people make decisions when they have a furious need to pee. I can relate to research like that. Another winner produced evidence that certain beetles have sex with empty beer bottles. Who knew? As Bud Buck’s intro suggests, it can be dangerous to win a genius award because it will give you fancy ideas about yourself. Not so the IgNoble winners.


    1. Okay, Steve. I think there might be something that I have done that would qualify me for an IgNoble Prize. How about my experiments in ways to blunder about without getting anything done?


    2. I like the Ig Nobel Prize given for literature for the theory for structured procrastination. The theory says that, to be a high achiever, you should always work on something important when trying to avoid working on something that’s more important. Now if that isn’t pure genius, I don’t know what is.


      1. I would never be eligible for that prize. I specialize in working on unimportant things while trying to avoid working on something important. And usually I just avoid working altogether.


    1. As a winner, or potential winner of The Golden Banana, Linda, I hope you will be able to find a way to not let this award go to your head and give you an over inflated ego.


    2. Ooh, I forgot about that one! And I invented it!

      I am at a conference today that deserves the Rotten Banana Award (the U of Mn Psychiatric Review. Never sign on to this. What a mistake. I lived through yesterday, and have 8 hours to go today until it’s over. )


  5. I’d be good with receiving just about any prize with the exception of the Darwin Award! The Genius Award sounds ideal: no paperwork to fill out, no lottery ticket to keep track of, and no strings attached. Of course, there is the problem of actually having had done something to deserve it; pretty sure I have never been a contender.

    Now Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes is a whole different matter. According to some of the materials they have sent me over the years, I have been on their short list of potential winners any number of times. I’m still waiting for the Prize Patrol to show up on my doorstep.


  6. awards are such a funny thing. if you are the recipiant you are thankful and if you are the person who loses you feel screwed. i like that the genius awards are done in secret so the 5 people who were under consideration dont find out the lost and were not as genius as the people who won. maybe next year but it will go under the radar until then. the awards i enjoy are the little ones that the world gives to local heros. or the good neighbor awardfor folks who do it just because. my daughter has a pitching coach who picked us from a crowdthree or four years ago at a ball game.he watched her pitching to me on the sidelines of her sisters game. i was barefoot and without a glove and she was intensely focused on trying to be a great pitcher without having any idea what she was doing. i played along and he with a camera on a tripod asked if he could throw his two sense in. we said sure and he coached her along a bit and gave me a field trial to see if i would be a dad he could work with for the next ten years. he gave me his card and said he has a barn where he teaches girls to pitch, no charge wednesday and thursday nights and saturday mornings from before the season starts until it begins. (once the season begins the practices and games make it difficult to make an added two spots on the calendar possible) we have been going there for 3 or 4 years now and it is a neat experience to see how she has grown as a young lady, how the new kids look up to her and she has grown to understand some of the stuff i was hoping she would pick up through piano lessons but never did. vince told me when he gave me his card i could look him up online and see that he was a good neighbor award winner and that i didnt need to be concerned about his being a weirdo or something. in reality he is a weirdo or something and one we could use a lot more of in this world.


      1. she finished sunday and we were going to go to pitching in the barn wednesday for one of the last sessions of the year until spring in the barn or clinics over the winter but the debate is going to nix that. she is the youngest kid on the team but she is the stud on the mound. fun to watch. looking forward to seeing what she does with it


  7. I would like to win a ribbon for best dill pickles at any state fair in the upper midwest. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, it doesn’t matter. The Prix de Rome from the French government for best composition or art or architectural design would be pretty swell, too.


  8. Morning all. Generally I think there are just too many awards, particularly in the field of entertainment. Isn’t the fact that they get fame and fortune enough, there have to be 127 kinds of awards for their industry?

    However — also being the single parent of a senior who is filling out college applications, any award with a nice fat monetary prize would be just fine with me. Call me genius or call me monkey-butt sweeper as long as you fork over the cash!


  9. I think “Best at Everything She Tries” should cover it.
    Gotta run, will think more on this, Babooners – have a beautiful day!


  10. Catherine is well. I fretted about her since she has been silent. She tells me that she is busy with financially rewarding work. The s&h flourishes in his school. He loves taking a math class at the U of MN. She’ll be back in touch when her life slows down just a bit. But they are well.


      1. Thank you all very much for the swell birthday greetings. I forgot I had given that info to the BBC list. Very nice …


  11. I would most like to win any prize that is cash. Lots of it.

    But I am more likely to win a prize such as Criminal Most Likely to Be Caught.


    1. Edith, try to remember that you can’t take the prize money if you are not the one who won the prize. Also, I am fairly certain that no prize money is given to the winner of the Criminal Most Likely to Be Caught. The winner of that award might end up getting a free trip, but I don’t think you want to take that trip.


  12. OT – The Woman Who Died A Lot (Jasper Fforde) has arrived at Hennepin County Library. 19 copies (74 requests right now…. I’m #1!)


      1. I lucked out. I just happened to be looking at my email screen when the notice from the library popped up that they had ordered the book. Since I know my libary number by heart, I was on the library site in about a nano-second and scored the first place in line!


  13. It’s funny reading through the notes today to see how many of us just want the cash. I work for a company that has made its fortune by showing that over the long haul cash is not actually a very good incentive. Couldn’t tell it by us!


    1. It’s interesting that most everybody needs cash/money for surviving and thriving in this life. But other things are necessary for incentive and motivation in a work environment. That’s the difference.


      1. thanks clyde
        yep to the field trip good idea pj. i loved the russian museum the last time there for the first baboon field trip. there is something about the russian spirit clyde refers to in the brush work, there is a passion and boldness where they mix the paint on the canvas and it is so powerful and invigorating it blows me away. i will go and see the stuff for sure.
        my mom paints icons and studies with a lady who is connected in russia and brought over a rising russian painter a couple years ago. my mom liked his work and commissioned him to paint her portrait and bought a couple of pieces from him to be nice and because she liked his work, he turned out to be hot stuff and her portrait is now worth big bucks and the couple pieces of art she bought may end up being her retirement nest egg. she gets the lucky art lady award from russia.


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