Self-Hating Dr. Who Fan Takes Dark TARDIS Journey To the End of the Night

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Over at the always interesting Spiked, Sandy Starr makes the claim that an irresponsible flight from reality ultimately underwrites the science fiction/fantasy subculture. Sizing up the current dominance of "geek culture," Starr, a self-professed Dr. Who buff, concludes:

This is a state of affairs that not only speaks ill of society, but actually demeans science fiction and fantasy as well, by putting them in the impossible position of having to provide us with the answers to life, the universe and everything. Fiction in these genres can be a terrific tool for exploring ideas, but it cannot satisfy the human urge to find meaning in life and to aspire to a better world. That can only come through confronting the questions that we face in the here and now.

If the geek shall inherit the Earth, then the Earth shall be the poorer for it. Both society as a whole, and science fiction/fantasy, would benefit if the latter were put back in its proper place—that is, as a satisfying diversion, rather than as life's raison d'?tre.

[Link courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily]

Update: Corrected spelling of Tardis and beg apologies.

More Update: Recorrected spelling of TARDIS (all caps) but refuse to make any more apologies to anyone other than Tom Baker.

Final Update (If I'm lying, may the Daleks take my soul): Forgot to link to Peter Bagge's comic "The Nerd-ification of America," which seems on point here.

Daleks Update: In my original formulation, I identified Sandy Starr as a she, which he is most certainly not. Apologies all around from me.

NEXT: Open City

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  1. Psst… TARDIS.

  2. I think Nick was hoping to bait sci-fi geeks into creating an avalanche of comments correcting his spelling as a means of increasing readership of his entry.

  3. Isaac Asimov:

    “Science fiction was escape literature. We were *escaping*… from such
    practical problems as stickball and homework and fistfights in order to
    enter a never-never land of population explosions, rocket ships, lunar
    exploration, atomic bombs, radiation sickness, and polluted atmosphere.

    “Wasn’t that great? Isn’t it delightful the way we young escapers received
    our just reward? All the great mind-cracking hopeless problems of today, we
    worried about for twenty years before anyone else did. How’s *that* for
    escaping?”

  4. We’ve had the Manson murders blamed on Heinlein and claims that Al Queda was loosely based on Asimov’s Foundation books. Now the fact that fandom has an unattractive, antisocial element means that the current rate of cultural stagnation will accelerate. The irony here being that the story focuses on LotR and comic fans, and makes no mention of the hefty number of Margaret Atwood fans who salivate for her next distopian tome, or the Michael Crichton readers who need another fix of “TECHNOLOGY WILL KILL US ALL” shrieking. These tropes (as well as Harry Potter, Soap operas, NASCAR, and the majority of movies and TV show) hinge on the concept of escapism. Hell, ALL entertainment hangs on some level of escapism. Sandy Starr runs into some traditional livin’-with-mom mouth-breathers at a Doctor Who convention and decides that these folks cannot be allowed to dictate mainstream tastes lest the world be worse off. By this thinking Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, and every other “media darling” fantasist constitute a threat to intellectual thinking everywhere.
    Science fiction and comics didn’t create an illiterate america. It didn’t craft the two-party bitch-slap shriekfest of modern news. It didn’t promote the idea of an idiot populace. In fact SF, in its history, has dealt with each of those issues and deemed them as bad ideas.
    This is bullshit.

  5. EXTERMINATE…EXTERMINATE…EXTERMINATE…

    With that out of the way, Sandy’s argument can be made to any geek, not just about Sci-Fi/Fantasy, but about anything they’re into.

    That’s because, geek guys, generally speaking, don’t have girlfriends. And women are the glue that hold society together. Take them out of the equation, and Geeks are just left with their obsessions.

    I hate to pull out the old rule book again, but, once again, Shultz’s Second Rule of Social Dynamics states, explicitly, that females control the begining and the end of all social relationships.

    That’s birds and and bees, people. Why do the Salmon swim upstream? Because that’s where the females lay their eggs. You know what happens when a lion looses a fight to an adolescent male? The females won’t hunnt for or sleep with him anymore.

