Star Wars and Fake Nerds

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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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25 thoughts on “Star Wars and Fake Nerds

  1. I was a kid when Star Wars was new but I didn’t get to see it in the cinema and somehow have never seen it. I loved Star Trek but I am sure I would have loved Star Wars if I’d gone to see it, just like I loved Superman. I think kids who loved it back then are adults now and love it now and other kids who watched the later films grew to love it too.
    I don’t think you’re quite right in your assessment. There’s a grain of truth to what you’re saying but that’s all (in my humble(?) opinion). And I was a nerd back then and later on although I kept trying to shake off the image.
    There is something to the image people have of nerds. Half of the people very into science have poor social skills and little in the way of street smarts. As though one part of their brain developed while other parts didn’t but there are some very clever scientists who can be macho and street smart too, I’ve met one back when I was a student, but I also saw he’s the exception.
    There’s a documentary about a mathematician who decided to solve a centuries old theorem. You can see it here https://vimeo.com/18216532
    I’d say he looks and sounds like various scientific researchers I’ve encountered (maybe a little further on the spectrum).
    And what he did took guts, to even think of tackling this problem. He’s normal but is he a regular guy? Nah.
    Might he have liked Star Wars as a child? Who knows. Could be.

  2. “A century ago, even the most empirically minded went to mass, just to keep up appearances.”

    Isaac Newton made models of the Temple of Solomon and other Kabbalistic non-senses.

  3. The original Star Wars worked because it had a story with recognisable elements, mostly built on the fairy tale concepts projected into another place and technology. It wasn’t particularly well-written, but it had a princess, a castle, and a villain who had everything you needed in a baddie including dressing all in black, the rasping voice and the pseudo-German helmet. It even had the Lord Of The Rings-type hero whose mystical quest takes him from humble backwater to saving the world/galaxy.

    So far so good. The series declined (fighting teddy bears destroying high tech army was ludicrous, but gets repeated in things like the greenie-loving, whitey-hating Avatar and so on) and then came the trilogy reboot, in which the tech preceded the original series but was in fact better as whoever did the scripts had never thought of watching what had gone before. Never mind, it was Hollywood making money and the stupid were in full flow of enthusiasm — I knew a somewhat dumb guy who planned to fly from the UK to New York in ’99 to get to see the opening showing of Episode 1 a whole day before it appeared in his own country (though I bet when he finally saw it he was glad he didn’t waste his money) — had to continue unabated.

    I think you may have touched on this before, Z, in that our adults are now infantile. So those adults who latch on to a series like Star Wars have to keep their enthusiasm going. “Oooh, I can’t wait to see it!” rings round as if they are little kids who dream of Christmas every day. It’s badge of honour to display their childishness and gullibility.

    Mind you, enthusiasm for such things even extended I recall to when a new Batman movie was announced and on some nerd-loving website it was voted by thousands of adultkids as the greatest film ever made despite it not actually being shown yet. Those who saw it eventually were unlikely to give it a glowing 10 out of 10 but no matter: it was still locked in its glorious position as the ‘best ever’ because of the unbridled expectations.

    Incidentally, I would take issue with your love of Star Trek. This was the series where every week the protagonists flagrantly disobeyed their hallowed Prime Directive and lived in a communist society where they were all catered for, no matter what their tastes, and never had to worry about money. Their job then was, having interfered, to persuade everyone to be part of a greater whole.

    And the movies were almost always rubbish, too.

    • I think you have to judge these things in context. Star Wars is great family entertainment. If you have a little kids, you can take them to this a few times and not worry about some pervert movie maker shoving a penis on screen. Star Trek, the original TV series was a low-budget TV series trying to do good sci-fi within the limits of the medium. It was one of the better efforts in the history of the medium. There have been others, but Star Trek was the first.

      As to the communism of Star Trek, every war movie follows the same pattern. In fact, the military is the ultimate socialistic enterprise. Similarly, every war movie and cop movie relies on the main characters “breaking the rules” for the greater good. It’s not Shakespeare.

