The other day, a woman gave me the business over my lack of enthusiasm for the new Star Wars movie. When she told me about how she was going to the first night, I said I had saw the original three, but skipped the reboot. I may have caught clips here and there, but otherwise I had no interest and I have no interest in the latest rendition. When I called it cowboys and Indians in space, I seemed to have crossed some line.
In his latest transmission, John Derbyshire takes a similar position, but for a different reason and probably a better reason than I offered. John grew up reading classic science fiction so he knows good sci-fi and Star Wars is just crap by comparison. I agree with that and I would add that Star Trek, the original version, is the gold standard for Hollywood science fiction.
Way back when Star Wars came out in the late 70’s, it was largely considered a kids movie. The adult sci-fi weirdos were into Star Trek, with the first convention happening in 1972. Guys spending Saturday night playing Dungeons and Dragons or learning to code on their Commodore PET were doing so wearing Spock ears, not fondling a fake light saber.
But we now live in the age of the fake nerd and I think that’s where Star Wars fits best. The people that “fucking love science!” and watch Big Bang Theory can’t shut up about Star Wars. It’s another method to signal their membership in the cult of pseudo-scientism. They may never have made it past geometry in school, but they swear they grew up on comic books and were always a nerd.
Fake nerds are everywhere in the media these days. Jonah Goldberg is the one that always comes to mind when I think about this stuff. He has invested a lot of time casting himself as a bookish nerd-boy who grew up reading Batman comics and watching re-runs of Gilligan’s Island. Maybe it is true or maybe it is just clever marketing. You never can know for sure with people in the media.
In sports media, the fake nerd is everywhere because statistics are such a big part of sports. ESPN loves dressing up a millennial as a dork and having him rattle off numbers on TV. It’s often hilarious as the typical sports reporter is innumerate, barely able to count to ten without help. But, they dress them up as nerds anyway, figuring it is what the public expects.
Of course, turning science into a religion is why we have kooks like Bill Nye demanding to have skeptics thrown in prison. He’s a good reminder that you can be batshit crazy and still be able to design a decent toaster. The amusement park manager, Neil deGrasse Tyson, made it through a doctoral program, but found better money in peddling pseudo-scientific nonsense to rich people.
The funny thing about the fake nerd stuff is that real nerds are usually active people who enjoy the outdoors, playing sports and doing the sorts of things normal people do. I used to play hoops with a bunch of programmers. I know a few body builders who are engineers, one is a rocket scientist at NASA. In my experience, the highly numerate tend to be a little nuts and anything but nerdish.
Of course, the fake nerd stuff is just a pose. We live in an age of marvels where the technology is far outpacing most people’s ability to keep up. In that regard, our era has another striking resemblance to the late 19th and early 20th century, before the great wars. When Wells, Gernsbacker and Verne invented science fiction, it seemed as if science would conquer the human condition.
A century ago, to be thought of as smart you had to be a tinkerer and love what passed for science and technology at the time. Everyone was convinced that all the answers were just around around the corner and the pace of technology would only accelerate. Taylorism was the economics of its day and everyone that was thought to be intelligent was into science.
A big difference between then and now is that fake nerdism is probably filling the void where religion used to reside. A century ago, even the most empirically minded went to mass, just to keep up appearances. Today, no one believes in anything so everyone falls for everything. Slap the word “study” onto any batshit crazy idea and your fake nerd friends will be posting infographics about on their Facebook page.
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