Big Brains, Hard Science, and the Power of Woo

This one’s kind of all over the place, but bear with me for a little, okay? I promise it will all come together.

First, a couple of anecdotes.

A few weeks ago, the Decades TV network was running a bunch of episodes of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, a show I’ve never seen. Julie used to adore it so we were watching it, and I have to admit it’s a cute show (though I had a brief dizzy moment of oh-shit-people-will-think-I-stole-this when I discovered she is from Boston and is out of place in the West and a single mom, much as Lisbet in Silver Riders, but Julie assures me they are nothing alike.)

I enjoyed very much the recurring bits when Dr. Mike tries to teach the cowpokes about, you know, actual medicine. There was a great one about a barber who is careless about sterilizing his tools and one of his customers dies from septicemia.

But then in the VERY NEXT EPISODE there is a story about her oldest child going on a vision quest involving four days without food and water. At first I thought, at last! Dr. Mike is going to let these woo-woo idiots have it and save her kid.

But the momentum of American culture is too strong. In spite of her record in the community of being RIGHT about pretty much EVERY medical and scientific problem to date, Dr. Mike is derided by the Manly Man Indians as being hysterical and silly and sure enough, the vision quest imparts needed wisdom to this dehydrated hallucinating kid about Being A Man.

No. Just no. The kid would be dead or a hospital case. Four days in the sun without water?? Horseshit. But I told Julie, “You watch. The mystics will win and Dr. Mike will be baffled. It doesn’t matter that she knows more science and biology than everyone else in that hick town combined. She will be shown that her book learning is inadequate. That’s the rhythm. This stupid cliche story, they are ticking all the boxes.”

And indeed, that’s how it played out. As predictable as the sunrise.

I hate this trope but writer Adam-Troy Castro (whose books you should all check out) has pointed out an even more irritating version. Most often seen on cop shows, it goes something like this….

In pursuit of a villain, the heroes must consult an Expert. They visit the Expert’s office or place of business, and the Expert launches into an explanation that involves establishing context, using technical terms and complex language. About two sentences in, the hero makes a contemptuous noise and snarls, “In English, Doc!”

Adam points out that this really is a dickish thing to say, and wishes that just ONCE, the hero’s sidekick would immediately say to the hero, “Why are you being such a jerk to this guy? We came here because he has knowledge we need. He worked hard to get to be this level of expert. Respect it.”

I think the first time I saw this scene enacted was on the original Star Trek, where it was a running joke. Even Mr. Spock, arguably the coolest guy on any Star Trek series, was not allowed to escape the anti-intellectual taunting.

As a rule it wasn’t too demeaning because Spock was shown to be awesome in so many other ways, but nevertheless, the efforts to undercut his rationalism and make him more human — less competent, less of a genius, less scientific and rigorously logical, more like us — were constant.

Spock’s primary issue, and this has carried over into the new movies, was that he is forever an outcast, not at home on Earth or Vulcan… but the reason for this is because everybody around him is an ass.

How is that Spock‘s problem? Why does he have to be the one to change?

It doesn’t really jump out at you because Spock is allowed to win so often, but if you scrape the paint off, you realize the entire Enterprise crew is due for some hardcore enforced sensitivity training, and McCoy, particularly, would have to be characterized as an anti-intellectual bigot.

Here’s another tangentially-related example. Isaac Asimov is generally thought of as a science-fiction writer, but I’ve always liked his mysteries. In particular, his Black Widowers stories.

The Black Widowers are a club that hosts a dinner once a month, and each month a guest at the dinner presents a mystery to be solved. Usually a bloodless sort of fair-play puzzle. They were a staple in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for years and years. I’m going to spoil one, but it’s relevant to the topic at hand, I think.

One time, the mystery involved psychics and ESP. The Widowers wrestled with this seemingly insoluble conundrum for pages and pages, until it is revealed that the guest was lying. He made it up to show that even a rigorously rational group like the Black Widowers could be fooled into believing in the supernatural.

Readers threw a fit and complained that it wasn’t a fair solution to have the guy just be a liar. Asimov stuck to his guns and pointed out that it was right in line with Sherlock Holmes’ axiom of eliminating the impossible. If you accept that the supernatural is a load of horse hockey, then the witness lying is the only solution left. I confess I felt stung myself when I first read this one as a teenager. but rereading it recently I realized that Asimov was completely fair in constructing the mystery, even foreshadowing the solution in the introductory passages. I just hadn’t seen it. And for the reason Asimov gives his characters — because, subconsciously, everyone is ROOTING for the irrational solution. People WANT life to be magical.

That’s an embarrassing realization. No wonder Ellery Queen readers were so pissed off.