    Natural selection is done by females.

    Why is that in most bird species, the females are colored for camoflage and the males are brightly coloured? Because the females need to survive to pass on their genes, and the only useful aspect of the male’s plumage is to attract a female.

    There are very few genes passed by way of the Y Chromisone. The Y just takes what’s on the X and makes it masculine, and the Y doesn’t change very much generation to generation. How do we know that Sally Hemmings was a relative of Jefferson? Because her male progeny had the same EXACT Y chromisone as Jefferson.

    Evolution takes place by way of Natural Selection. Natural Selection happens when females choose a mate. In Homo Sapiens, females choose a mate from within a social context.

    There lies power friends. The power to leave men without a girlfriend and obsessed with Science Fiction and Fantasy.

  6. Shultz —

    Don’t tell me you’ve never met a geeky girl obsessed with sf/fantasy. You mustn’t get out much if you haven’t.

  7. Actually I have.

    They’re usually borderline social rejects themselves.

    You know what I mean, like Goth women?

  8. You’ve heard of the old English/Math dichotomy: students who are good in English are often bad in Math, and vice-versa.

    I think there’s a similar dichotomy with People Who Create Civilization versus People Who Live In Civilization.

    Geeks are bad at doing “civilized” stuff: witty repartee with members of the opposite sex, dressing well, being Popular, etc. Yet geeks are the ones who made civilization possible! I can be an English teacher, and make my living talking about books and poems, because some geeks figured out how to make machines that produce huge amounts of food and clothing and whatnot, so I don’t have to.

    I once had a discussion with my students after they’d read Stephen King’s book The Stand: Imagine everybody in the world is going to die, except for 500 people. You get to pick and choose the survivors, and your goal is to get our civilization up and running again as quickly as possible.

    Everybody agreed: the last thing we want is a world containing 500 poets and actors and Fashion Consultants and music critics and Oscar winners; what we want are geeks–engineers, mechanics, builders. . .with the exception of doctors, who usually get good pay and prestige, it seems that the more vital someone is to the proper functioning of our society, the less our society values them in return.

  9. If I could pick only 500 people, I’d start with Ginger and Mary Anne.

  10. First off, most of the comic-book reading folk I know (all of us over 40) have wives and children.
    They also have a degree of success, as the average comic runs over $2.50 a pop and there are a lot of them to buy.
    Secondly my significantly younger girlfriend is a reformed goth chick. Go to a convention. There are a lot of women there.
    Thirdly, I’d rather discuss current events in the real world with my science fiction reading friends than with the Erica Jong/Don Diullio set.

  11. Jeff-

    You forgot to mention that your reformed-Goth girlfriend is also A Total Babe. (Ahem.)

  12. argumentum ad misercordiam

    Even if this doesn’t apply to you and your girlfriend Jeff, surely you’ll admit that there are a lot of guys to whom this does apply.

    I thought I might generate some controversy about females being the arbiters of society, but I didn’t think I was being controversial when I suggested that there is a high percentage of guys who read science fiction and fantasy and don’t have girlfriends.

  13. It is no more of an “escape” than any other type of literature, or another type of human activity for that matter, is.

  14. Jennifer,

    I am an engineer and I am compensated very well. You also need people who can administrate and organize the activities. As well as someone versed in the legal field. A few historians, philosophers, etc. would also have great utility.

  15. Shultz–
    I agree with you; for all the exceptions to the rule there really IS something to the old beef about sci-fi guys lacking in social skills. But I truly believe it is related to the English-math dichotomy.

    Consider: if you are a “math geek” or a “science geek” or “computer” or any other such geek, you are used to dealing with a black-and-white universe: your math problem is right or its wrong, your computer program either works or it doesn’t. It is a tidy, orderly, either-or sort of thing.

    Socialization and human interaction is practically the exact opposite. There are a lot of variables that cannot be explained by logic or reason, and there are a lot of instances when one must accept the answer “That’s just how things are.” No black and white, just shades of gray.

