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Nerd Culture is Consumer Culture now.

May 28, 2015
The image used is From Our Valued Customers.

The image used is from Our Valued Customers.

Simon Pegg had a point.

At this point I probably don’t need to give you a refresher of the whole Simon Pegg kerfuffle. But as to try and avoid the whole ‘a blogger writing about a thing that people have no frame of reference for’ here’s a summary:

  • Simon Pegg got interviewed as part of a press junket, where he talked about his current worries about Geek and Nerd culture being somewhat childish at heart still.
  • People did not like this. At all.
  • Pegg then later clarified, (in a form that’s better at articulating points and nuance than an event where the people attending are trying to get great controversial quotes out of their interviewee), that he was more concerned about it being wielded as a sort of pacifier, keeping us interested in those topics instead of larger societal issues or using the medium to advance ideas.
  • This STILL wasn’t enough, with many calling him a traitor, or other such hyperbolic language.

Now I know that there is a whole sub-economy of the internet that exists by provoking extreme emotional responses for clicks. I know that nuance is the enemy of discussion online once you get a big enough forum. But even if we take Pegg at face value, and posit the imaginary example of him deciding (despite being the current writer for Star Trek 3 and being involved in far too many geeky projects to count) that he now loathes all of geek culture and is taking the chance to shit all over the fans who got him where he is, can we admit, on some level, that he has a point?

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Now I know the worlds of science fiction and fantasy are great at tackling complicated topics. I’m very much a product of that. But I’m also a product of the Console Wars. Of Marvel vs. DC. Of Star Wars vs. Star Trek. As long as I’ve been alive, I’ve been told by marketers to cater my tastes. To pick a side. For no reason other than, well, to make them specific enough so their jobs can become a whole lot easier. And as highlighted by a lot of stories over the years, that doesn’t lead to better products that cater for everyone. It’s lead to laziness on the part of everyone and self fulfilling prophesies maintained by companies suddenly afraid to tap into new markets, because learned wisdoms tell them they don’t exist, despite evidence to the contrary.

Now that I’ve fallen into the trap of unconsciously tackling the argument in a purely economic sense (being a child of Thatcher, is it any wonder?), let’s talk more real world. Geek Culture is everywhere. Whilst certain forms on entertainment are still frowned upon by people, amongst adults you can let your freak flag run wild now. Businessmen wear Batman T shirts and talk about what will be happening in the next genre film coming up, whilst multiple industries bend over backwards at our beck at our call. We’re at ‘peak geek’ time for people who grew up linking things white blokes liked in the 70s and 80s. So where’s the next big thing, the next evolution, the new Star Wars? Oh wait, it’s Star Wars. That’s kind of Pegg’s point.

Now, if anything, the past few summers worth of films have proven we can have superhero blockbusters that have some semblance of complex themes running through them. At the same time, these come with a huge asterisk by them in that they are complex for a summer blockbuster. I understand that you have to take your small victories where you can get them, but isn’t the current trumpeting of ‘smart’ superhero films letting us off the hook in a lot of ways?

Though Pegg is reaching the ‘grumpy old man’ stage of his life, he’s always struck me as a pragmatist no matter the age, very much proud of the culture he grew up on but also willing to point out it’s flaws*. Maybe it’s just that he a West Country lad like myself, or that his ability to grow a beard is just a poor as my own, but I’ve always been aware of the problems that he’s articulating. It doesn’t appear that he’s saying that mainstream geek culture is bad per say, just that it needs to be part of a balanced diet rather than all we consume.

His comment that, to a degree, we are wallowing in nostalgia rather than using that our creative energies to create something new, is something that’s been with me for a few years. It used to be that we grew up reading certain things and then we moved onto other, more complex ones, knowing that the other stuff was always there if we needed it and still enjoying both. Nowadays, a lot of people seemed to have stalled at the transition phase, or else accepted a half way point where some media is sufficiently grown up enough that they can ease the nagging sensations at the back of our head.

And whilst my point of view for a lot of things tends to be in line with C.S. Lewis’s famous quote, he was also a well read and well learned man on lots of topics – he enjoyed entertainment the world called childish alongside other topics and loved both unabashedly.

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I’m just repeating myself now, but I do think there’s something to the idea of a healthy balance**. It stops people becoming so wrapped up in fandom that it warps their perception of things. Perhaps if fans were a bit more versed in sociological and cultural trends, they wouldn’t be flipping out about the concept of Tilda Swindon potentially being cast in an role in an attempt to subvert a racist stereotype (see also: Iron Man 3 and its depiction of The Mandarin).

Is there a solution that doesn’t involve a lot of navel gazing? Yes, but it relies upon us basically never being allowed to make hyperbolic comments on the internet again and being smart. Which won’t happen. Those sites need those clicks.

 

*He’s also inside Hollywood, so he gets to see all the absolute shit that gets pitched that we never see. His fatigue may be to do with recent struggles over the direction of the Star Trek film series.

**to add nuance to this, I think every persons idea of what constitutes a healthy balance will differ. To some, finding something that engages and challenges you will probably be completely different to what someone else considers challenging. The idea is just to broaden your horizons. Not make sure everyone had read Trotsky and All New X-men.

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From → Film, Life, Rant

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