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Simon Pegg Worries The Love Of Science Fiction Is Making Us "Childish"

Illustration for article titled Simon Pegg Worries The Love Of Science Fiction Is Making Us Childish

In a new interview with the Radio Times, Simon Pegg says that the genre that he’s spent pretty much his entire career celebrating could actually be causing society to become “infantilized.” And he might want to “retire from geekdom.” Is he trolling, or has he really gotten so little out of years of science fiction?

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UPDATE: Pegg has responded.

In the magazine, which comes out today, Pegg says:

Before Star Wars, the films that were box-office hits were The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Bonnie And Clyde and The French Connection – gritty, amoral art movies. Then suddenly the onus switched over to spectacle and everything changed … I don’t know if that is a good thing.

... 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.

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Assuming he’s serious, here are some rebuttals so obvious that it took literally seconds for me to come up with them:

  • It’s internally inconsistent to say that adults are taking “childish” things seriously, and say that this is making us dumber.
  • It’s clearly not impossible to have a film with the Hulk fighting a robot and come out not thinking about real-world issues, or emotional journeys. If nothing else, the strong polarized reaction to Black Widow in Age of Ultron proves that.
  • The whole history of film before Star Wars did not consist of “gritty, amoral art movies.” Let’s put aside that it’s completely bizarre to call The Godfather an “art movie” — what about Cleopatra? Ben-Hur? Gone With the Wind? King Motherfucking Kong? Spectacle has always been pretty central to Hollywood’s conception of blockbusters.
  • 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.
  • Those are only two examples. You could start listing genre works and comic book characters with fascinating connection to what Pegg calls “real-world issues” and “challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions” and run out of internet before you’re done.

Not to play armchair psychiatrist to Pegg or anything, but this does sound dangerously as though he didn’t take anything away from The Avengers, Star Wars, or Star Trek — and now wonders if he’s thrown his whole life away on them. And that he thinks he’s been infantilized by his association with the genre. Because he goes on to say:

Sometimes (I) feel like I miss grown-up things. And I honestly thought the other day that I’m gonna retire from geekdom.

I’ve become the poster child for that generation, and it’s not necessarily something I particularly want to be. I’d quite like to go off and do some serious acting.

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That buys heavily into the — by now hopefully disproven — idea that if something is genre it’s not “serious.” Or that you can’t love something as a kid and still love it as an adult without growing up. If something stands the test of time that way, you’ve probably taken some real lessons away from it. Which is the opposite of what he’s saying.

Meanwhile, Pegg somewhat worryingly says that he was hired to rewrite the next Star Trek script because the earlier version was “a little bit too Star Trek-y.” And in order to reach a much broader audience than Star Trek Into Darkness, his solution is to “make a Western or a thriller or a heist movie, then populate that with Star Trek characters so it’s more inclusive to an audience that might be a little bit reticent.”

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[quotes via Irish Examiner and Independent]

Update: Pegg has responded to our comments.


Contact the author at katharine@io9.com.

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DISCUSSION

This is not something we should believe, but it’s something we should worry about. Pegg is right that movies like Star Wars (and Jaws and Indie) were important during the 1970s-80s transition from movies with downtown premieres to the suburban multiplex. Sure, you can’t blame a single film for the shift toward spectacle and merchandising, and we shouldn’t blame science-fiction for the rise of the summer blockbuster...but many of the cherished movies of our collective youth are complicit in an economic and aesthetic transformation of the American cinema that has turned out to be kind of sucky.

The error is mistaking genre for franchising. Blockbusters changed science-fiction, so that we have more films like the dumb-but-fun Independence Day and fewer films with the satirical playfulness of Zardoz and The Day the Earth Stood Still. At its best, as we know, science-fiction is a font of irreverent smarts, and it says things that more respectable culture cannot. But Star Wars is not that; it’s a delightful tissue of nostalgic appeal and technical virtuosity, which is not a problem unless it crowds too many other things out of our lives.

Simon Pegg is not talking out his ass, but the problem is not that genre films are making us dumber but that our justifiable affection for genre tempts us to make something like Age of Ultron into a film whose obvious aesthetic compromises deserve terabytes of prestidigitation. We want the people who make our science-fiction to be worried that the genre says too little that’s worth saying. That doubt is not a betrayal; it’s how you carry the torch.