    Building civilization (or being a geek) is a black-and-white sort of thing. Living in civilization (or being the opposite of a geek, whatever that is) involves mostly shades of gray. Some people straddle both worlds–Asimov was a science genius but also had the social and creative skills necessary to be a creative writer and a “cool person”–but mostly the geek stereotype is true.

  16. About a year ago I was doing quality control for a software company. In essence, my job was to find all the mistakes made by the programers.

    Some of these guys were devoid of social skills. Have you ever heard the term, “Brains on a Stick?”

  17. Jean Bart–

    Actually, I have often wondered how muich of my “dichotomy” thing is actually an American thing.

    Even in America, you would be well-paid as an engineer, but socially you would not be considered as “cool” or “desirable” as, say, a professional athlete or something.

    Even if money were equal, you would be considered less “cool” than a musician or model who made the same salary as you. I wonder, though, how much of this is human nature and how much is American anti-intellectualism? There is a popular American stereotype of the self-made millionaire who says, “I ain’t never read a book in my life, but I got rich ’cause I got life smarts, not book smarts!”

    In French high schools, which kids are the “cool” cliques: the intelligent ones who will obviously go on to achieve great success, or the anti-intellectuals like athletes? In an American high schools it’s the idiot destined for failure who is likely to be venerated.

    But on second thought, this isn’t just America.
    Even in Europe, I know that celebrity culture is based upon uselessness. I havn’t seen European tabloids stalking cancer researchers or brilliant inventors because the public wants to know more about them! You, Jean Bart, may be well-paid as an engineer, but do you have a loyal cadre of fans surrounding your house, dying for a glimpse of you taking out the trash? Of course not, because nobody gives a damn what you’re up to; what matters is, Johnny Depp lives somewhere nearby!

  18. First, Nick, you may have corrected the spelling of TARDIS but you got the capitalization wrong — it’s an acronym (“Time And Relative Dimension In Space”) so all the letters are in caps.

    Sandy Starr is cynically way off base. I’m not sure what the broader acceptance of sci-fi/comics indicates, but I know it’s not what she’s talking about. I know a couple dozen people that are socially and politically active and are still sci-fi fans. Frankly, I think it’s just that people don’t view it as geek-only material anymore; I don’t think the trend says anything about us “as a society” becoming more withdrawn from the real world.

    –Mark Lambert
    (A lawyer and state government official with a die-cast TARDIS on his desk and an autographed photo of 6th Doctor Colin Baker on his office wall! )

  19. It may be true that self-absorbed, socially incompetent ment tend to be sci-fi/fantasy geeks. But there are plenty of self-absorbed, socially incompetent women around. They tend to be public school teachers.

  20. “But there are plenty of self-absorbed, socially incompetent women around. They tend to be public school teachers.”

    Ouch! Just wanted to point out I’m an exception to that rule, too.

    (Actually, that looks largely true about some older teachers, but for the younger generation of teachers it sometimes appears the opposite: they’re not th egeeks, they’re the ubernormal ones who would NEVER be a geek in any way, because being a geek means you might have to look or act or think differently than those around you.

  21. As 30-year veteran engineer and soldier and a 45-year veteran Scince Fiction fan, I have to stand up for the “soft” sciences and “liberal” arts. Without those absolutely brain-dead “gut” courses to compensate for the calculus-laden “real” courses [like Physics IV, taught by Resnik HIMSELF!], we would have gotten even worse grades than we did.

    Thank Ghu for Philosophy, Sociology, Phych and MacroEconomics: they saved our bacon come report card time!

    Remember: only two classes of people are obsessed with “escape” – prisoners and prison guards. It is apparent which class Starr wants to be part of.

    “The meek shall inherit the Earth – the rest of us will populate the galaxy!”