      • Star Trek was pre-dated in the UK by Doctor Who, which was the epitome of shaky TV sets and clumsy special effects and all in monochrome, too. It was also family fare as the Doctor picked up a couple of kids from the streets and whizzed them not only round the galaxy but back and forth in time, and best of all no one thought he was a dirty old man abducting children.

        You are right about TV not being Shakespeare, but as for the ‘greater good’ I think you can interpret Macbeth as being about both ambition and the greater good. Good old Macb must have thought he was a better bet for Scotland than Duncan, just as anyone is a better bet for ruling Scotland than the current ambitious ‘wannabe queen’ Nicola Sturgeon.

      • War movie? Star Trek? You’ve got to be kidding me.
        Here you had this fantastic space battleship. Did it ever fight battles? Did it ever go toe-to-toe with the Romulans or Klingons? Or participate in the occasional fleet action? Well, once in awhile – once in a very rare while – there would be an actual shootout with photon torpedoes or phasers, but not very often. Mostly it was a lot of Vietnam era moralizing with cold-war politics and damn little science – fiction or otherwise.

        (Now, “Wrath of Khan” – the movie. That one was different. And then there was that one episode of TOS that was essentially a rip-off of “Run Silent, Run Deep”)

        Well, American citizens are allowed to have different tastes than mine, so far be it for me to criticize the entertainment preferences of others. To each his own. As long as you are spending your own money, go for it and have a good time.

        As to “Star Wars”. I never considered it “good science fiction”, but then again, it is my opinion that most science fiction is dreck. Nonetheless, I saw the original movie at the theater back in 1977 and I enjoyed it enough that I saw it again (…with a date, who also enjoyed it.) It was, well, just as you described – cowboys and indians in space. But what’s not to like? So was “Firefly” and it’s spinoff movie “Serenity”, which I enjoyed immensely.

        I intend to go see the latest installment of the “Star Wars” series, but I am also going to wait until all of the craziness dies down a bit – maybe sometime in February or thereabouts.

          • …and don’t get me started on “Big Bang Theory”. When I walk into a room where that show is playing on the TV, I can actually feel the intelligence being sucked out of the room.

        • And then there was that one episode of TOS that was essentially a rip-off of “Run Silent, Run Deep”

          Balance of Terror. Added a wedding and racism to Run Silent, Run Deep. (IIRC)

  4. You nailed it Z. I am forced to constantly remind myself that the world is largely run by people who don’t know what an algorithm is, can’t grasp simple mathematical concepts like negative numbers, and have never heard of the laws of thermodynamics. I have to remind myself of these things because every time I’ve tried to enlighten them, I’ve run into violent resistance. But they do love charlatans pitching them Science!

    • I wonder sometimes if the ratio to numerate-to-innumerate is lower today than previous eras or math has just fallen out of fashion universally. When I was a boy, my grandfather and I would work math problems for fun. He was a seventh grade dropout, but math puzzles were something he grew up on as that’s what he had for entertainment. Working men used to need a fair amount of math to keep their jobs so maybe that’s part of it too.

      It just feels like basic math skills are scare on the ground.

      • Scarce on the ground indeed…

        My burrito comes to $2.83. I give the cashier three dollar bills, a nickle, and three pennies.

        They look at me like I just dropped doggy doo in their hands. “Just punch it in….” I tell them. “Mr Register will tell you to give me a quarter.” Sometimes I’ll let fly with “Why, in my day (early 80s, cashiering at the college cafeteria and one of the Yellowstone lodges one summer) we had to figure that out IN OUR HEADS.”

      • My migrant farm worker grandmother got me through long division and her self-educated father knew enough trig to work on surveying crews throughout the American Southwest.

        I’ve always sensed a certain amount of contempt for maths among managerial class types. I agree with them that the human dimension or Leadership! or the art of the deal will always be more important than material considerations. But for crissakes, let’s make sure that there is enough gas in the car to make it to Albuquerque before we set off, boss.

        Outer party types like me always sympathize with Winston Smith when O’Brien is giving him the “2 + 2 = 5” business. We’ve been there too many times before… minus the torture machinery.

