Torturing Geniuses

Agnes Callard in The Point:

Beth, the protagonist of the TV show The Queen’s Gambit, is not someone you’d want as a friend. She takes money from her childhood mentor—the old janitor who taught her chess—and never pays him back, visits him or thanks him for launching her career. She treats the young men who help her improve—a group that eventually coalesces into a supportive entourage—in a similarly instrumental way. She is so focused on winning tournaments that she can barely spare a word of caution when her adoptive mother is falling into a fatal alcoholic spiral. When she loses, she is petulant and childish, unlike her opponents, who are graceful and kind. She is cruel and manipulative when—as an adult—she plays against a talented Russian child, softening to him only after she has beaten him.

Beth doesn’t seem to love anyone, but viewers love her anyways, admiring the sheer force of her genius. It doesn’t matter that most viewers don’t play chess. The chess scenes focus our attention on her striking, wide-set eyes, her perfect figure and her manicured fingernails, as though gawking at her body were a symbolic way of appreciating some mysterious power in her brain. We are clued in to her genius by other people saying she is “astonishing,” and by their willingness to put themselves at her service.

In my own field there are also geniuses.

More here.