  22. Don’t forget librarians – without us, you’re all screwed.

  23. Well, if you’re re-populating with 500 people, you may want some athletes in there. Eventually some Hot-Pocket- and Xena-obsessed electrical engineer is going to start a revolt, and you’ll need to get physical to keep control…

  24. Don’t forget the telephone sanitizers! And the marketing research people who want to know whether people want fire that can be inserted nasally!

    /proud to be geek

  25. jennifer,

    Well, yes celebrity culture is important (too important); that doesn’t mean I have low utility. And amongst certain circles, engineers, etc. can have great celebrity (or even in the general public – Richard Dawkins or Watson and Crick for example).

    In France, being a scientist or engineer or intellectual is more celebrated I think than in America; at least as far as “official culture” is concerned (indeed, they can have celebrity-like status – which explains how hundreds of thousands could turn out for the funeral of Sartre or Foucault – imagine say hundreds of thousands had turned for the death of American intellectual). The way I illustrate this is by the following story:

    In the 1960s de Gaulle was asked by a reporter why he did not criticize Sartre for criticizing his Presidency and the Fifth Republic generally; de Gaulle retorted that this was not possible because Sartre is France.

    Anyway, several members of the Pasteur Institute have had cult-like status in France; they have had near rock-band celebrity. I don’t think it’s “intellectualism” that explains it; its more a culture that deifies intellectuals (though most don’t really understand what they are deifying). Its why everyone who even pretends to be sophisticated has a copy of say Foucault’s “To Discipline and Punish.” 🙂

  26. I’ve heard comments such as Schultz’s for years now and I have a few thoughts.

    I am, for lack of a better term, a geek. Although I don’t have a degree in a technical field (BA in Journalism) I enjoy science fiction, I play miniature wargames and RPGs with my friends weekly, and build military and spaceship models. Once upon a time, we would have called these activities HOBBIES. However, these days no one has hobbies. In this age, to admit to have interests beyond work and drooling in front of the TV is to admit to having “no social skills.”

    How does one define “social skills?” I can communicate well with my friends. I get out as often as my schedule allows. I bathe and change my clothes daily. The only thing that sets me apart from the “mundanes” are my interests. I don’t wear them on my selves (nor my t-shirts, I wear my MST3K shirts at home, NOT IN PUBLIC) and I don’t bring them up unless someone brings them up. Do I lack social skills?

    Of course, there are more than a couple of my friends who do fit the sterotypical geek model: Bad hygenie, reclusive, and can’t shut up about their latest D&D character without sewing his lips together. However, I can name only about 2 or 3 out of my dozen or so friends who match this discription. Why should I be lumped in with them”

    I’ll confess that I lack a lovelife. However, I’m finding out more and more that this is largely because I’m afraid of rejection more than any else. When I do finally work up the courage to ask someone out, I’ll keep my hobbies on the QT until I know the person well enough to confide in them that I prefer Stargate SG-1 to the Sopranos, and Robert Heinlein to John Grisham.

    If they reject me or try to “change” me, then screw ’em and leave them (or let them leave you). They aren’t worth it. They’re the one with the problem, not me.

  27. OK, who let Zymmy off the “B” Ark? 🙂

    Don’t let’s forget that for many of us who either couldn’t grapple with physics and calculus in our secondary school or university days, or didn’t care to, SF is still a lot of fun. Why mess around with actually learning what to do with derivatives when you can read about “Slipstick” Libby using them to save the day? Being more interested in history, philosophy and political science myself, I ducked those ubergeeky courses in high school, and took the gut “for poets” versions in college. I still preferred reading analog to lame Tolkien imitators, and much spec/fic is based on prediction or extrapolation about social trends, whether as a result of technological changes or those that are based on the “squishier” disciplines.

    It may come down to how an individual reacts to their exposure to influential works. If, after reading LoTR, you sought out Beowulf, The Kalevela, The Tain, The Faerie Queen, James Branch Cabell, etc., one might see reading fantasy as an adjunct to one’s wider education. A different conclusion may be arrived at if the reader gravitates toward Terry Brooks and Dragonlance.

    The floor is now open for cracks about how libertarianism is to political science as FTL travel is to astrophysics.

