Generation Genius: Grown-ish Explores What it Takes to be Great

Zoey questions her passion for fashion design in this episode about art, creativity, and the nature of genius.

“In my feeling”, Grown-ish – Season 2 – episode 4 takes a look at what it means to be creative, identified as a genius and gender politics.

The campus is captivated by an anonymous drop, which brings up questions about the nature of creativity and genius in Generation Z, and Zoey (Yara Shahidi) makes a big decision about her future.

A continuous live stream of a beach has the entire Cal U student body glued to their phones, wondering which anonymous artist is about to drop a supposedly fire track. The long prelude gives Zoey and her friends plenty of time to debate the nature of creative genius. Zoey believes that (in reference to Kanye) you can separate the art from the artist, to which Jazz (Chloe Bailey) points out that Kanye separated himself from his community. Jazz contends that beyond Yeezy’s bizarre behavior and unpopular political opinions, he also hasn’t released a decent album since Yeezus in 2013.

With so much access to both art and critique, it’s hard not to feel the creep of comparison culture in 2019. Zoey has to work long hours to achieve the results that come quickly and easily to Luka (Luca Hall). It’s as though the criteria for genius is not only being great at your craft, but having to be so effortlessly. Beyond that, Zoey also identifies the role that gender politics impact how a society ascribes genius. She questions why it’s so easy to assign that label to men, while hard working, intelligent, and creative women like Beyonce are seen as “entertainers” rather than ground-breakers.

When the criteria for genius is public opinion, the art itself suffers. “People’s opinions are the only measurement I have,” Zoey cries, when Jazz calls her out for caring too much about what other’s think. But public opinion isn’t always an accurate gauge of genius. Van Gogh’s work wasn’t celebrated until long after his death, while in this episode, hundreds of students across campus are glued to their cell phone screens watching an animated unicorn prance across a scene that, according to Nomi (Emily Arlook), looks like it was pulled from a “Window’s 98 screensaver”.

So many Millennials and members of Generation Z struggle with their sense of self worth. Many come from families like Zoey’s, with doting parents and supportive teachers who used words like “special” and “unique” and especially “genius” to praise. It’s created an identity crisis for three decades worth of children who are growing into adults who wonder whether you have to be a genius in order to have worth.

Jazz is unusually harsh to Zoey throughout this episode — it turns out Jazz is still made at Zoey for not telling her that her boyfriend was at a kickback without her. But in the end Jazz offers Zoey some valuable advice. Competing in track is hard for her sometimes, but she tells Zoey, “I still love it with every piece of my being. And if I didn’t, I’d be out.”

The precise ratio of sweat equity to raw talent that predicts success is unknown, and perhaps unknowable. Zoey works all night on a dress for her design lab that turns out beautiful, but ultimately drops the class. It’s the passion, like Jazz said, that has the potential to make someone great. Whether they’re naturally gifted in their art, or spend hours and hours trying to achieve results, the passion is requisite for creating something meaningful. What really matters isn’t what others feel about your work — it’s how you feel about your work.

Grown-ish continues its 13 episode season Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC Freeform.

Missed last week’s episode? Catch up here.

Photo and video credit: Freeform

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