Monday, February 11, 2008

bicentennial man teaches social science

Flipping across channels on a Sunday night, I came across Bicentennial Man. The first few scenes seemed familiar but halfway through, I realized I haven’t watched the whole movie so I put down the remote control and watched it until the end. Bicentennial Man was played by the very talented Robin Williams, who happens to be one of my favorite actors of all time. The story was set in a futuristic era where robots coexist with humans. Williams plays a robot named Andrew. He was sent to a family, who treated him well as if he really was part of it. Then the unthinkable happened. Andrew started to acquire human emotions and intelligence. I doubt if that is technologically possible but anyway, this entry isn’t a review of the movie. There was one scene in the movie that keeps playing again and again in my mind.

It was the scene where Andrew’s master discovered that he had a potential. Andrew used to help around the house. Andrew’s master told him at that moment that he will no longer work and will just focus on reading and studying – which of course was one of the factors as to why he became a really smart robot. That scene reminded me of my social science class where my teacher Sir Mike asked us what we noticed about the kids in a milk commercial that promises to spawn “gifted” children. If you drink that milk, your child could have an IQ so high your kid can be a pianist, violinist, math whiz, or a chess champ. Impressive huh. So if a ratty kid from the street drinks that milk, will he have more chances of becoming any of those above? Well, the thing with that milk commercial, it portrays kids from well-off families.

If we watch the commercial closely, these kids are well-dressed, educated, and can spend all the time in the world focusing on becoming who they want to be because their parents can back them up. In contrast, the kid from the street does not have all the luxury and lives each day finding food for himself and his family so they can eat and survive. Translate that to psychology and we come face to face with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which states that physiological needs come first before self-fulfillment. Of course, how would you expect a kid to pursue his talents with an empty stomach?

I’m not saying that underprivileged kids are doomed because a lot of people have proven that they can rise above the odds with patience and a lot of hard work. In the end, what matters more is how we cope with our respective situations. I just hope they know that.

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