The very first time I became aware of the genius of Simon Pegg was when his, Jessica Hynes (née Stevenson) and Edgar Wright's seminal and utterly tremendous sitcom Spaced - in which he played a nerdy comic book illustrator - was first aired on British TV to rave reviews way back in 1999. It managed to, rightfully so, earn itself almost instantaneous cultdom, and later shoutouts from cinematic luminaries such as Quentin Tarantino.
He then went on to excel with starring roles in the also seminal combo of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, then moved on to Paul, the Star Trek reboots and the greatly underrated The World's End. Take note that these are all of Pegg's sci-fi/action features.
Here's one of the funniest clips from Spaced, so you can see what I mean:
To say I'm a fan of Simon Pegg is a gross understatement, so imagine my great shock this week when I heard that Pegg had been lambasting the emergence and unmitigated success of our current wave of cinematic geekdom.
In an interview with British magazine The Radio Times, Pegg lamented that the genre, that he has devoted so much of his time to support and drag out into the limelight, has begun to “infantilize” society, and he may want to "retire from geekdom" due to that fact!
In the magazine, Pegg went on to say:
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 infantilized 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.
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.
Wow. Big words coming from such a major exponent of pop culture. To say that the current trend of sci-fi is "taking our focus away from real world issues" is an insane thing to say, considering sci-fi is a genre that seeks to exaggerate scientific discoveries and create new worlds, different from ours, in order to critique social and cultural phenomenons.
Saying that though, has Simon Pegg's time in the media's gaze turned him into a pretty damn thorough troll? Did Pegg actually notice the ground breaking steps that Star Trek TOS took for society? Make your own mind up after I pick apart some of the most glaring parts of his argument:
1. "...Hulk just had a fight with a robot."
And here it is again:
Considering the massive fan fallout after Black Widow's heavily reported overzealous flirting and considering herself a monster for not being able to have children, the whole moral standpoint of the Avengers and their quest to police the globe, and a peacekeeping A.I. that decides humanity is so sullied, the only way to heal us is to end us, yeah...Hulk vs Hulkbuster was the only thing we took from the movie.
It isn't that hard of a stretch to come out of a action franchise movie and see that at least the tiniest shred of plot, or even a damn throwaway scene where someone picks their nose or something, could allude to a discrepancy in the human condition.
2. "...Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes."
Ice cream? He didn't mention ice cream, that's still safe! But what is not safe is throwing around wild generalizations suggesting that comics are a childish endeavor. Consider such mainstream successes such as Miller's The Dark Knight Returns in which there isn't a shred of childish sentiment.
Or Alison Bechdel's astoundingly beautiful and complex graphic novel and memoir Fun Home, which concentrates on parental relationships, gender roles and sexuality. Not one I'd casually hand over to a little one to keep 'em entertained on a long trip.
Or the widely acclaimed Maus, a postmodernist graphic novel which deals with the terrible ordeals faced by the author's father, a Polish Jew, during the Holocaust. The graphic novel replaces humans with animals as a call back to disgusting Nazi propaganda films that depicted Jews as "vermin."
And the fact that adults are supposedly "watching this stuff [comic movies] and taking it seriously," now that's just condescending. Do you really think we, as sentient creatures, could take a man jumping headfirst into a warzone, filled with futuristic weaponry, with only a bow and arrow seriously? What about the scientist that turns into a massive green rage monster? Legit.
And I haven't even touched on how X-Men alludes to LGBQT and race related issues and rights.
3. Before Star Wars there were only "gritty, amoral art movies."
Throughout the history of Hollywood, spectacle has been a major component in putting bums on plush cinema seats. Great examples being Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, King Kong and, say, Ben Hur. All awe-inspiring spectacle blockbusters from way before the birth of Star Wars. So, another bold statement which manages to erase a whole generation of outstanding cinema.
But, as Pegg states, the onus did indeed switch after the rise of New Hollywood, where modern day directorial legends such as Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, Martin Scorsese and George Lucas, to name but a few, redefined the idea of the blockbuster, prompting studios to rethink their approach to producing movies, ergo creating the modern day blockbuster that he himself panders to and despises.
So a lot of the blame for the current state of cinema lays in the laps of the directors Pegg admires.
Naturally, Pegg's comments split the internet, stirring geeks and nerds into a seated frenzy. Realizing this, he wrote an eloquent blog post clarifying his strong claims and attempting to reassure fans that he is still a nerd at heart. He is, promise:
"The ‘dumbing down’ comment came off as a huge generalization 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 words of Han Solo, 'Hey, it’s me!'"
He went on to enthuse about recent releases Ex_Machina and the critically lauded Mad Max: Fury Road:
"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."
And delved deeper into exactly what it was he was trying to say:
"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 by 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's truest point was that he is saddened that the sub-culture(s) of entertainment that he holds so dear have become nothing than mere batteries for production companies; our love has been "monetized" and "marketed," and the things that made them precious to us aren't always the studio's main concern.
That may be all well and true, but Pegg should've known better than scream generalizations from atop the media mountain. The man is still a hero of mine, but now also resoundingly human, or in other words flawed.