Simon Pegg sort of apologizes for saying Nerd Culture ‘dumbs down’ society


Nerd rage! I’m sure most of you know Simon Pegg, the geeky British actor featured in two major franchises, Mission: Impossible and Star Trek, plus the writer/star of films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Pegg is totally a nerd, a geek, and whatever else you want to say about him. He’s always worn that proudly. But in an interview this week, Pegg seemed to slam Nerd Culture and the whole superhero thing, basically saying that he belongs to a generation of 40-something man-children obsessed with men in capes. I’m paraphrasing (but just barely). Pegg told Radio Times:

“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…Now, 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….But I sometimes 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.”

[From Radio Times]

As you can imagine, the Nerd Rage was swift, howling and overall, easy to ignore. But I guess Pegg was getting it online (where nerds live and breathe!), because Pegg ended up writing a lengthy (and I do mean LENGTHY) think-piece on his blog about his interview – go here to read the full piece. To his credit, he didn’t claim he was taken out of context or misquoted. He did say that he was perhaps “being a little bit trollish” and “a bit of a Contrary Mary” (a term I am filing away for future use), but he basically reiterates at length this idea/fact that his generation and younger generations are being infantilized by culture. He does apologize for saying that nerd-culture “dumbs down” society and commits himself to still loving all things sci-fi and fantasy. Honestly, this controversy was totally worth it just so Pegg could write this very thoughtful and provocative post!


Photos courtesy of WENN.

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43 Responses to “Simon Pegg sort of apologizes for saying Nerd Culture ‘dumbs down’ society”

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  1. eribra says:

    I love Simon Pegg. With every ounce of my being.

    • Heather H says:

      I came on here to say the same thing! I am such a fan even though i don’t agree with the whole “dumbing down” thing.

  2. QQ says:

    I wish he wouln’t have walked that back in any way, Love him

  3. kri says:

    I wonder if Hiddles knows one of his jackets is missing. I think Simon’s last statement says it all”..go off and do a bit of serious acting”. In other words, he’s got enough money now from running around killing zombies and is over tinkering with starship engines. He’s not wrong though about the kind of films that are being made now. All reboots and super hero stuff, with other film genres fighting for studio attention.

  4. Paleokifaru says:

    I completely understand what he’s saying. Personally I balance my fluff or lighter reading, tv, movies with something more substantial and I think that’s what he’s trying to advocate. Sure I don’t always want to challenge myself with darker or more complex plots and characters but I have found it’s something I need to do for growth. Good for him for challenging his fan base!

    • mytbean says:

      I can’t full-heartedly agree with what I think he’s saying for the simple fact that I think his issue isn’t really with Science Fiction but more so with the choices he’s made regarding roles he’s played in cinema. He’s tried without a lot of success to play serious and show his acting chops within his genre but, like with most comedians, it’s hard to switch it up and have audiences be willing to play along.

      Science fiction is not the problem but over-reliance on effects most definitely is. There’s no depth to them anymore because it’s easier to throw huge sums of money at the artists/technicians, explode some things, put a woman in a sexually provocative outfit and call it a movie. It’s not much of a risk if they know the trailer will be eye catching like jangling keys in front of a baby and bring the people into the theater.

  5. lemon says:

    I’ve read that the demand for superhero movies is driven by the overseas market because they translate well into different cultures. Something like 80% of film revenue comes from international sales. And, so you have the Marvel dynasty. Whereas 20-30 years ago this was not the case and studios could make money off of Taxi Driver. That’s why a lot of film writers, actors, and producers have descended on television.

    Film used to be the dominant form of entertainment but now there is too much competition from video games, internet, etc. So the business model changed to survive.

    • Algernon says:

      They do well enough here, too, but the overseas market is devouring anything we can put out, and yes, action movies translate better because the plots are usually simpler and dialogue is straightforward. There’s less to be lost in translation.

      Pegg makes some good points in the “wag the dog” vein, but he doesn’t mention how good TV as gotten as movies have, I don’t want to say gotten “dumber” because I’ve seen some really good movies in the last few years, and some of them are even blockbuster types (Gravity and Interstellar, Mad Max, the Dark Knight movies, are all studio blockbusters that had some deeper ideas and concepts in them, and I think Captain America: The Winter Soldier had some interesting stuff about the surveillance state in it), but as cinema has gone the way of franchises and action movies, TV has hit its golden age and all that “smart” adult drama is on TV now. Pegg doesn’t mention that at all. People aren’t dumber because they go see action movies, because there is still plenty of thoughtful entertainment out there, it’s just not all at the movies. Most people consume both of those thing side by side, and they still find time to read about politics, etc.