    Kevin

  28. Mark S., et al:

    I attended a prep school back in the eighties. I had to work my way through, and one of the many things I did to make money was DM. I’ve spent as much time throwing dice around as the next geek; believe me. And I’ve put more than just a little bit of thought into this question.

    Why were so many of the geeks, geeks?

    I was kind of rare, and it may have helped that there were only about 200 guys in the school I attended, but there were about 400 girls. I could hang with the geek crowd, and, at the same time, I played sports and was the first guy to spark a…um…well I was always considered the guy on campus who had the most fun.

    The difference between me and the geeks was that I always had a girlfriend.

    I remember taking some of my not so socially comfortable friends(we used to call them nerds) out with the guys. The drinking age was 18 in Virginia and DC back then, and everybody had a fake ID. When a girl walked by one of the geeks, they looked like they were going to cry. But, most of them got over it, eventually.

    When you walk into a restaurant with a girl, you’re in a different social situation then when you walk in alone. The waitress treats you differently, you act differently. You’re in a different social universe.

    The point is, a lot of guys snap out of the geek thing and keep their interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy, but they ususally have a girlfriend when they do it. Sandy was criticizing people who make Sci-Fi/Fantasy their whole life, but, maybe as a woman, she’s not considering the alternative.

    Also, I suspect a lot of geeks don’t think they have a girlfriend because they’re a geek, but it’s the other way around. They’re a geek because they don’t have a girlfriend. I’ll promise you that when you get one, you won’t be a geek anymore.

  29. The article summarizes very well why I loathe space travel and habitation projects (public or private, although private ones don’t hit my pocket).

  30. “The article summarizes very well why I loathe space travel and habitation projects…”

    And that reason would be?

  31. Okay, I love that article. It reminded me of that episode of Buffy where Angel lost his soul and . . .

  32. “In this age, to admit to have interests beyond work and drooling in front of the TV is to admit to having ‘no social skills.'”

    Has something really changed here? I’m blind to the new disdain for interests-beyond-work-and-TV.

    Regarding the girlfriend, sure, rejection is scary. But not getting rejected is also scary. Then you have to go out, and maybe it won’t be fun, and you’ll have to figure out how to break it off, and that might lead you to an uncomfortable situation. Or maybe it will be fun, and then you’ll still be vulnerable to rejection. And so on.

    Don’t kid yourself – it’s not just fear of rejection.

  33. “Don’t kid yourself – it’s not just fear of rejection.”

    OK, that and I’m butt ugly.

  34. Mark, because such projects elevate sci-fi dreams above those of earthly relevance, and waste a lot of resources in the process.

  35. “Mark, because such projects elevate sci-fi dreams above those of earthly relevance, and waste a lot of resources in the process”

    Sheesh, and I’m sure back there people like you back in the 1500s saying that exploring the New World elvates sailor stories above Old World relevance, and waste a lot of Europe’s resources in the process.

    Granted the Native Americans would have been happier, but I doubt we’re going to give small pox to the moon rocks.

  36. Who, exactly, can prove that science fiction/fantasy has become “life’s raison d’?tre?”

    I thought that would be your answer. What precisely is the point of this post?

  37. So wait–having social skills means you can’t mention your hobbies at work? Freakin’ hell, let me start knobbing every knuckle-headed sports dork who ever spouted a statistic or argued about which guy in tight pants could grab another the best.

    And you know, those sports guys, they’re mostly stupid. No blood to the brain, all in the muscles.

    OK, do we have all the stereotypes out of the way?

    I dig SF. I date regularly. I do not do well in math, and do extremely well with “English” or as I refer to it “verbal and writing skills,” because my definition of my skills didn’t end in high school. I have a decent paying job in computers. People like me.

    Now, in high school, it was quite different. People didn’t like me, and I didn’t date. However, I got past it. Most people who read science fiction get past it. The people who obsess over trivia tend to not be the absolute brightest ones–their geekdom is not necessarily a substitute for IQ. But that shouldn’t tar the rest of us who prefer thinking about thrust-weight ratios in terms of ion drives instead of shotput.

