In New York and other northeastern urban centers, including Washington and Boston, gray matter is the new black of the hip social scene. Thousands of young singles and couples are eschewing the perfunctory dinner and a movie for a growing circuit of late-night museum prowls, Oxford-style debates with pre-feud cocktail parties and book readings with cash bars and after-hour bands. In New York, even spelling bee nights have popped up as a romantic twist for the chic, unmarried and grammatically gifted.
It is, observers of the trend say, a visceral backlash to life in a Paris Hilton world. It's a chance to impress a mate, or a potential date, by flexing a body part that has lost ground in recent years to biceps and pecs -- the brain.
"Intellidating," first coined in England in 2002, sprang from "Intelligence Squared," a live discussion series launched by a couple of British moguls whose professed aim was to make debating "sexy." Heated debates on topics ranging from "Monogamy Is Bad for the Soul" to "Maggie Thatcher Saved Britain" brought in the London glitterati, including actor Hugh Grant and, until their split in February, svelte girlfriend and socialite Jemima Khan.
Hm. Well, I suppose it's good that people are making the effort to think about the world around them; however, I fear this series of Intelligence Squared U.S.-sponsored debates (to which, admittedly, I have not yet had the opportunity to listen)--even with its NPR pedigree--is more of an extension of the cultural influence of the glib talking head, rather than proof of the resurgence of genuine intellectual engagement within popular culture.
Furthermore, I can't help feeling that in casting intellectual engagement as a trend, we are transforming what should be a responsibility of all who would live in "society" into even more of a commodity. (I say "even more" because lets face it: there would be a much lower incidence of brain drain if intelligence and skill couldn't be bought and sold.)