  6. aims says:

    There are people out there who take Star wars, Star trek, Doctor Who ect very seriously. I know because I married a man who is a big time nerd. Yes I get tired of it, and I roll my eyes at his friends because they seem to be wrapped up in fantasy. However, it’s harmless and these are the most socially awkward people I have ever met, so there’s nothing weird going on.

  7. Algernon says:

    He’s not wrong that we’re a very distracted culture, and nerd stuff is the biggest distraction right now. But Noam Chomsky says almost exactly the same thing, except his go-to example is sports and how the “worship” of sports is ruining society. Everything Pegg said in both his original comments and his blog post could be said about sports, too. We pick our own poisons.

  8. Kiddo says:

    He looks so different. I saw the name Simon Pegg, but said to myself, “Who is that?”. I didn’t connect him to Shaun of the Dead. I largely agree with his first position.
    It’s not that superhero movies and comic book franchises exist in films. It’s that the genre has eclipsed everything else.

    • Algernon says:

      Because no one will go see anything else. It’s almost impossible to make money on a dramatic adult-oriented movie these days. There are a lot of reasons for that, and “comic book movies” isn’t even in the top five. They dominate movies because practically the only thing you can get people into theaters for anymore is big spectacle stuff they feel they have to see on a big screen. That’s why the sudden resurgence of sci-fi, too, because that’s a genre that usually comes with big, high impact visuals that lure people into theaters.

      It’s too easy to point at comic book movies and blame them for the state of modern American cinema. There’s a lot going on in the industry and the dominance of comic book movies is just one symptom of a larger problem, which is that people don’t go the theater like they used to, and nothing anyone is doing is bringing them back. Even with the ever increasing number of superhero movies, which are very popular, every year the theater-going audience gets a little smaller. It’s chipping away steadily and no one knows how to stop it or what to do about it, and instead of looking for solutions to this problem, they’re just blaming superhero movies, like if those went away cinema would suddenly be the #1 entertainment source again. The movie industry is in a critical moment like the music industry was 20 years ago, and like the music industry, they’re blaming the wrong thing for their troubles. The recording companies took down Napster, sure, but they failed to address the larger issue, which was that how people buy and listen to music was changing, and the music industry still hasn’t fully recovered. Now Hollywood wants to blame superhero movies for their problems but even if they stopped making that genre tomorrow, it wouldn’t bring audiences back to the theater.

      • Absolutely says:

        Very on point. The only movies that people HAVE to see in the theater are the special effects heavy ones. It costs entirely too much (especially for a family) to go to the movies every other week. Why pay scads of money to see some art house movie that you can watch on your decent size television at home just a few months later?
        It’s more economics than anything else.

      • Kiddo says:

        Regardless of the cause, which I guess he was alluding to, although that wasn’t my point, my response was more about the lack of anything else, which does have a dumbing down effect, the economics, decline and changing climate of the industry notwithstanding.

      • Sixer says:

        A second upvote for what Algernon is saying.

        And, looking at the brainpower employed by the writers of the emails in the Sony leaks, it really doesn’t seem as though the corporate executives in the movie business have anything anywhere near the awareness, nous, competence or intelligence to deal with it.

      • Virgilia Coriolanus says:

        That’s exactly why my mom hasn’t set foot in a movie theater since 2010–which is when she took me and my siblings to go see “Despicable Me”….she hates how much movies cost, hates the popcorn (I do too), and likes to be able to pause whenever she wants to, and not miss anything from the movie. Plus if she waits a few months, she can pay $25 for the bluray and watch it as many times as she wants, or she can pay $50 for one adult + four kids to go to the movies.

      • Algernon says:

        @ Kiddo

        I don’t think it does, though. Media studies consistently show that audiences have grown smarter by leaps and bounds over the last 20 years. As an audience we’re evolving much faster than at any period before during which the movie industry existed. You may perceive movies as being dumber but the audience is smarter. I don’t think you can separate these things out because it’s all happening together. People stop going to the movies (because ticket prices/home theaters/digital viewing options), so it gets harder to sell adult-driven fare to theatrical audiences, so that stuff migrates to TV, so cinema gets ovetaken by blockbusters but TV has never been better. It’s a chain and you can’t take any one link out. If you say “movies are dumb” then you have to say “TV is smart”. The entertainment option hasn’t disappeared, it’s just changed venues.

