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Entertaining Genius: U.S. Media Representations of Exceptional Intelligence

Julie B. Wiest


It is well-established in the academic literature that mass media perpetuate narrow, often inaccurate depictions of social groups and that media representations influence public perceptions of these groups. Relatively little is known about how exceptional intelligence is portrayed in mass media, or how such portrayals may influence shared understandings of what it means to be highly intelligent. Drawing on arguments from symbolic interactionism, social constructionism, and media effects research, this study examines representations of fictional characters in U.S. television and film that are portrayed as exceptionally intelligent. Data were gathered from a qualitative content analysis of 20 “genius” characters in U.S. television and film. Findings reveal common characteristics of these fictional characters, indicate links between those characteristics and patterns of social power in the U.S., and contribute to discussions about the complex relationship between culture and mass media.


intelligence; media representation; television; film; entertainment media

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