Simon Pegg is still a nerd and proud of it.
This week however the nerd community was ready to cast him out on account of some comments he made to the Radio Times. Pegg, who despite writing Star Trek 3 and leading the Cornetto Trilogy and likely cameoing in Star Wars VII, felt that he might one day “retire from geekdom” and pursue “serious acting” because of the “dumbing down” of our culture due to these movies.
“Part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste,” Pegg said. “Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes… Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously…It is a kind of dumbing down in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about… whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”
How do you think that sat with Twitter? Just a day later, Pegg clarified those comments with a blog post on his website Peggster titled, “Big Mouth Strikes Again” (quoting Morrissey? What a nerd). But his stance remains, and his article is a thoughtful plea for nerd culture to evaluate how the world absorbs their cherished art form, going as far as to cite Jean Baudrillard (nerd) to make his case. Pegg summons film history (NERD) to explain how prior to the spectacle of Star Wars, film studios made challenging and dark art house films like Taxi Driver and more to respond to the Vietnam War and even began using mainstream cinema to break down gender roles. He even explains that while most of these movies are concerned only with spectacle, artists like Christopher Nolan and George R.R. Martin used their fantastical settings to explore themes of “fascistic vigilantism” and “musings on ambition, power and lust,” respectively (NERRRDDDD).
In short, Pegg’s got a real point. Fantasy and sci-fi are a wonderful medium for expression and ideas, but the movies with the most of those are rarely made on the mainstream stage today. Pegg defends Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road and the upcoming Tomorrowland as strong examples of that, but when “spectacle becomes the driving creative priority, the less thoughtful or challenging the films can become.”
Compare that with other recent comments in Vulture by Damon Lindelof upon the release of Tomorrowland, in which he feels fanboy culture’s cynicism won’t allow them to embrace his film, specifically because of the corporate forces driving the creative process. “When we all took this on, people were saying, ‘You can’t make an original movie anymore, and you certainly can’t make an interesting Disney movie. If you make a Disney movie named Tomorrowland, it’s gotta have Space Mountain, and you basically have to sell tickets to the amusement park.'”
Here are some excerpted highlights from Pegg’s post:
Recent developments in popular culture were arguably predicted by the French philosopher and cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard in his book, ‘America’, in which he talks about the infantilzation of society. Put simply, this is the idea that as a society, we are kept in a state of arrested development by dominant forces in order to keep us more pliant. We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in, inequality, corruption, economic injustice etc. It makes sense that when faced with the awfulness of the world, the harsh realities that surround us, our instinct is to seek comfort, and where else were the majority of us most comfortable than our youth? A time when we were shielded from painful truths by our recreational passions, the toys we played with, the games we played, the comics we read. There was probably more discussion on Twitter about the The Force Awakens and the Batman vs Superman trailers than there was about the Nepalese earthquake or the British general election.
The ‘dumbing down’ comment came off as a huge generalisation by an A-grade asshorn. I did not mean that science fiction or fantasy are dumb, far from it…
I guess what I meant was, the more spectacle becomes the driving creative priority, the less thoughtful or challenging the films can become. The spectacle of Mad Max is underpinned not only multiple layers of plot and character but also by an almost lost cinematic sense of ‘how did they do that?’ The best thing art can do is make you think, make you re-evaluate the opinions you thought were yours. It’s interesting to see how a cerebral film maker like Christopher Nolan, took on Batman and made it something more adult, more challenging, chasing Frank Miller’s peerless Dark Knight into a slightly less murky world of questionable morality and violence. But even these films are ultimately driven by market forces and somebody somewhere will want to soften the edges, so that toys and lunch boxes can be sold. In that respect, Bruce Wayne’s fascistic vigilantism was never really held to account, however interesting Nolan doubtless found that idea. Did he have an abiding love of Batman or was it a means of making his kind of movie on the mainstream stage?
Fantasy in all its forms is probably the most potent of social metaphors and as such can be complex and poetic. No one could ever accuse Game of Thrones of being childish. George RR Martin clearly saw the swords and sorcery genre as a fertile means to express his musings on ambition, power and lust. Perhaps it milieu makes it more commercial though, would a straight up historical drama have lasted so long? Maybe Game of Thrones wouldn’t have been made at all ten years ago.
Pegg also closed his post with a cheeky response to his recent gaff declaring Daniel Craig a Stormtrooper. “Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan are also Stormtroopers in The Force Awakens.”
What a nerd.