Arthur Chu and Success Resentment

Arthur Chu and Success Resentment February 28, 2014


Arthur Chu, a 29 year old compliance analyst from Ohio, might be the most dominant player in Jeopardy! history. In only 8 days of competitions (or 4 hours of TV broadcast time), Chu has won over $250,000. Many of his victories have been ridiculously lop sided: He won $50,000 on February 27th’s episode, beating out the second place winner by almost $40,000. Chu still has a long way to go to catch all time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings (who won over $3 million during a 74 game win streak), but at a quarter million dollars with only 8 wins under his belt, Chu looks like a serious threat to a game show record that many believed would never be broken. 

Game shows have always captured my interest. Quiz shows, in particular, are one of the last spheres of pop culture in which knowledge is extolled and rewarded. Watching dominant players is somewhat gratifying to me, as one who enjoys reading a wide range of material and values memorization and knowledge. After all, who doesn’t enjoy watching a talented player unleash a veritable fury of intellectual power? 

Well, it turns out, several people don’t. The only thing that’s arguably more shocking than Chu’s dominant performance is the bizarrely bitter and rancorous reactions that he is receiving, particularly on Twitter. Numerous viewers have taken the time out of their day to send Chu berating messages, complaining about his aggressive playing style, arrogantly indifferent demeanor, and even his race. 

Chu’s playing style cannot be described as “friendly.” His playing style is tremendously aggressive. He seeks out the Daily Double rather than going category by category. One of my Facebook friends opined that Chu disgraced a “gentlemen’s game” with his competitive and showy tactics. 

I find such thinking absurd. Chu is a true Jeopardy champion, a man with a wide breadth and significant measure of knowledge. His tremendous success is exhilarating. But I do still have a question: Why do so many people resent him?

I submit three answers.

1) Chu is not “TV savvy.” His personality and strategy alienate him from television audiences, who often prefer superficially friendly and self-deprecating characters. I take this as more of an indictment of television than of Chu. The medium of TV creates a well known culture of superficiality that obscures things like rational discourse, realistic people and (in Chu’s case) truly determined personalities. The fact that Chu does not endear himself to the cameras is not in any way a flaw. 

2) Chu’s aggressiveness often results in wide margins of victory that can make the game feel uncompetitive. But again, this is simply boring TV (supposedly). It doesn’t mar or obscure his talents or his victory. 

3) The biggest issue is, I believe, a culture of “success resentment” that has been brewing in the US for many years. President Obama has been a source of encouragement for this kind of resentment, reminding successful business owners that “You didn’t build that.” I submit to you that the main reason people do not like Arthur Chu is because he’s good. I believe the typical American, rather than admiring and aspiring to success they see, defaults to resentment and an inarticulate demand for artificial “fairness.” This is a serious cultural defect that runs antithetical to the entrepreneurial spirit. 

Let’s let Arthur Chu enjoy and continue his great run on Jeopardy. If any can challenge him, let that person step up! Stifling competition or resenting success is simply…un-American.

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