Earlier this week, actor/ screenwriter/ producer/ king geek* Simon Pegg came under fire for certain comments he made on Radio Times regarding his concerns that science fiction and similar hallmarks of geek culture encourages the dumbing down of films and infantilizes audiences.
Pegg draws super general conclusions from pointing out that before the original Star Wars films, "gritty, amoral art movies" like The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie and Clyde, and The French Connection ruled the box office. These days, Pegg laments, audiences lean toward "very childish things" like comic book and superhero movies. Pretty rich coming from a guy who makes his bread and butter from zombie and space adventure films, I think.
" Is Simon Pegg taking the side that Star Wars was the turning point for the dumbing down of movies? That simultaneously gives George Lucas too much and too little credit.
He’s also acting like comics and science fiction haven’t always dealt with very serious issues. X-Men is pretty famously in that category. And so was, oh, what was the name of that TV series? The one Pegg’s writing the next movie script for? Oh, right, Star Trek."
The resounding shit storm caused by Pegg's statements must have boomeranged back at the actor. Pegg has since come out on his personal website to clarify his sentiments. It's best to read the whole thing because despite appearances, Pegg is actually very smart.
Pegg presents a thorough analysis of economic systems and the role the entertainment industry plays in keeping the status quo. Before this article turns into a college term paper, here are a few interesting bits from Pegg's explanation:
"...this extended adolescence has been cannily co-opted by market forces, who have identified this relatively new demographic as an incredibly lucrative wellspring of consumerist potential. Suddenly, here was an entire generation crying out for an evolved version of the things they were consuming as children. This demographic is now well and truly serviced in all facets of entertainment and the first and second childhoods have merged into a mainstream phenomenon.
...Recent developments in popular culture were arguably predicted by the French philosopher and cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard in his book, ‘America’, in which he talks about the infantilzation 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.
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? ....Fantasy in all its forms is probably the most potent of social metaphors and as such can be complex and poetic."
In summary, Pegg didn't really mean to hurt our feels, y'all. He understands that we are both victims and propagators of a system we have unwittingly submitted to, and that it is in the interest of certain forces (AKA whoever is making money) to keep us glued to the TV and movie screens instead of dismantling the system that keeps the rich rich and the poor poor. And while fiction-- particularly fantasy and sci-fi, which are both traditionally neck deep in critical political and social thought-- has the potential to raise audiences' awareness, mainstream entertainment has culled this potential and reduced it into popcorn fodder.