Today, we have a special feature article for our readers. This week, Laney and I were graciously asked to participate in a blog hop titled “Gifted in Reel Life” as a part of the Gifted Homeschoolers’ Forum.
This event focuses on portrayals of gifted individuals in media, a topic which is near and dear to both my sisters and me. All three of us were tested for gifted programs at an early age, and spent countless hours in gifted programs in elementary school that gradually petered out as we advanced through middle and high school. (Laney’s note: my and our oldest sister’s middle school “gifted” program consisted of advanced science and advance English class, and in high school, despite being at a advance program chock-full of G&T kids, consisted of a designated counselor who gave us worksheets once a month. Leah’s was even less.) As such, many a discussion of media in our household has been peppered with critiques of gifted characters and the way they are portrayed, particularly in television and film.
It is sad to say that even in the diversity of today’s programming, the majority of gifted individuals on the big or small screen tend to fit a certain mold. They are generally white, predominantly male, employed in math or science fields, and often find themselves ostracized from their communities as a result of their intellect. However, when Laney first broached the topic of “Gifted in Reel Life” with me, this was not the image that sprang to my mind. In the sadly small smattering of gifted individuals that appear in modern media, I knew exactly who I wanted to write about – a character who I believe to be one of the best and most well-rounded portrayals of giftedness on television in recent years. Without further ado, I present: Claudia Donovan.
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Claudia Donovan was a main character on the SyFy show Warehouse 13, a wacky and thoroughly fun show about a group of secret government agents who collect Artifacts that create havoc and chaos in the world, and store them away in the aforementioned Warehouse. (The show also ended long before it should have in my not-so-humble opinion, but that’s a topic for another post.)
Claudia is a fun character. She’s a wisecracking, tech-savvy prodigy, who has a habit of causing mischief. She also becomes, with the help of a set of excellent mentors, a competent, forward-thinking agent, who saves the Warehouse from certain disaster on multiple occasions. But the real reason that I like Claudia so very much and feel so strongly about her character as a representative of gifted individuals is not, surprisingly, any of that. Namely, the reason I find Claudia Donovan so compelling is because she is not that person when we first meet her.
We first meet Claudia a few episodes into the first season of the show, after she has been discovered to be the culprit of a Warehouse security breach. The Claudia of early Warehouse 13 is a wounded character – she has lost her entire family, been subjected to years of psychological evaluation and malpractice, and has had her potential waylaid by her preoccupation with finding a way to get her brother, Joshua, back, after he disappears in an accident related to the Warehouse. Claudia, like so many gifted individuals, has been made to grow up too quickly, and has suffered as a consequence. Though there can be no doubt of her intellect, she has no proper way to channel it. When she finally does succeed in rescuing Joshua, she is left without a purpose.
The Warehouse offers her that purpose, and it begins her journey toward becoming a confident adult.
One of the things I like best about Claudia is her self-awareness. Her intelligence and her isolation have set her apart and made socializing difficult. When Artie, the main father figure in her life, asks her if she wants to be with people her own age, she responds with an answer that I think many gifted children have felt strongly as they aged: “I’m not my own age.” She is insecure in her ability to relate to people and she voices that fear to those closest to her. But despite that, Claudia never shies away from new people and experiences. As she works for the Warehouse, she is willing to go out on assignment, make mistakes, and own up to her shortcomings. After many years, she finds a best friend in Steve Jinks, a family in the Warehouse team. She finds mentors who help her develop her gifts from their power of destruction to the power of construction of something greater. Claudia, like so many other gifted individuals, flourishes under the patient attention and support of those around her.
By the time we reach the final season, Claudia Donovan is not the unsure, lost young girl we found her. She uses her intelligence to succeed, saving countless lives over the course of the show, all while maintaining her quirky sense of humor and love for all things techy. She emerges more confident, more whole, and ultimately, a complex and worthwhile role model for any young individual who has struggled through hardship, gifted or otherwise.