It’s getting really nerdy in here. (Aug 13 column)
My house needs a roof and paint and more frequent mowing. Hubs has been out of commission for a bit, so we are far behind. A year ago, just after attending Denver Pop Culture Con and seeing the cast of Bryan’s favorite show, Critical Role, seeing Neville from Harry Potter, Doc and Biff from Back to the Future, and George Takei, we moved out of our little blue Tardis house and into what we feel is the most beautiful Craftsman bungalow in Estherville. While I have watched a little bit of Dr. Who, casually – enough to know that I like the 10th and Rose and 11th and Amy Pond the most – I can’t really get into the old ones, and I certainly couldn’t binge watch. If you know what I’m talking about, you’d fit right in to the Nerdville that greets me when I am home. In case you don’t, it’s okay. I have just unpacked most of my knowledge of Dr. Who in this small paragraph.
At the dinner table as D and B shoot back and forth about Dr. Who or Deadpool, D&D or Daredevil, I sometimes redirect the conversation by saying, “It’s getting really nerdy in here.” It seems, though, that I might be the one on the outs as nerd culture becomes the new cool. Big Bang Theory has put science nerds on the pop culture map, and their trips to the comic book store seem strangely familiar. Social media has created communities of fans where there previously were scattered enclaves but no worldwide base.
I’ll go to an Iron Man/Superman/Spiderman movie as willingly as the next lady. I loved Harry Potter and the Fantastic Four, although part of my joy was in seeing how much my guys loved them. Immersed as our household is in Nerdville, though, I’ve wondered, as some culture commentators have, if all this is keeping our tastes immature and childlike.
Simon Pegg says, “part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilized by our own taste. 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.”
Back when I didn’t work so much, and many winter weekends were spent eating popcorn (made the real way on the stove) and hunkering down with DVDs, every so often they would make space to watch a “Mommy movie.” This is also when they were young enough to call me mommy, which has been a while. This space yielded some opening up of their imaginations, but it was really just a diversion from the real experience of Nerdville. Thankfully, there is some crossover entertainment we can experience together – the BBC’s Sherlock, episodes of Freaks and Geeks, and a few others.
Pegg goes even further and says, “Nerd culture is the product of a late capitalist conspiracy, designed to infantilize the consumer as a means of non-aggressive control.” Because if you love Dr. Who, Batman and Star Trek, you’ll want the action figures, the mugs, the hoodies, the tee shirts, the socks and the lamps. [Full disclosure – I did purchase a Dr. Who hoodie and tees to cheer Bryan in his journey to the seventh grade in a new school).
The best thing art can do is make you think, to re-evaluate opinions you thought were yours. The most frequent opinion to come out of nerd culture movies seems to be, “That was awesome!” We do live in difficult times. I’ve started to wonder if the popularity of superheroes and fantastical sci-fi has risen in response to a greater need for escapism in our entertainment. We don’t need to think more about who we are or what’s going on in the world so much as we need to escape from the constant stress. That has been another buzz phrase in our house, “I need to watch something with happy in it.”
I love my nerd family, and I’m grateful they accept me in all my arty, lost-in-thought, other-nerdliness.
*Note – do not take this to mean I think we should spend our non-working, non-sleeping hours in fantasy escapism. Everyone absolutely should stay up to date on what’s happening by reading this newspaper.