looking smart, acting dumb
Self-portrait (“Eating a Banana”) by British artist Sarah Lucas.
A bit of dialogue from The Office that got me googling:
“A lot of crime in America.”
“Right. Well, I’ll be careful.”
“Word of advice: Keep your traveller’s cheques in a bum bag.”
“Thanks. I’ll buy one.”
“What, when you get there?”
“Word of warning, then: Out there they call them fanny packs. ‘Cause fanny means your arse over there… not your minge.”
There are many directions in which I could take this dialogue, or rather, the reasons I find it so engaging. Differences and misunderstandings between British and American English provide endless (cannon) fodder for conversation, of course, and there’s also the subject of “bad language” that I want to get into at some point. But most interesting at the moment, at least to me, is the issue of intelligence. The Office is full of it, even though on the surface, it’s the kind of show where nothing much happens and what little is said has little to do with what is not said. It’s all about tacit knoweldge and an astounding lack of it, of course. But intelligence has to be more than being able to think on your feet, or knowing what to say or do in any given situation.
“You are not fully exploiting my intelligence,” says Rem Koolhaas to a colleague, in a recent New Yorker feature -- which goes on to say, “Koolhaas’ quick-fire brain offers a steady flow of renegade ideas, most of which are exciting, and some of which are simply foolish. If architecture is too slow, Koolhaas is too fast.”
Intelligence is nothing to be ashamed of, but neither is it something to be sure of (keep reading that Gladwell article). At that infamous conference I went to, one of the speakers inevitably advised us to think outside the box, mentioning that this was a great “British expression.” I googled this one too for all it was worth, but I still haven’t really gotten to the bottom of it. It strikes me as more American a concept than British, but so did “fanny” until recently.
Back to Koolhaas, a quick wit is indeed a sign of intelligence, but isn’t slowness as well? Could anyone really solve that puzzle without some contemplation? I may be suggesting this in my own defense because more often than not it takes me days to come up with the right answer or the right course of action. In conversations, in delicate encounters, in transactions where I know that every word matters, sometimes I can’t even finish my sentences.
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