        What I take issue with in Pegg’s comments is when he says *we* are dumb. We, as an audience, are incredibly savvy. Movies might seem dumb because of all the blockbusters, but I would argue that people are consuming more and better entertainment across the board these days.

      • Kiddo says:

        Yeah, I can see your point. I don’t think audiences are dumb, it’s just that there isn’t the level of depth in plots, characters and storytelling in films. I don’t pay for premium TV so I’m not seeing a huge impact in quality.

      • NUTBALLS says:

        It’s economics driven. Online streaming/downloading has completely changed the way we consume electronic entertainment (TV, film music). Here in the US, when a trip to the movies costs over $20 for ticket/snacks and a trip to Redbox costs $1.50 and movies released just months earlier can be watched on an affordable large-screen HD TV, add to that great programming on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, people aren’t as willing to seeing movies in the cinema or pay exorbitant monthly cable fees. We can be entertained 24/7 with affordable, quality TV programs and films, without leaving our home.

        With the ridiculous amount of money that actors (athletes too) get paid, it wouldn’t hurt for these industries to see its revenues decrease. We’re the ones ultimately paying for those salaries. That’s a hell of of a lot of money to shell out just to be entertained.

  9. Beth says:

    He’s probably not wrong, but as an adult who enjoys shows things like Marvel, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who, I have two very good reasons: 1.) I like to enjoy things that my kids enjoy, and my kids are giant geeks, and 2.) Real life is depressing enough. I am forced to evaluate things all the time because of what happens in the news.

    • Absolutely says:

      I think it’s just the current cultural escape activity. In the 70′s it was drugs. In the 80′s/90′s it turned more towards technology,
      It’s an escape. Just like sports or reality television. Most true nerds I know are incredibly intelligent, and most have other interests than comics, usually enveloping history and the arts.
      I understand what he’s on about, but I really don’t see it as being any different than the millions upon millions of men, especially, who are obsessed with sports. It’s just that now those that aren’t athletically inclined have other areas of interest,
      I’d much rather converse with someone who was obsessed with comics than the real housewives of wherever.

      • Beth says:

        Yeah, me too. And look at all the legal and murder-themed shows on television. What’s up with that? Where’s the criticism of those viewers? What does the popularity of those shows say about society?

      • Kiddo says:

        I’m really REALLY sick of those shows, but that wasn’t the subject here, maybe that’s why?

  10. Sixer says:

    My mum used to call me Contrary Mary! Also, and I think this one is better, Fanny Fanackapan.

    I felt a bit sorry for Pegg. I thought the original interview was coming from a place where he’d been doing some self-criticism, rather than sitting there bitching about everyone else.

    Nerds have thin skins.

    This is the lesson I have taken from Mr Pegg.

    • Beth says:

      I have no beef with Pegg. He’s King Nerd. It’s kind of like, I can criticise my husband but no one else can. Pegg can says whatever he wants about nerd culture.

    • Absolutely says:

      I think it’s more coming from a place of wanting to distance himself so he can be *serious actor man*. There seems to be a lot of that going around.

      I don’t know why people feel the need to degrade what they’ve done in the past. Just accept it and move on graciously to something else.m

      • JWQ says:

        I agree completely! He’ s at a point in which he thinks that making people laugh (like he has done brilliantly so far) is kind of degrading, and is thinking about doing some “serious acting”, whatever the hell that is! I have never understood why making good comedies is considered bad, while making stupid oscar bait movies is considered art!

        I also don’ t like hypochrites! Maybe he was self-deprecating, but I didn’ t register that at all. What I registered is that a man who has been bitching about the Star Wars prequels for the past 15 years like his life depended on it is now accusing people to be childish just because they like to discuss about who is stronger between Thor and the Hulk, and that a man who has always done light (and great) comedies and blockbusters is now saying that movies should have a political/social/whatever message to make you think! I hate to break it to him, but people don’ t watch Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, Mission Impossible or Abrahams’ s Star Trek to discover the meaning of life!

        I am fine with people not liking Marvel movies or anything else he was referring to: it’ s a question of taste. I like them, but I also like to shut my brain for two hours because there’ s enough shit in the real world and I don’ t want to think about it! But this coming from a man who provides entertainment with the same level of intelligence is kind of grating!

