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, January 19, 2009

Perez Hilton/Mario Lavandeira, blogger: the meaning of his success.

Perez Hilton, whose real name is the less euphonious, Mario Lavandeira, is one of the world’s most successful “bloggers”. I use the quotation marks because what he puts on his blog does not compare to what most serious bloggers are trying to do. In brief, Perez Hilton blogs about the doings of the famous – and has an undying interest in the trivial. His blog consists of everything an intelligent person wouldn’t want to know, about people an intelligent person wouldn’t want to know in the first place.

It worried me to learn that Perez Hilton’s eponymous website secures around 100 million visitors per month. That is an astonishing number compared to the typical blog and is indicative, not of Perez Hilton’s greatness as a writer, but of his audience’s lack of discrimination. Now, I am not going to criticize his readership, for themselves, nor blame them as individuals for being interested in such classic items as: “Faeces throwing monkey” and “Soledad O’Brien: not as nice as she looks”. Other posts call Joaquin Phoenix’s rap debut, a “joke”, praise Whitney Houston’s good looks, and speculate that Courtney Love’s daughter Frances Bean (all of 16) has the hots for Robert Pattinson, of Twilight fame.

It all comes across as extremely unimportant, vapid, trivial and ultimately valueless. Yet, it sells. A hundred million people a month pop by to read what Perez Hilton considers important enough to highlight in Hollywood gossip. It is also making Mario Lavandeira a rich man: last year he earnt two million US dollars.

The big question is: why? Why do so many people actually waste precious time in their lives actually reading such material? The answer is that the culture in which they live has lost sight of what is important. They grow up surrounded by the trivial masquerading as important – and so lose the ability to distinguish what is worthy of attention, from what should be ignored. Everything Mario Lavandeira/Perez Hilton writes, should be ignored by anyone of any discernment – and probably is. However, there are millions of people who find the most minor deeds or misdeeds of “celebrities” fascinating enough to pop by for a daily read of “Perez Hilton, Queen of all Media”.

I am not sure whether this global fascination for the trivial is a temporary cultural issue, or whether it is indicative of a lasting decline in the mental powers of the human race. You see people who are thinking about whether Joaquin Phoenix really should shave, are people who are not thinking about anything more important. When you have a whole human race doing that, then matters are dire. From Perez Hilton’s traffic it would seem that a significant chunk of the human race are, in fact, preoccupied with matters as trivial as whether a particular 16 year old girl fancies Robert Pattinson, or not.

It is my hope that our present era of triviality will pass and usher in an era of more substance. However, the signs don’t look good. The celebrity culture has a great momentum about it. More and more media space is consumed with gossip on the most trivial of individuals. Then, on top of this, there is a generation on generation decline in the intellectual (genetic) quality of the human race as a whole, which is well documented and has been going on since at least the 19th century. (see Richard Lynn)

It looks like the future will be as the present, only worse – and the Perez Hilton’s of the world will find it as easy to make two million dollars a year, in the future, as they do, today.

Incidentally, Perez Hilton/Mario Lavandeira’s site was so busy it took me several minutes to load on both of the two occasions I have ever visited the site, in my life (both for research purposes, I hasten to add!). I found the whole experience rather uncomfortable and, had I not the need to come to understand the Perez Hilton/Mario Lavandeira phenomenon, I probably would not have bothered waiting.

The fact that Mario Lavandeira’s gossip can attract so many visitors leads me to ask one question: if Albert Einstein were alive today, and had a blog, would he attract 100 million visitors a month, even with his global fame?

I seriously doubt it. It is more likely that Einstein would attract a few hundred thousand interested souls lost in a dessert of others, consumed with whether a particular star brushes their teeth often enough.

We live in trivial times – fingers crossed for deeper ones, to come. A good sign would be if Perez Hilton’s site hit rate began to drop precipitously. Should it ever fall below a million a month, perhaps we could breathe more easily and look forward to more considered times ahead.

Here’s hoping.

(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 @ 11:05 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The most popular blogger in Singapore. The land of the straight and narrow.

Enuff said. Keep on hoping.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, Xiaxue is as trivial as anything Perez Hilton comes out with. Again, she has a huge audience, though only about 50,000 per day...not 100 million per month.

I will continue to hope, for the alternative is despair - and that is not a good place to be lifelong.

Thanks for your comment.

6:10 PM  
Blogger PanzerGrenadier said...

People will be attracted to things that seem bigger than life.

Why do people like to slow down and watch car-wrecks?

There are enough of the masses who enjoy such entertainment even as their lives doesn't have much meaning.

And it's good fun once in a while! haha...

5:44 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I think, PanzerGrenadier, that car wrecks and Hollywood gossip have opposite attractions for people. For the former, the thought is: "Thank God it is not me!", for the latter it is: "I wish it were me!".


5:47 PM  
Blogger Agagooga said...

I don't think it's only the present era that's an "era of triviality"

People have always been trivial. Romanticising past eras does no one any favours.

