Simon Pegg Says Our Genre Fiction Love May Have “Infantilized” Us, but He’s Still Proud to Be a Nerd
I know you are, but what am I?
Simon Pegg, nerd extraordinaire and co-writer of the new Star Trek Beyond, understandably caused a bit of shock today when he called some of our geekier interests “childish,” but not all was as it seemed. Pegg has clarified his remarks, and said he was actually “trolling” a bit in defense of the things we all love.
In an interview in Radio Times, picked up by io9, Pegg said,
Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie And Clyde and The French Connection—gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed… I don’t know if that is a good thing.
…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 infantilised 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.
And at first glance, that certainly sounds like a harsh indictment of some of the very things that have brought Pegg success, but as it turns out, he really just meant to get at the “spectacle vs. substance” part and was a little sloppy with his generalizations along the way. In clarification on his own website with a post called Big Mouth Strikes Again (which is long, much more in depth, and worth reading), Pegg explained that he knows good genre fiction can be smart and thought-provoking:
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. How could I say that? In the words of Han Solo, “Hey, it’s me!” In the last two weeks, I have seen two brilliant exponents of the genre. Ex Machina and Mad Max: Fury Road, both of which had my head spinning in different and wonderful ways and are both very grown up films (although Max has a youthful exuberance which is nothing’s short of joyous, thanks George Miller, 70) I’ve yet to see Tomorrowland but with Brad Bird at the helm, it cannot be anything but a hugely entertaining think piece.
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.
And of course, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of dumb fun once in a while, either, but in the end, I also don’t like seeing spectacle overshadow substance in movies, and there’s no easy solution—mostly because spectacle can be so damn fun. For example, I’m hugely stoked for Jurassic World, and I’m under no delusion that it’s going to fundamentally alter my human experience.
Pegg’s not beyond a bit of fun himself, either, based on recent comments that his upcoming Star Trek script adventure began with the studio wanting something that appealed more to the masses.
But he’s still on our side, saying,
- I love Science Fiction and fantasy and do not think it’s all childish.
- I do not think it is all generated by dominant forces as a direct means of control… much.
- I am still a nerd and proud.
And vapid low-points of our favorite genres aside, so are we.
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