Given that Simon Pegg has spent most of his career riffing on and benefiting from “geek culture,” he got in a bit of hot water when he told Radio Times, “Nerd culture is the product of a late capitalist conspiracy, designed to infantilize the consumer as a means of non-aggressive control.”
So Pegg took to his website to give some extra content to his comment. And he ended up penning a really insightful essay about the current state of pop culture.
Pegg explains he’s been interested in prolonged adolescents ever since he co-wrote the sitcom Spaced with Jessica Hynes about two roommates bumbling through their twenties. But he claims that in the 18 years since they wrote the show, “this extended adolescence has been cannily co-opted by market forces, who have identified this relatively new demographic as an incredibly lucrative wellspring of consumerist potential.”
He mentions Star Wars as a turning point when American movies switched from dealing with the Vietnam War through morally complex stories to escaping it via tales with clear cut good and bad guys. “It was a balm for a nation in crisis in a number of ways,” he writes, “and such was that nation’s influence, the film became a global phenomenon.” Pegg also writes:
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 infantilzation 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.
He also explains his "dumbing down" comment was too much of a generalization and that he was merely trying to indicate that "the more spectacle becomes the driving creative priority, the less thoughtful or challenging the films can become." But he adds there are still plenty of films that manage to include substance with their spectacle like Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Nolan’s Batman series. He ends his essay by noting:
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 TOS 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.
The whole piece is very thoughtful and well worth a read. Check it out on Pegg’s website.