The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Monday, October 06, 2008

Kimbo Slice and the manufacture of "talent"

In the modern world, you don't have to be talented to succeed, you just have to be seen to be talented. Such is the case with Kimbo Slice, a Mixed Martial Artist fighter, in America.

Now, it might seem quite a departure for me to discuss Kimbo Slice - but it isn't really, for his situation has bearing on the search for and promotion of talent and what it means, today.

Kimbo Slice, a former Miami streetfighter, has been building quite a reputation for "badness" on the Mixed Martial Arts fight scene. Yet, all has not been as it seems. Some critics, according to what I have read, have pointed out that his opponents seemed to have been handpicked for one characteristic: the ability to lose. They have not been seasoned, gifted fighters, but people who have consistently lost previous fights. Hence, Kimbo Slice's growing reputation (and he is, apparently, a big new star of the Mixed Martial Artist fight scene), is something of a mirage: it has not been founded on solid wins against solid opponents.

What seems to have happened with Kimbo Slice is that his backers thought that the more buzz and hype they created around him, the more money could be made out of the situation - the fact that he wasn't actually the mega-fighter they were building him up to be, didn't seem to concern them: money did. One article I read said that $58 million had been spent on his career so far - so presumably the takings must have been greater still, than that. Beating people up is, it seems, big business.

Every fight Kimbo Slice had was carefully picked with an opponent certain to lose. The audience may not have been aware of this. So, it created an impression that Kimbo was something special - a fighter who always won. Well, it didn't last. In a quirk of fate, the carefully picked loser, Ken Shamrock, that Kimbo Slice was meant to fight, had to pull out at the last minute owing to a cut eye, in training. In his place, a relatively unknown quantity, Seth Petruzelli, 28, was asked to take the bout. He did...and boy did he. In 14 seconds, he demolished Kimbo Slice and his reputation, deploying two kicks and four power punches to bring down the mirage.

Overnight, people are calling this the end of Kimbo Slice. His backers played a high-risk game promoting someone of dubious true talents...and now they have lost.

I see the over-promotion of Kimbo Slice as an example of something which doesn't just happen in Mixed Martial Arts - it can happen in any walk of life. It is the tendency to back someone convincing, rather than someone capable. If everyone believes in the merits of a particular individual they get the job, the promotion, the business. Quite often, no-one takes a close look at the actual merits of the person in question. I call this the "manufacture of talent" - the image of great talent is created around someone, and they are permitted all the perks of actually having the great talent in question. We do it all the time to graduates of great institutions - it is assumed they have great merits to go along with it: sometimes they do, sometimes they don't - but the assumption is always that they do. Many a CEO brings with them a reputation for building up companies which may actually be accidental - that is the company may have succeeded without them - yet they carry, thereafter, the reputation of great talent - and that is generally strongly promoted. Again, we are creating Kimbo Slices of the corporate world.

I think what is happening is that everyone needs talent and needs to believe in talent - but great talent is hard to find. It is easier to fake it - to build someone up and make money out them, than it is to actually find a great talent. Thus, it was easier for the backers of Kimbo Slice to create the impression of a great fighter than it was to actually FIND a great fighter to back. They created what, for them, was equivalent: someone that others would believe in as a great fighter. All they had to do was ensure that his opponents were natural born losers. In no time at all, Kimbo Slice was a legend.

This tendency to inflate the gifts of certain people, so as to profit from it should be opposed - for it makes it more difficult for people of true talent. Somewhere, in the world, there is a real Kimbo Slice - a fighter who actually has the merits attributed to Mr. Slice: that fighter is not known, not discovered, not being paid and promoted. His place was taken by a sham, instead. That isn't right. Talent should be discovered and promoted - but it must be true talent. Fake talent must not be allowed to crowd it out.

Kimbo Slice has fallen - but other Kimbo Slices shall rise in his place. I hope, one day, that the charade ends - and that only true talent is allowed to come to the fore. It is the best solution: the backers will have a sure foundation to their businesses - and people of talent won't have to lack opportunity.

So the next time you want to find a "hero" - search long and hard for a real one: creating one from nothing may be easy, but in the long run, it could prove expensive. Just ask Kimbo Slice's short-sighted backers and their $58 million.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:02 PM 


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