I recently came across a review of a four-part series that premiered on Apple TV+ in September entitled “The Super Models” (that space between “super” and “models” is not a typo, but the show’s clever title wordplay). The series focuses on four women who were supermodels several decades ago and still have considerable sway and influence (I don’t have Apple TV+, but I would have skipped it anyway…life’s too short, as they say).
Reading the review about the four models (Figure 1) made me wonder: how does one become acknowledged as a supermodel? Is there an application form? Who or what would be the judging agency, under what auspices? What are the criteria: billing rates per day? A certain number of high-end photo shoots and magazine covers? Industry buzz and PR mentions? Media coverage with accolades? Voting by the celebrity-focused journalist community?
Obviously, I don’t know the answer, nor do I intend to find out. However, all this attention given to these supermodels made me wonder why we don’t have the equivalent titling for “super” engineers, those individuals who have made a significant difference and major contributions.
I had a similar feeling during the now-settled Screen Actors Guild strike in late 2023, which lasted about five months. During that time, not only did the actors stay away from their day jobs, but they also stayed away from the many TV shows and publicity events, which are primarily promotional platforms. This is where they hype their latest project while the show’s host praises them for being so clever, intelligent, talented, skillful, and so on.
It was a relief to not see these performers endlessly hawking their projects. Even better, I happened to see one show where the spot usually filled with yet another actor was instead taken by a research doctor talking, in simplified terms, about his work. He explained why it might be significant and even why it might not work out as planned. That was a very welcome change of show guest.
Let’s face it: in most cases, with a few exceptions, these so-called celebrities are forgettable and easily replaceable, with many of them mostly famous for being famous. Many are lauded as extraordinary when their main skill was not much more than the luck of being cast in a hit show or movie. There are hundreds (thousands?) of other actors who could have performed in the role just as well, as the many self-congratulatory awards shows make obvious.
Yes, there are industry awards and recognition ceremonies for engineers, but they are few and far between, and they don’t get much attention in the broader world. For example, there is the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering from the National Academy of Engineering and the IEEE Medal of Honor (Figure 2) whose first winner was E.H. Armstrong, inventor of the super-regenerative receiver, superheterodyne radio architecture, and the FM radio. It would be nice if their recipients received some bigger-world attention.
The reality is that there are only a few engineers who are household names (for example, Gordon Moore and Steve Jobs) while the others do their magic — and believe me, you realize it is “magic” when you try to describe it to a non-technical person — with almost no recognition outside the industry.
My view is that non-recognition is the downside of innovating so much while making it all look so easy, regardless of how hard it was. In many ways, the astounding success of the engineering community at creating so much wonderful stuff, with the resulting advances we live with and routinely use, makes it all look like no big deal: it all “just happens.” Of course, it’s not that way at all.
I have a modest request tied to a dream. Perhaps the celebrity-driven machine could take a break from tradition and instead highlight one or two engineering awards events with the same attention, promotion, and razzle-dazzle given to entertainment-industry awards shows. To add some pizzaz, there could be the elements of surprise with multiple nominees in a given category and “the envelope, please” ceremony, with the winner coming up to receive the award and give a one-slide summary of the work and its significance. The winners would be our newest “superengineers” and lauded as such — at least in my dream.
Maybe the celebrity and glamour industry can meet the engineering innovation world halfway, with some recognition of what each has to offer. It might just be worth a try, right?
Related EE World Content
Inertial Measurement Units: The hidden key to Apollo success, now a MEMS device (Part 1)
(streaming) Apple TV, “The Super Models”
(book) Thomas Wildenberg, Naval Institute Press, “Hot Spot of Invention: Charles Stark Draper MIT and the Development of Inertial Guidance and Navigation“
Columbia Magazine, “Edwin Armstrong: Pioneer of the Airwaves”