Five Reasons You Didn't Win a MacArthur Genius Grant—Again

Arts, entertainment, and more.
Oct. 2 2012 11:42 AM

Five Reasons You Didn't Win a MacArthur Genius Grant

You definitely deserved it!

man thinking
No genius grant this year? Better luck next time.

Photograph by George Doyle and Ciaran Griffin.

It's the time of the year to not to win big prizes. The Nobels are just around the corner, and the MacArthur Foundation Fellows were just announced. The MacArthur "genius" awards are much worse than the Nobels. Whereas the Nobels reward breakthroughs that have already transformed particular academic fields, the genius grants are more prospective in nature, broader in scope, and come with a $500,000 bursary meant to encourage great things still in the making. The practical upshot is that whereas Nobels go to those comfortably on the road to a well-earned retirement, the Genius Grant Fairy may alight on just about anyone. Maybe even you!

No, obviously, of course not you. Or me, either. But the prospect of the ultimate Facebook humblebrag ("So surprised when I got that call! Naturally I thought it was for my brilliant spouse LOL, totally embarrassed!") or cocktail party moment surely requires a prepared response. The range of reasons one might offer for not winning a genius grant (apart from the obvious reason) is quite wide. The preferred strategy depends on the impression one is trying to convey. Possibilities include:

Disdain: "Another year, another unaccountable oversight by the MacArthur Fellowship committee. It's getting a little embarrassing, to be honest." This approach is obviously high risk, but in this game you have to believe in yourself, ideally to a delusional degree.

Advertisement

Insinuation: "Well, it's hard to get a MacArthur when so much of my work has been classified by the Executive Order, anonymous by personal choice, or published under the pseudonym 'Samuel Beckett.’ " Taking this line has the advantage of not requiring you to be able to point to any unrecognized achievement in particular.

Cooptation: "Look, you have to understand that when the foundation comes to me for advice, I can't in good conscience recommend myself—I'm not Dick Cheney, you know." Here we rely on the fact that no one has the faintest idea who picks MacArthur genius awards or knows anything about the foundation besides its commitment to a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.

The High Road: "I just don't see what all the fuss is about. I suppose this sort of thing is appealing to certain shallow-minded people, but all I really care about is my work and the people I love, and I never give a second thought to prizes, really." This is a lovely, noble sentiment whose only disadvantage is that no one will believe you.

The Even Higher Road: "One can't expect a true genius to be recognized in his or her own time. The very idea is a contradiction in terms! The best I can hope for is that posterity will grant me the recognition necessarily denied me now." The main thing to be said in favor of this approach is that it's probably right about real genius. The main thing to be said against it is that, to be quite frank, the favorable judgment of posterity is probably the only roll of the dice you have left at this point.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.
Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 5:38 PM Justified Paranoia Citizenfour offers a look into the mind of Edward Snowden.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.