    To this day I find literature that once again indulges in Salon Workshop navel-gazing and pondering the meaning of Self through vignettes of parental abuse, sexual exploration, and how Republicans are evil to be BORING. I mean, how many verbal masturbations do I have to slog through to be considered well-versed in “meaningful” literature–literature that fails to deal with what has been the central motivating force in society since the Renaissance, technology. Sure you can use it to get at other things, and that’s good.

    Until I get something out of the Lit Crit crowd besides brain-dead assertions that Tecnology Is Dehumanizing(tm), or until MBAs learn that buzzwords per line is not a measure of intelligence, I’m going to enjoy my SF.

  38. This thread is beginning to look a lot like how I’d imagine a low-budget online dating service to look….

  39. Since when is Lord of The Rings Science Fiction? Oh yeah, since everyone’s braggin’ on their stats, I dig Vinge, Heinlein, Brin and Barnes, my SAT was 720 Verbal, 400 Math, I’m a senior in civil engineering, I curl three sets of eight to ten with 135lbs., I have tattoos and listen to heavy metal, and I’ve never played Magic or D&D. Somebody tell this woman to go back to stuffing her face with bon-bons and leave the rest of us alone.

  40. Oh, you’re SO butch, Geotech. What are you gonna do, bitch-slap her?

  41. Oh, yeah? Well, I worship at the shrine of Lovecraft and Asimov, had 800 in both Verbal and Math, am a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, Iift cars as a hobby. I eat tattoo needles and guiars for breakfast. I snuff volcanos with my bare hands. I heal the sick and raise the dead, and that pussy Gibson doesn’t know the half of it. So there.

  42. Er, “lift cars” and “eat guitars”. I’m not omniscient, despite what they all say.

  43. 41.22288% on the Geek Test 🙂

    800 verbal, 500 math… 160 IQ (or so)… engineering groupie (and future engineer)… best DAMN gamemistress you ever met… voted “Most Individualistic” by my high school graduating class… singlehandedly saved a dozen or so(lovely, smart) male geeks from the dreaded scourge of celibacy… met my fiance (3D animator geek) on the Internet… I could go on, but all these things that most people would think of as really weird, I am getting a swelled head reciting.

    I am NOT a Goth, either. I am an old-fashioned lady of a type that’s been out of date for seventy years (and I’m only in my mid 30s). I play the piano, sing, sew, knit, cook, and nine tenths of the other things on the list Heinlein said human beings should do. (Of COURSE you all know what I’m talking about, right?)

    I am Geek Girl, hear me roar (I think I’ve got a good roar saved right here in this 3D Studio Max animation of a cartoon lion)….

  44. Jennifer teaches Stephen King’s The Stand to her public school students? I think I’m going to have to home school.

  45. David-

    No, I did not teach The Stand, but by coincidence I had this one class where more than half the kids had read it on their own.

  46. Nonetheless, home-schooling would still be a good idea. Even if we had the vigorous curriculum of the Boston Latin School circa one hundred years ago, the self-esteem movement alone is reason enough to keep your kids away.

  47. From the article:

    “No, the broader reason why mainstream society has become more disposed to immerse itself in fantasy is because of a general cultural stagnation that exists today. At a time when we feel less certain of our ability to impact on the world around us, we tend to retreat into fantasy worlds instead.”

    He has it so backwards it borders on the ludicrous. Cultural stagnation? We have more types and variety of culture and media literally at our fingertips that would seem miraculous a decade ago, let alone a generation or a century. Less ability to impact the world? Again, the ability to get our voices heard is unparelleled in history, Exhibit A being the author’s own ability to get this piece of nonsense read by thousands of people.

    It’s hard to imagine someone being more wrong.

  48. Well, according to the “Geek Test” that speedwell mentioned I rank 25.04931% or “Total Geek.” I actually thought it would be higher.

  49. Oh, really? Think we can get dates this way?

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