And finally– I was not aware of this but it seems oddly appropriate for it to be happening on the same weekend I’m writing this — yesterday downtown Seattle had the March For Science.

A rally to protest the same anti-intellectual, magical thinking I’ve been talking about. Because it is getting further and further entrenched into American life and culture.

Think about it. The only time we see scientists and people of knowledge on TV these days is if the show also gets to make fun of their awkwardness and social ineptitude. Not just on The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon, though I suppose Sheldon Cooper is kind of the Platonic ideal of this particular cliche.

Or Scorpion, which is basically Big Bang Theory as an action show.

But it’s been creeping in long before that. You had Marshall on Alias

Topher on Dollhouse

Max on Hawaii Five-0

All socially awkward. All shown to be basically incompetent outside of their nerd specialty. All constantly told to “Say it in ENGLISH!”

More recently DC’s Mr. Terrific, a total stud in the comics…

…had to be diminished and nerdified before the character was allowed on television.

Even Sherlock Holmes is not immune. The international symbol for logic and a rigorously scientific approach to everything….

…has been updated for television and movies. And in every case the biggest change has been that he is shown to be a fucking socially-inept weirdo that Watson has to constantly apologize for.

Sure, taken on a case-by-case basis, you can defend most of these examples. I thought the first Robert Downey Holmes movie was terrific and the BBC’s Sherlock hits more than it misses. Elementary has its good points. Echo Kellum has done great things with his character on Arrow and really, with Ollie and Diggle, adding another supermacho character would be redundant. Most of the nerd characters like Marshall and Topher and Max got to show heroism at some point on their respective TV shows. And Sheldon Cooper makes us laugh every so often around here.

But cumulatively, the effect is very different.

Cumulatively, the message is the same as it was on the playground when I was a kid. Science and thinking are for losers. It’s all-encompassing. And it makes me sad.

See, here’s the thing. I remember when– at least in pop culture if not on the playground– knowledge was cool.

Growing up, I adored Sherlock Holmes, but even more than that, I loved the Three Investigators.

They were Pete Crenshaw, an athlete who was quick with a quip; Bob Andrews, a bookish sort who volunteered at the local library; and Jupiter Jones, boy genius. Jupiter was overweight and had to endure a certain amount of say-it-in-English teasing from Pete, but he was unquestionably the HERO, he was never penalized socially for being smart. He was always relentlessly rational, never accepting the supernatural as an explanation. In the wonderful illustrations by Harry Kane, even if Pete and Bob are freaking out over the Green Ghost or the Whispering Mummy or whatever, Jupe isn’t.

He’s always shown leaning forward, going after the solution, ready to unmask the culprit and reveal the villain’s masquerade.

In the first adventure, The Secret of Terror Castle, Robert Arthur constructed a brilliant and wonderful mystery that climaxes with Jupiter Jones getting perhaps the greatest fist-pumping fuck-yeah solution reveal in any juvenile mystery ever. I won’t spoil it, but trust me, he turned the tables so beautifully on the smug adults in the room that I am grinning just thinking about it now, some fifty years later.

In short, Jupiter Jones was cool. Of the three, he was the investigator kids aspired to emulate.

That’s because when I was growing up, it was all about the race for the moon and the wonders of technological achievement. Scientific advances were seen as just another manifestation of that good old American can-do pioneer spirit.

The school library had the Three Investigators and many other juvenile sleuths, along with lots of Heinlein juveniles where smart guys armed with just their wits and a slide rule (always referred to as a “slipstick,” which served to sort of weaponize the term; it was used the way a cowboy talks about wearing a “hogleg”) built rockets to the moon and voyaged to the stars.

On TV we had Jonny Quest, as well as all Irwin Allen’s macho scientists on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants, and of course the aforementioned Mr. Spock.

In comics there were Reed Richards and the Challengers and Adam Strange… and even Batman, once Gardner Fox got hold of him.

And right next to those on the paperback spinner rack we had science badasses like Doc Savage and the Avenger, who occasionally crossed over into comics as well.

But it didn’t last. As Asimov warned, magical thinking and mysticism is the default setting for the human brain… and our society is ruled largely by anti-intellectual former frat boys. For those people, science is usually seen as dull and textbooky, which makes woo-woo mysticism that much more seductive. Plus writers like to go there because you can just make stuff up instead of researching. It’s a deadly combination.

You can see the decline of rationalist thinking all over pop culture. Star Trek sought to champion rationalism but didn’t really stay the course; even the original was very weirdly anti-computer and anti-technology, and by the time we got to Deep Space Nine we saw a left turn into out-and-out mysticism where Captain Sisko becomes the messiah for an alien religion. Cop shows like CSI and Criminal Minds started as super-rationalist crime procedurals but they got pretty mystical, pretty quickly. Reed Richards is often derided for his science knowledge, even by his own family.