  5. I always thought of Star Wars as fantasy, not sci-fi. It is just adventure, and contains none of the intellectual challenge of even mediocre sci-fi. It was fantasy done well in the first trilogy and poorly in the second.

    I saw the new one and was fairly bored. The final scenes were like a geriatric repeat – disable the shields so pilots can kill the death star while old Princess Lea waits to see if she’ll be vaporized.

  6. The reason why Star Wars resonates with The Cult is because the series wears its pseudo-religious mythos on its sleeve. It’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS for the Neil deGrasse Tyson crowd, soaked in a watery soup of Joseph Campbell, fake Zen, and the ersatz profundity of the old KUNG FU series. The STAR WARS series gives the type of people who make Alzheimer jokes about Chuck Heston permission to enjoy the same sort of thing they make fun of the hinds for enjoying. It’s no coincidence that Lucas re-imagined the chariot race from BEN HUR for THE PHANTOM MENACE.

    The first STAR WARS kept the New Age pabulum to a minimum – it was basically a $10 million dollar FLASH GORDON serial, enlivened by brilliant special effects, an endearing cast, and a resonantly archetypal approach to character, all snugly contained within a sleekly propulsive narrative. For what it was, it was brilliant. EMPIRE broadened and deepened the mythos just enough to appear profound, without diminishing the qualities that made its predecessor so captivating, but by RETURN OF THE JEDI the hollowness of the enterprise had been exposed; slack, stupid, and noisy, the film was an egregious coda, and Lucas wisely dropped the franchise for nearly two decades.

    Unlike many, I rather liked the second trilogy, mainly because Christopher Lee was in it; it was like watching Bela Lugosi in CHANDU THE MAGICIAN – you knew it was going to be tripe, but it would be entertaining tripe, and, liberated from low-budget doldrums, one of your favorite genre performers would be having a ball. The light-saber duel between Lee and Yoda was a highlight of the series. Also, by REVENGE OF THE SITH, the unfairly maligned Hayden Christensen was giving an interesting performance, and watching Ewan McGregor do his Alec Guinness impersonation was always fun.

    The odd thing about the first reboot is that, while the mysticism was held in check, Lucas seemed to have spent the intervening years soaking himself in Spengler and Gibbon, and to have decided that he had important things to say about history, politics, economics, etc. Granted, most of what he had to say was tripe, but at least it didn’t get in the way of the special effects, and Ian McDiarmid chewing the scenery.

    The latest reboot seems to have pushed the mystical blather way into the foreground; the trailer sounds like it was written by Deepak Chopra after a vegan dinner with Oprah. At one point, a breathy girl’s voice (the heroine, I presume) says “just let it in”, which is the worst sort of millennial dreck, and something you’d expect a fat woman to say about food, or a black penis, rather than stand as the climactic line of a highly anticipated teaser trailer. That, along with the Oprah-approved casting of the leads (magical white chick, magical black guy), has kept me away from this one so far. I’ll go, eventually, but it’s not like I’m expecting much. But then you rarely expect much from the high-school reunion, and sometimes they can be fun.

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  8. This latest episode is the nadir of movie making. Hollywood is totally exhausted. The money they are making is an obscenity. I am sure they paid the critics to keep their mouths shut.

  9. I was the target demographic for the original Star Trek; nine years old when it premiered. Was still watching reruns in high school. So when Star Wars came out, I was genuinely not interested at all. I’m thinking it was just before The Empire Strikes Back that I finally saw A New Hope, and it was fun, but Star Trek episodes were morality tales, and some of them were very, very good. BTW, I’m OK with the JJ Abrams reboot, unlike some of my friends, who came out of the theater with their hair on fire. Not as good as ToS, but better than the original cast movies, witch were mostly dreadful (Wrath of Khan excepted, of course).

    One addition about Phantom Menace: Darth Maul was a great Sith, but he had no backstory, so when he was defeated, it was anticlimactic. Replacing some of the idiotic Jar Jar scenes with some Maul lore would have made that film acceptable, IMHO.

    Finally, I understand your penchant for numeracy, but there are other forms of logic that are even more beautiful. Musical counterpoint, for example. ;^)

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