Mr. Genius Fists
It is only recently I’ve been able to talk about this. While I have nothing but good things to say about the people at the MacArthur Foundation — who were not only forward-looking enough to choose me for their prestigious Fellowship, but also possessed of enough integrity to stand by their choice throughout the hailstorm of controversy that followed — I must admit that had I known that I would face so much venom as the result of my selection, I would have been hesitant to accept this prestigious honor.
First, and I suppose that this is a trite cavil by this point in the history of the MacArthur Fellowship, I am dismayed at the fact that the press (and, subsequently, the public) continue to refer to the Fellowship as a ‘genius grant’. Not only does this tar with the taint of snobbishness an award that prides itself on inclusivity and diversity, but it encourages those with little minds, such as the ones who direct their rancor at me, to openly mock and question fields of activity that they do not understand. Should I be denied the enjoyment of an award that I am proud enough to consider hard-earned, simply because I do not fit the mold one expects from a ‘genius grant’? True, I am not a writer, an artist, a filmmaker, a musician, or a dancer. But the award has also gone to poets, to scientists, to community activists, to educators and organizers. The criteria for the grant specifies that it is reserved for those who “have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction”. Should my worth in meeting these goals be ignored because some people don’t like the word ‘torture’?
The disdain directed at my attainment of the MacArthur Fellowship seems to grow entirely out of ignorance, prejudice and fear; my qualifications are never mentioned. “Exceptional creativity”? If you can find another worker in my difficult field who has crippled a loudmouth junkie in under 5 minutes using nothing but a shrimp fork and a tape gun, I will gladly hand him my award money. “Promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment”? Not only will this grant allow me to move forward with my unprecedented endeavor to literally break every bone in a welsher’s body without killing him, but as for my track record, I can only say that 180 recent patients of the Bayonne Mercy Hospital burn ward can’t be wrong. And “potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work”? Ask the stoolie chained to the hot water heater in the basement of my rented house in Bethel, Ohio how long he languished there before the grant money allowed me to purchase the power tools and cleaning supplies that will allow our collaboration to move forward.
Perhaps most hurtful of all are the criticisms directed at me from members of my own profession. I can bear the slings and arrows fired by a weak-kneed academic establishment that doesn’t understand my work; the Foundation staff sees through the sham of accreditation and ‘expertise’ and has chosen to expand its mandate to nontraditional endeavors in the humanities. But for a man like Rocco “The Shiv” Mancini to question my commitment to the field? For a man like Morrie “The Strangler” Brandt to ask if this grant means I’ll be ‘going Hollywood’ on my peers? For Antonio “Piano Man” Brancaccio — who has been the closest thing I’ve ever had to a mentor — to openly doubt if my receipt of the Fellowship is good for business? These are not only personally painful to me, but they cannot help but conjure the prospect of ugly jealousy as a motivator.
However, I would do a disservice to the honor bestowed on me by the judges if I were to let the snipings of petty and ignorant detractors dissuade me from service or sway me from my work. I will press on. I will allow this award to fulfill its purpose in helping me pursue my own creative, intellectual and professional inclinations. I have the time, I have the tools, and I have the talent. $500,000 will buy a lot of meat hooks, rubber mallets and hydrochloric acid. And through the good graces of this noble fellowship, I hope that soon I will be able to answer each of my critics in my preferred manner.