Does Nerd Culture Infantalize Our Society?

May 21, 2015 at 9:00 am |
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“We’ve been infantalized by our own taste.”

2014 New York Comic Con - nerd culture

Grown up kids at Comic Con. (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images)

Is a society’s significance based on its preferences in art and entertainment? And could a society’s artistic culture ever be harmful?

According to sci-fi actor Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End, Star Trek), the answer is yes.

As you can probably tell, Pegg’s filmography largely includes sci-fi, action, and fantasy movies, and yet the actor has caused quite a stir by attacking the highly successful nerd industry from where it hurts the most — the inside.

In an interview with Radio Times, Pegg lashed out at our — whether he means America, Western society, or the world we’re not sure — obsession with all things nerdy (e.g. space, nostalgic toys and cartoons, aliens, and sci-fi/ fantasy in general), stating his concern that our love of anything geeky is hurting our society:

“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.”

Well then. Critics of Pegg’s comments are labeling him as a hypocrite for speaking out against the very industry and culture that has supported him since the early days of his career. But does he have a valid point?

Vulture goes on to point out Pegg’s supporting argument that the “French philosopher and cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard in his book, ‘America’, […] talks about the infantilization 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.”

Simon Pegg attends a “Star Trek Into Darkness” premiere… before hating on nerd culture. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

All of this makes a lot of sense, especially in terms of what Pegg is trying to say: more people care about fiction and fantasy than what’s happening in their own neighborhoods; not to mention, in Washington or on the other side of the country or globe. But I’d like to argue, should they have to?

Not all members of society are active members of society, and frankly speaking, not everybody need be as involved as everyone else. Since Pegg’s statements largely serve as a criticism of the movie industry and, by extension, art in general, I would suggest that art doesn’t always need to have a socially beneficial impact. Picasso did not feed children in Africa and Mozart did not improve infrastructures in the third world, so why should he hold Star Trek and The Chronicles of Narnia — films which Pegg has acted in — to those expectations?

Furthermore, art has often served as a sort of escape from reality, allowing us to enrich our culture while simultaneously distracting ourselves from the harsh realities of life outside the salons, museums, and concert halls. Art makes life beautiful, and while does it behoove us (more often than not) in a non-quantifiable way, that certainly doesn’t mean all genres of film do not do their part in making the world a better, or at least more bearable, place. If anything, art today is more socially beneficial than in the past; it wasn’t even until the past few centuries that art became readily available to the masses instead of just the upper class.

Let’s not forget that Pegg explicitly calls out the children of the 1960s and ’70s as the first generation that was allowed to prolong its childhood and not rush into adulthood. The actor goes on to blame this extended adolescence on the popularity of movies like Star Wars, when realistically, there are too many factors to count here, including changing post-war values, a rapidly increasing standard of living, and a sudden and severe decline in the average American’s trust in their government.

I understand that Pegg is simply stating that more people should be concerned with real-world issues instead of if Batman is better than Superman or where the Hulk escaped to at the end of the last Avengers – a film which, mind you, did pose pressing questions about where we’re headed with artificial intelligence, but I digress. In his ‘attack,’ he uses nerdom as a readily-available scapegoat for all things that distract us from our civic duties, or what Pegg assumes these duties entail. It makes sense to me that humans enjoy retreating into familiar franchises and characters from their childhood as a sort of safety blanket or comfort zone, and while I agree that we should all have at least some level of social awareness, by no means was it cool to blame the nerd culture for his concern about modern society’s blasé towards responsibility.

UPDATE: Since being berated on the web for his comments, Pegg has since released an explanatory/ apologetic statement.

Don’t know how I feel about what this “Star Trek” actor said about nerd culture ruining our society. Is this guy a hypocrite?