    • Sixer says:

      It really didn’t read like ambition to me. It read as though he was saying, “Here I’ve been, loving this stuff for so long and throwing myself into it 100%, but I’m beginning to realise there are downsides as well as upsides.”

      I expect he is as ambitious as the next person in the industry, but I love Pegg. I really don’t want to think he’d throw his entire body of work and all the passions in his life so far completely under the bus just so that an intellectual director hires him. It seems completely out of character to me.

      • Absolutely says:

        It does to me as well. Perhaps I’m reading way too much into it. I adore him, think he’s great. It just irritates me when actors call their audiences unintelligent. Some of them may very well be, but I don’t think we’ve, as a society, gotten dumb because of some movies.

  11. Beth says:

    Is it possible that the type of films people see in theatres is exactly the point? I mean, I saw a lot of the best picture nominated films at home, because they’re quiet and better to watch from the couch and loud explosive movies like Avengers are more fun to see in the theater, so I did. (Except The Imitation Game. I needed Cumby on the big screen.) but maybe it’s just that simple. I still saw the thought provoking ones, just not in the theater.

    • Dara says:

      @Beth – I came here to say exactly that. During the era of the films he mentions, a theatre was your only option if you wanted to see a movie, any movie. Even cable television didn’t exist yet – not to mention DVD’s/Blu-Ray, surround sound, HD/3D televisions or on-demand and streaming services. With all of these options available now, it needs a special movie to get me into a theatre – and that usually means a big-scale, effects-filled blockbuster that would somehow lose something on a smaller screen.

  12. L says:

    I mean, where’s the lie?

  13. Helen says:

    He wanted some attention and he got it. He’s not thick, the Pegg.

  14. MonicaQ says:

    Says the guy that was in Star Trek, which was THE sci-fi thing for a long time. K.

    Go do your “srs” movies. It’s ok. Don’t bite the hand that has fed you and fed you handsomely.

  15. Esmerelda says:

    “Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes… Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!”

    I agree with him on that… quite a few people I know keep insisting that there are serious points about the surveillance state and the nature of power in films like CA:WS and TDKR. Please. They are entertaining and all, but they contain only tired plots, stock characters and armchair philosophy.

    • Dara says:

      “Adults are watching this stuff and taking it seriously” – boy, are they. I couldn’t believe how many people in the audience of the last Avengers movie loudly clapped and cheered on our heroes without the least bit of irony. I wondered if we were even watching the same movie.

      The best movies of the comic book and sci-fi genres do have more substance to them, but not much more. Enjoy them for what they are but don’t pretend they are high culture, or making a deep and insightful commentary about the human condition. I’m just there to watch Chris Evans in his super-tight Cap suit and enjoy Scarlett Johansson nimbly kicking the asses 5 baddies that are twice her size.

  16. judyjudyjudy says:

    OMG – tell it Simon! 40 year old men dressing in tights and it aint a period piece is BAD.

    Too bad he apologized.

  17. Madpoe says:

    “You’ve got red on you.” :)

  18. Kelly says:

    But a lot of superhero movies deal with coming of age, moral/amoral, etc. subjects and they reach the people who don’t go for the serious and “substantial” to think about them. I know people who didn’t understand the whole black lives matter subnet until I connected Ito Thor and superman feeling like outcasts in the very society they were trying to protect. THEN they got it. Also, in other art pieces that lack representation, I have a great chance (not by much mind you) of seeing more diversity in superhero pieces than in others. The movies count.
    The comics also help teach compassion.

  19. S says:

    Says Simon Pegg with nerd glasses. He does have a point.

  20. msd says:

    I like what he said, although I quite like his long response too. That’s not to say I don’t like sci-fi or genre because I do (Marvel leaves me cold, though) but the constant over-reading of things is grating. I see a lot of people investing big ideas into stuff that simply doesn’t stand up, and they will brook no opposition if you disagree. Also, there’s so much of it now – especially comic book movies – that it’s the mainstream, not the alternative. A lot of geeks don’t seem to want to acknowledge that. You’re not the outsiders anymore, you’re the thing the outsiders are battling.

    The only thing I disagree with is the idea that the 1970′s was some magical time of adult quality movies. Lots of classic, yes, but plenty of rubbish got made then too, and was successful, it’s just that we don’t remember.