Simon Pegg: Nerd Culture Won, and Now It’s Dumbing Us Down

Thinkpiece me up, Scotty! Photo: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Now that nerd culture, like a Yeerk, has slithered into the mainstream and gained control, Simon Pegg is taking stock of the industry that's been his life's work and finds himself troubled by its overwhelming success. "Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema, but part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilized by our own taste," Pegg said in an interview with Radio Times this week. "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." It's all enough, Pegg concluded, to make him potentially "retire from geekdom" for good.

Geek culture has never been good at taking internal criticism, and since our culturewide love affair with sci-fi and fantasy films is about to make Pegg a very rich man, the hypocrisy accusations flew hard and fast. In a thoughtful response to io9's criticism of his remarks, Pegg walked back some of his more "trollish" claims, admitting that Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Game of Thrones gave him hope that genre entertainment could still inspire its audience to ask hard questions. Still, he cautioned, it's never wrong to examine how perfectly your pop-culture obsession lines up with market forces:

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 infantilization 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.

[...] I’m not out of the fold, my passions and preoccupations remain. Sometimes it’s good to look at the state of the union and make sure we’re getting the best we can get. On one hand it’s a wonderful thing, having what used to be fringe concerns, suddenly ruling the mainstream but at the same time, these concerns have also been monetised and marketed and the things that made them precious to us, aren’t always the primary concern (right, Star Trek OST fans?)

Also, it’s good to ask why we like this stuff, what makes it so alluring, so discussed, so sacred. Do we channel our passion and indignation into ephemera, rather than reality? Not just science fiction and fantasy but gossip and talent shows and nostalgia and people’s arses. Is it right? Is it dangerous? Something to discuss over a game of 3D chess, perhaps.

In conclusion, capitalism is an invisible prison that makes hypocrites out of all but the most cynical among us, but you should still see Mad Max because it's really good.