This week I read a Freshly Pressed blog post called Cultural Indictment: The New Stark Trek, which brought up some interesting points about the J. J. Abram’s “reinvention” of Star Trek that I hadn’t really considered. (Check it out, but only if you’ve already seen the movie.) Today’s post isn’t exactly a direct response to Michael’s post, but it did get me thinking about the recent invasion (if you will) of nerd culture into the mainstream. Pop culture phenomena such as The Big Bang Theory and perhaps even the recent surge in superhero blockbusters have made it cool to be nerdy. The question I’d like to ponder today is: Is this seeming acceptance into mainstream culture a good or a bad thing for nerd culture? Both? Neither?
Disclaimer: I use the word “nerdy,” a lot, in this post. I know it’s generalizing, but hopefully you’ll still get my meaning…
On the one hand, and something that Michael suggested in his post, is that franchises like Star Trek get diluted when they’re geared towards the general public. I guess one could even say “dumbed down,” although I think this is a bit harsh. Admittedly, when I saw the first of the newest Star Trek films I was saddened that it lacked the true essence of Star Trek, but I still enjoyed it as the action-packed romp through space that it was. And I thought the time travel twist was a creative way to reset the timeline so that the Enterprise crew could have a different series of adventures. I guess what really ended up happening in Stark Trek: Into Darkness (STID) is that they had a slightly different adventure with an old enemy. Again, there were a few aspects of STID that I didn’t like, but I thought it was overall an enjoyable film -and not a ripoff or even adulteration of a certain other movie (I’m trying to keep this spoiler free). Okay, seriously, this wasn’t originally supposed to be specifically about Star Trek, but I can’t seem to stop myself, so I’m just going to go with it. What I did like about STID is that I felt it returned to some of the essence of the franchises of old. We are left with some questions regarding whether John Harrison is really the villain in the movie -after all, he’s fundamentally motivated by the same thing Kirk is -to protect his crew -and in any way possible. Are the lengths Harrison goes to really any worse than what Kirk would do for his, such as saving Spock in violation of the prime directive? So, I would argue that, despite its obvious appeal to a more general audience that may crave adventure, action and sex, it does raise some interesting moral questions.
Okay, Star Trek-specific tangent is over. Let’s get back to thinking about this more generally because, let’s face it, there are a lot of TV shows and movies that certainly make me feel sometimes that our culture is going downhill. For me, it’s sad when shows like my beloved Fringe get canceled, but Hell’s Kitchen is still on. (Damn you, Fox. Damn you and your “news” and your bad taste in TV shows.) But I think it’s arrogant for us, as nerds, to assume that these shows are popular because “stupid” people like them. Everybody has their guilty pleasure, and I know a lot of really, really smart people who watch really, really dumb shows. Like anything starring the Kardashians. Or Wipeout. Shows that I think are stupid, and I don’t understand how people can watch them, but I’m not going to call you stupid if you do. (I mean, this is coming from a girl who’s obsessed with The Vampire Diaries.) Given all of the mind-numbing entertainment that’s out there, I think that a little dose of nerd culture for everyone could very well be a good thing. There’s also the stereotypical nerd, like those portrayed on The Big Bang Theory -specifically, nerds having an aptitude for science and a proclivity for liking nerdy things (Star Trek, other sic-fi TV shows, comic books, gaming). This may often be the case, but this isn’t always the case and really sets up a limiting definition for what makes a person a “nerd.” I happen to be someone with a science background who does like sci-fi, but through networking with other nerds in the blogosphere I have learned about other breeds of nerds, such as the communities that form around young adult literature.
Given the other characteristics of the stereotypical nerd besides being intelligent -the potentially not-so-desirable qualities, such as being introverted (although I don’t think being an introvert is a bad thing…the connotation of being an introvert is often worse than what it actually entails), being weak, being pretty much socially inept -perhaps the definition of “nerd” could use a little dose of cool. One of the great things about being a nerd is discovering new friends with which to share in that nerd. We watch and discuss Dr. Who with our friends who are also obsessed with Dr. Who. Through networking and conventions, we celebrate our nerd and meet new people who enjoy the same things as us. How awesome is that? (I know I get really excited when I meet new people who love Stargate SG-1 as much as I do.)
So, to me, the trickling of nerd culture into mainstream culture isn’t at all scary. No, I don’t expect all of these people to start going to Trekkie conventions or what-have-you, but I do think it could bring more people into the mix and make people more aware of the TV shows, movies, books etc. we already know are awesome. Maybe watching the new Star Trek movies will motivate some to watch the older TV shows and movies, including that particular classic Trek film that inspired STID. Maybe the Marvel blockbusters introduce some people to the comic books themselves. I think that could be pretty cool. I guess if the essence of Star Trek and other nerdy franchises do change when they enter the mainstream, maybe we can no longer call them “nerdy” -they are different beasts entirely. But not bad, just different.
But if you’re really concerned that nerdy is becoming too “cool,” I wouldn’t worry, just yet. 😉 I don’t know many people going into the new Star Trek movies and coming out suddenly proclaiming to be Trekkies, or even thinking it would be “cool” to do so…