The Shifting Nature of Genius

In 1997 or 1998, my friend Lou and I went to see Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery in theaters. We both enjoyed it–we were big jazz nerds and the music is great. It featured Burt Bacharach. It was raunchy and full of thoughtful throw-away jokes. And, it featured Elizabeth Hurley, who was my beard as a super-gay middle schooler–“she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” etc. etc.

Waiting for Lou’s mom to pick us up, he said, “Mike Myers is a genius.” And I remember, twenty-two years later, my response. “Mozart was a genius. Mike Myers is a comedian.”

I remember that response for a few reasons. One, Lou is an actual genius–he is one of the most creative, innovative and pioneering creators out there. He has always been a genius–arranging charts for our middle school jazz combo (I told you, we were so super cool y’all) and writing full [symphonic cycles] in college that blew peoples’ minds. And while I am an intelligent, handsome, amazing and modest human, Lou is so far out of my league he’s on a different planet. He summers in Grenyarnia, as it were.

And two, I knew I was wrong when I said Mike Myers was not a genius, and I remembered being wrong forever. I talked to Lou on Saturday, and while our conversation wheeled all over the place as it does, I brought up that I watched Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery with my foster kids (14 and 12), and it definitely holds up.

It also, in 90 minutes, hits the high points of every 60s Bond movie (lairs, henchmen, Odd Job, death traps), spoofs the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, and mixes brilliant throwaway lines (“I’m glad we overthrew those capitalist pigs,”) with gutter jokes (everything to do with the Swedish penis enlargement pump). There’s not a wasted second in that film; it’s tight.

And considering how much from the first and second Austin Powers movies entered the zeitgest–get in my belly; I ate a baby; I’m a sexy bitch; O behave; do I make you horny; mini-me; yeah baby!; I want my babyback, etc.–one might suppose genius impacts the culture. Of course it does!

Anyhow, as today is a rainy and indoors Friday, once the fosters get up, I think I’ll show them Austin Powers 3, with the greatest opening of all time. (Fun fact: Myers said, as they wrote the opening, they were laughing at themselves, saying, “This will never happen!” Genius and humility do go hand-in-hand? It’s probably why I’m not one!)