Yesterday nerd luminary Simon Pegg dropped some statements in a Radio Times interview that confused, at best, and alarmed, at worst, many fans of science fiction. After no small amount of internet ink was spilled on the subject, the actor/writer took to his own blog to spill some on his own behalf.
But first, those original statements. Pegg posits that before Star Wars, box office hits were not usually science fiction or action flicks, but "gritty amoral art movies," like The Godfather or Bonnie and Clyde. He continues:
"Obviously I'm very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema but part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we've been infantilised by our own taste. Now we're essentially all consuming very childish things - comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously.
"It is a kind of dumbing down, in a way, because it's taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about ... whatever.
"Now we're walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot."
That's somewhat alarming to hear from the guy writing the next Star Trek film. If you squint (and don't think too hard about the fact that box office spectacle did not begin with Star Wars) you might be able to blur that statement into something more like "commercialization has tempted modern science fiction spectacle film to stray from the genre's classic mission of speaking to social issues with evocative metaphor," but you couldn't blame someone for interpreting it any other number of ways that involve less benefit of the doubt. Like, for example, sci-fi dedicated sites like io9 and Tor.com.
Pegg himself has since attempted to clarify his position in a blog post, with a decent helping of self-deprecation:
The ‘dumbing down' comment came off as a huge generalisation by an A-grade asshorn. I did not mean that science fiction or fantasy are dumb, far from it. How could I say that? ... In the last two weeks, I have seen two brilliant exponents of the genre. Ex Machina and Mad Max: Fury Road, both of which had my head spinning in different and wonderful ways and are both very grown up films (although Max has a youthful exuberance which is nothing's short of joyous, thanks George Miller, 70) I've yet to see Tomorrowland but with Brad Bird at the helm, it cannot be anything but a hugely entertaining think piece.
I guess what I meant was, the more spectacle becomes the driving creative priority, the less thoughtful or challenging the films can become. The spectacle of Mad Max is underpinned not only multiple layers of plot and character but also by an almost lost cinematic sense of ‘how did they do that?' The best thing art can do is make you think, make you re-evaluate the opinions you thought were yours.
Pegg also goes into greater detail on his mixed feelings on the capitalistic co-opting of his generation's desire to have their childhood interests validated and affirms "I am still a nerd and proud."