Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dear Nerds: Please Stop Legitimizing Bad Sci-Fi

This is sort of a follow-up to last night's post about the phenomenon of Star Trek/Star Wars nerds considering themselves authentic nerds. In that post I made reference to the overwhelming ubiquity of Star Trek and Star Wars in popular culture, and why I think that has helped fans of the two franchises consider themselves nerds when they are in fact no such thing. Star Wars and Star Trek are overwhelmingly popular franchises on any scale, so it's really no surprise that they serve as stand-ins for science fiction for the ignorant and uninformed. As an example, Star Wars is so pervasive in our culture that even television assholes think they can get in on the act. For example:


Star Trek is no better. Hardcore fans of both franchises see this as a sort of bemused acceptance of their interests by mainstream culture. This is wrong. It is actually mockery, only now highly refined into what passes for bemused acceptance to the untrained eye. Fans of either franchise who participate or aid these attempts by mainstream culture to "explore" Star Trek or Star Wars are only humiliating themselves, only now without realizing that they are in fact humiliating themselves. Worse yet, they are only perpetuating the idea amongst mainstream culture that Star Trek and Star Wars are adequate representations of the genre of science fiction.

This is a pretty sad state of affairs. The non-science fiction crowd is eager enough to permit the two most popular "science fiction" franchises of all time to serve as stand-ins for all of science fiction, without Star Wars/Star Trek fans eagerly collaborating with the process. But what's worse than that is when actual nerds, people who ought to know better, engage in the process as well. This sort of thing is exactly what I mean (via Boing Boing):

In a normal environment, a carcass gets cold in 8 to 36 hours losing an average rate of 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit per hour. However, the ice world of Hoth is not an average environment. The Star Wars database lists that Hoth reaches nightly temperatures of -60 F. In a frigid, sub-zero environment, body heat can be lost almost 32 times faster. This means a Tauntaun's body heat could drop almost 51.2 F every hour. Considering that Han Solo's Tauntaun died of severe hypothermia even before it was cut open with Luke's light saber, one could assume it's core body temperature was already well below normal. The problem for Luke is if the Tauntaun's body temperature reaches freezing point those once toasty guts, blood, and assorted alien goo, will in fact become a frozen coffin. If the Tauntaun died of cardiac arrest due to hypothermia with an average body temperature of 75 F (23 C), and if Tauntaun blood freezes at 28.4 F (-2 C), then Han has roughly 56 minutes to set up a shelter before Luke once again is in danger of losing his life in the barren wasteland of Hoth.

That is some serious nerdity. I really don't mean to pick on anybody here, especially authentic nerds, because this treatment is so common these days and this is really a very tiny offense. But lately it's started to drive me up a wall. It's one thing for Star Wars/Star Trek dorks and members of the mainstream to lift these franchises to exalted status and thus have everybody believing that they are adequate representations of science fiction, but it's quite another for actual nerds to do the same by addressing-with all seriousness-things like the question of how long Luke could survive in a dead Tauntaun. This gives a gloss of actual science fiction seriousness to Star Wars, which most assuredly does not deserve it. Worse yet, it perpetuates the notion that Star Wars is actual science fiction amongst nerds who ought to know better, and dorky fans of the movies who are eager to lap up any legitimizing of their devotion. You and I, and presumably these guys, know that this is merely a excuse to engage in some actual, if light-hearted, science via Star Wars. Everybody else sees this and thinks Star Wars has some actual science in it, therefore it must be science fiction, therefore it's okay for Star Wars to serve as shorthand for "science fiction" for people who don't know the first thing about science fiction.

So what's my point? It is a request: please nerds, stop treating Star Wars and Star Trek as actual science fiction. It's fine to engage the franchises within their own parameters. And no one's going to erase the pervasiveness of the franchises in popular culture anytime soon. But there's no need to help make it worse, especially when there are so many authentic science fiction topics out there for nerds to address (like this!)