December 6, 2005 No science please, were Americans.
It’s not accident that so many bad guys speak in formal, precise language.
“Look, buddy, you can’t get away with this,’ says the hero.
“Do you think not?” says the villain, raising an eyebrow. “Do you fancy you can terrify me with your absurd threats?”
“There’s too many people already on to you,” says the hero.
“Do you mean the police? Those pathetic bumblers?”
It isn’t just the villains vanity that makes us dislike him. It’s the fact that he talks in an educated manner, using big words. You can almost hear him dropping r‘s as he speaks. No doubt he attended Harvard– if not Oxford.
This isn’t true in every culture, but certainly the American audience resents any character who is smarter and better educated than other people. Robert Parker can only get away with having his detective, Spencer, quote poetry because he works so hard to establish Spencer as a tough guy. For every line of poetry, Spencer has to work out half an hour in the gym to win our forgiveness for his erudition. We’re afraid of and resentful of people who know more than we do, and when they act as if they think it makes them superior to us, we hate them.
-Orson Scott Card from Characters & Viewpoint
…which made me wonder, “How much is America’s anti-intellectualism a product of our pop culture?”
Any serious discussion of the arts must begin with comic books. Of the four most popular American superheroes; Superman, Batman, Wolverine and Spider-Man. Only Spider-Man regularly uses scientific knowledge to defeat his bad guys.
Wolverine is a adolescent-male power fantasy. An indestructible killer who can’t be beat and solves his problems by cutting them open. For years he was directly opposed to any orders given by Cyclops the tactical brains of the X-Men.
Batman is supposed to be a detective, but his methods usually involves scaring homeless guys until one of them says where the Joker’s been hiding.
And Superman? Take a look at his rouges gallery: Lex Luthor (mad scientist), Toyman (mad inventor), the Ultra-Humanite (Superman’s first arch-enemy. A mind switching Nazi scientist) the alien android Brainiac. Brainiac can that be any more obvious?
The Flash used to be a strong science hero back in the sixties, but when Wally West took up the title that’s not as often the case.
Many team books will have a “science guy” on board. The Avengers have Henry Pym, Legion has Brainiac 5, and The Fantastic Four has Reed Richards. But Pym has a history of beating his wife, Brainiac 5 is a jerk and Reed Richards is good at getting the team into trouble, but it’s usually up to the rest of the team to get them out.
The comic book writers from England are some of the most pro-science. Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitian had some of the best “Hard” science fiction stories I’ve read lately. Alan Moore’s Tom Strong is probably the least apologetic science heroes (Heck Alan came up with the term “science hero” to describe him) and Grant Morrison seeds just about everything he writes with abstract science principles.
But England is also the culture that gave up Judge Dredd, Sherlock Homes (intelligent yes, but also a raging jerk), James Bond (brutal, sexy and cunning, but never really smart), and Harry Potter.
Sure Harry’s a nerd in glasses but does he ever really think his way through a problem? Isn’t it Hermione that hits the books, does the research and finds the solution? [note: I’m probably being unfair since I haven’t read past the first book nor seen past the second movie.]
And this is a genre that was created by and for nerds?