You might consider the pursuit of trivial matters a bad thing, but that's the way most people want to live life *shrug*

3:16 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes, it would be wrong to romanticize the past. However, the past, if looked at carefully shows us something very clearly: many human activities were more complex and of a higher art than they currently are. That seems to indicate a greater concern with triviality and things of lower quality in modern times. Writers of earlier eras come across as much more intelligent than modern ones, and less given to triviality in innumerable cases. It is actually quite worrying to observe. The modern era does not produce writers with the verbal sophistication of the Elizabethan playwrights. Modern work seems very thin by comparison.

The same goes for the level of skill in many arts and sciences. No-one can paint with the lifelike prowess of Renaissance painters seems to bother with such craft. They want something quick and easy, instead. There is less of a devotion to mastering a skill at the highest level, in modern times - and it shows in most of the work that is done.

You are right. Most people want to be trivial and succeed marvellously well at it. I would that more would not.

Thanks for your comment, Agagooga.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Agagooga said...

I think you are confusing mean with median.

The democratising of knowledge production means that a lot more crap comes out, but somewhere out there good stuff is still available (though it might be harder to find).

There's a lot of shit from ancient times, but much of it has not survived. Pompeii has a brothel with pornographic drawings on the wall (and the Victorians invented it). The Ancient Egyptians told crude jokes. Mozart wrote a song titled "lick my ass" [Leck Mich im Arsch (Kv 231)]. When Opera started it could be quite low class (and people used to dally with prostitutes in opera houses).

People *can* paint in Renaissance style, but that's not the artistic fad anymore, so they don't. Some modern art takes a long time to make, really, and requires skill (even if it's not life-like)

4:27 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Agagooga,

Your response poses certain questions. For instance, if something did not survive, how would we know it was s***? It seems impossible to make that judgement in the absence of the evidence.

I am not confusing mean with median or anything else. A typical painter of the Renaissance (not a good one, a typical one) shows much greater skill than a typical modern painter. Furthermore the best of the Renaissance show much greater skill than ANY living painter I can think of. That is the unfortunate truth. I was a frequent visitor to galleries at one time - and much modern work shows little skill (though a few artists do show skill they are swamped by those that don't).

The best writers of the Elizabethan era are far better than the best writers of today, in terms of complex, poetic use of language: we have nothing to match them, at all, anywhere. That being said, there are competent modern writers...but I think they are bit overhyped compared to their true talents on an historical scale. They may not be viewed so highly in a 1,000 years - unlike the Elizabethans, I would guess.

Just because people hung out with prostitutes at the Opera, that doesn't mean the Opera wasn't any good. As for Mozart...he was famously irreverent and I wouldn't be surprised if Lick My Ass was actually quite a good tune.

You are conflating negative things with the work and concluding that the work is diminished: the work is unchanged by the negative associations. It remains of whatever quality it is.

By the way, those who have studied this matter do think that we are in a period of cultural and scientific decline...(see Charles Murray).

5:01 PM  
Blogger Agagooga said...

What is your definition of "a typical Renaissance painter"? The vagaries of history would be unlikely to preserve the output of a "typical" anyone.

With modern technology it is easier to do so, but typically only better quality works of the past would've been preserved, conserved, restored and/or reproduced.

I too love to visit galeries, but I am always cognizant of the fact that galleries show us the better stuff (for obvious reasons). New material is readily accessible due to its newness, which is why it is unfair to compare what you see being produced around you with the works of the past. For example, I would wager conservatively that 90% of Classical music premiered in the 20th century is not actively being performed today.

As for my point about distribution (mean vs median) the democratisation of production and the growth of the middle class means that a lot more people are able to indulge their artistic/literary/etc pretensions.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I disagree Agagooga, for a technical reason: a painting done using Renaissance materials is a durable object. Left alone, in a room, it will survive to the modern era fairly intact. "Restoration" and "conservation" may be necessary to keep it in a pristine condition...but not to keep the essential meaning, skill and composition of the original visible to today. The Renaissance painters WERE more skilled than modern artists - that is self-evident. Indeed, it seems likely that the least of them, is as skilled or more skilled than the best of today. Artists, nowadays, just don't invest enough effort in skill acquisition - or perhaps have less ability to do so.

Almost none of the art produced in the last 50 years will be viewed with any interest 500 years from today. We would be lucky if more than a handful of works were considered worthy of consideration. The typical modern artist is producing utter crap.

Yes. More people are able to produce art nowadays...but I would NOT say that more people are able to become professional artists. There is not the system of patronage any more - so it may be that there are not as many professional artists now, proportionately, as there used to be.

Making a living at an artist is probably more of a problem now than in the past. Yet, access to making some art at all, has probably improved.

We don't like to think of our era as less than another, but I really think it is, artistically, culturally and even scientifically we are less than some past eras. Books have even been written about this situation (ie. Human Accomplishment by Charles Murray).

Thanks for your comment.

2:35 PM  

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