Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Why You Are Not a Nerd

I want you to take a good long look at that picture above (and not just at the nipples, dammit!) Do you see how proud those people are of themselves? How very proud they are to be naked cyclists painted in Star Trek uniforms? These people should be ASHAMED. Not because they are cyclists, and not because they are naked (sort of), but because they are obviously such devotees of the TV and movie franchise "Star Trek." I actually kind of like Star Trek, so I'm sorry I even have to go into this rant, but Star Trek is NOT GOOD SCIENCE FICTION. It's not really good fiction, it sure as hell isn't good science, and the only reason the franchise is as popular as it is today is because of an odd mix of timing, a host of memorable actors, and the complete and utter dearth of anything resembling good science fiction on television. The same is true of Star Wars, the other noted science fiction franchise that presently dominates popular culture. Truth be told, Star Wars is riding the popularity of the original films, though the more recent films had the odd effect of drawing millions of Star Wars fans out of their homes at first in delight, and then in horror and rage. But Star Wars, even the original trilogy, is also not good science fiction. The story is not that original (though the setting is, sort of) and it survives by virtue of (again) the cast, memorable characters, amazing special effects, and timing (as in arriving at a moment when moviegoers were craving something light, fanciful and enjoyable.)

The reason I feel the need to take down Star Wars and Star Trek a peg or two, is because fans of these franchises the world over have somehow convinced themselves that it is perfectly okay to proclaim themselves as Star Wars/Star Trek "nerds", as if an overwhelming and consuming love of either of these franchises is something that one should be proud of. "Trekkies" and Star Wars nerds have come to believe that their devotion is an acceptable form of nerd-dom, that in fact they may even proclaim themselves as "nerds" by virtue of their love of these franchises. THIS. IS. WRONG. As I explained in an earlier post, there is a world of difference in the terms "nerd", "geek" and "dork." The terms nerd and geek have positive connotations, in that they reflect intelligence and interest in things of an intellectual bent, like technology, or science, or mathematics, or any number of arenas of knowledge and scholarship that might actually prove to be useful in life. Unfortunately, a whole lot of people who don't know much of anything about science fiction in general (including apparently all commentators on popular culture) have come to believe that Star Wars and Star Trek are adequate representations for all of science fiction in both film and in print, because space ships zip all over the place, people use swords made of light, and there are a whole bunch of aliens that look a lot like humans. And since only nerds can possibly like science fiction (because after all, they love science) then anyone who loves Star Trek and/or Star Wars must in fact be a nerd. Which as we all know is, these days anyway, something to be proud of. And hosts of Star Wars/Star Trek nerds have bought this hook line and sinker, and proudly proclaim themselves as nerds because of their love of these franchises.


Star Trek and Star Wars are science fiction yes, but you don't get to run around showing off your nerd badge of honor because you love either or both of them. Why? Because they are bad science fiction. In fact they are the worst kind of science fiction, because the "science" is used (abused) to do things you can't do in real life, to drive the plot, or make bigger explosions, or make a story in space so you can dazzle people with the setting, etc., etc. The science hardly plays a critical role in the story, and if anything is used to distract people from plot failings, unbelievable characters, improbable occurrences, and so on. This is nearly always what happens when you get story writers who don't care much for science, but want to set their story in space anyway because they think it's cool, or different. They are dismissive of science; nay, contemptuous of it. So, the Star Wars/Star Trek nerd's great love of either of these franchises reflects no particular interest in anything of a scientific or intellectual bent; it means they like swords made of light, villains that wear capes, space ship battles that look like WWII dogfights, and are willing to swallow bad stories to get those things. And none of those traits are typically associated with nerds. These are traits that are associated with dorks.

Now, before anybody gets their panties in a wad, let me explain that although love of either Star Trek or Star Wars doesn't necessarily make you a nerd, it also doesn't disqualify you from being a nerd. Like I said, I like Star Trek, and I'm partial to Star Wars too. My co-bloggers and I not long ago had an e-email exchange on the symbolism of Luke's leaving Degobah before his training was complete. Hell, I've even read Star Wars and Star Trek books! But you know what else I've read? Frank Herbert, and Gene Wolfe, and Gregory Benford, and Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. And do you know what else I've watched? 2001: A Space Odyssey, Silent Running, and Blade Runner. In other words, I love science fiction. Really, really love it. Enough to go looking for the really good stuff, the kind of stuff where the science isn't merely a crutch for bad storytelling, the the kind of stuff that really, really makes you think about what it means to be human, about the future of humanity, and so on. And though I like Star Wars and Star Trek, I realize that those two franchises are basically the lowest common denominator of science fiction, the kind that people who don't otherwise like science fiction can get into. In other words, you can still-proudly-be a nerd if you like Star Wars or Star Trek. But you can't possibly be considered a nerd if the only thing you know about science fiction is Star Trek and Star Wars, and you sure as hell have nothing to be proud of if you know a lot about science fiction but still like Star Wars and/or Star Trek best of all.

So while you may be more than happy to go along with mainstream culture's desire to label you a "nerd" because you learned Klingon or dressed up as Princess Leia one Halloween, we true nerds know better. You're a dork with bad taste, and you're not fooling us!


Nat-Wu said...

You are so right, man. But let's be a little bit forgiving; what these people like is fantasy. They just like it with the trappings of science such as space travel and laser guns. AD&D has a line called "SpellJammer" to meet that need. Magic swords and magic ships. Plus magic! And for anybody who wants to defend Star Trek for it's supposedly more scientific underpinnings, please, don't make me laugh. When, in the script for the show, the writers write "tech" for their "science" writers to come up with some pseudo-scientific explanation for something, that means the "science" is a joke.

Of course none of this is to say that there's anything wrong with either franchise, or anything wrong with liking either franchise. But considering yourself a real nerd because of extreme familiarity with one or the other is pretty stupid.

adam said...

I'd say Star Trek is science fiction.. it's just obviously not the hard scifi of something from Clarke, Asimov, etc. Star Wars is pure science fantasy (at least until the prequel trilogy introduce the psuedoscientific explanation of midichlorians to explain the Force).

And yeah, big fans of either of those franchises aren't necessarily nerds.

Xanthippas said...

That's a good point about sci-fi vs. fantasy. It is fantasy, so I should be a little more forgiving of people liking it so much. But, you are definitely and hugely a dork if fantasy is your favorite genre, unless by fantasy you mean Tolkien, in which case you are in solid company.

I agree that Star Trek is sci-fi, but it's still the lowest common denominator of sci-fi and thus those who hold it up as good sci-fi, let alone revel in nerd status for that, are worthy only of contempt.