The new Sherlocks have all dabbled in magical thinking at some point, even if it’s just hallucinatory interludes not unlike the vision quest shown on Dr. Quinn. Granted, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself was a gullible true believer who squandered thousands on spiritualist quackery, but I think even he might have hesitated at the idea of Sherlock Holmes inducing hallucinations in himself just to try to remember something. Batman is still reputedly the world’s greatest detective but it’s been decades since I saw him do any lab work or use straight-up ratiocination to solve a crime. Mostly he just poses and hits people.

There are glimmers of hope here and there, stories where rationalism and intelligence are something to be celebrated and encouraged. Apollo 13. Hidden Figures. (I don’t think it’s coincidence that both of those films were based on true stories about the race to the moon in the 1960s, probably the peak era for the science hero.) The recent Dr. Strange movie was a remarkably rationalist and thoughtful approach to Marvel’s most mystic hero, and none of the brilliant characters in it were particularly nerdy.

But I am still hoping for the return of the no-compromise rationalist science hero, the character whose superpower is basically just being smart and knowing stuff. (Yes, yes, I know, Dana Scully from The X-Files is awesome… but she never gets to be RIGHT, and in the end she becomes as mystical as Mulder. The power of woo is strong with TV producers.)

Upon further consideration, I don’t think we’ve really had an uncompromised, hardcore science hero on TV since Juliet Parrish on the original V.

That, to me, is a terrible shame.

Because in a country where people march in the streets just to get out the message that knowledge is better than ignorance, we sure could use a couple of those heroes now.

Back next week with something cool.

21 Comments

  1. Greg Burgas

    It’s funny you bring this up now, because this afternoon, Real Genius was on. The 1980s were kind of a Golden Age of nerds in movies, at least, and Real Genius is the Citizen Kane of the genre. Even Revenge of the Nerds is predicated on the nerds winning because they’re smarter than everyone else, not because they turn into those they hate, and in something like Weird Science, where they’re total nerds, they get the girls without changing too, too much (they just get a better wardrobe). But yeah, it’s been a long time since science was portrayed positively in pop culture, and that’s a damned shame.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    I’ve lamented about his far too often. You rarely even get real mysteries in comics, anymore. What you o get is a bunch of internet magic, where a computer pops up the answer, without any analysis. Very rarely are clues pieced together and even rarer when it is done as playfair. I really miss The Maze Agency, which exemplified both the playfair mystery and great character interaction, in the best traditions of The Thin Man and Moonlighting.

    I can only imagine, whenever the inevitable Gilligan’s Island remake comes, how the professor will be made more awkward than Gilligan. Even in the original show, Russell Johnson was depicted as a fairly sociable person, with occasional awkwardness, mostly in the face of Ginger’s sexually charged aggression. There was a novel, called Gilligan’s Wake (as in Finnegan’s Wake) where the castaways are given a post-modern sheen, with the Professor attached to the Manhattan Project.

    Sometimes, I think we lost that respect for science, after we landed on the moon and science didn’t magically solve all of our other problems and make everyone rich, while robot servants did the chores. Everyone wanted the Jetsons to be real. Me? I just want my jetpack!

    1. M-Wolverine

      They promised the the flying car!!

      Internet magic drives me nuts. Criminal Minds comes to, uh, mind. My wife really likes it, I think it’s ok. The problem is the brilliant guy (Reid/Gubler) should be the start of the show, because he could practically solve ever case by himself and then just point the beefy ones to “go get this guy.” But invariably it comes down to the computer girl (I’d say woman, but they treat her as all girly) magically finding the guy by doing illegal and impossible searches to find the matching background of the unsub and pinpointing him. I’m sure FBI special behavior unit wishes it could do that. But it’s done for no other reason than it’s easier to write than actually figuring out clues that would number down the suspect in an hour.

      That’s just a regular example. Take Arrow or Flash or any of the shows with the “computer character” and it’s a lot of the same thing.

  3. Edo Bosnar

    Yep, agree with pretty much everything stated here; I have to say, on the topic of Star Trek in particular, those occasional forays into anti-technology/anti-science or magical thinking from TOS onward always annoyed me. And that whole religious aspect, with Sisko as the “Emissary,” was one of several deep flaws I saw in DS9.

  4. jccalhoun

    I have always hated it when comics have magic users and gods mixed in with purely rational characters. I also hate psychic powers in scifi. I can kind of understand it in things written in the 60s or 70s when there was a lot about whether those were scientifically possible or not but not in modern scifi.

    As much as I liked White Witch, Saturn Girl, and Dream Girl, their powers always seemed out of place in the Legion of Super-Heroes and the presence of Thor and Hercules (and all the other gods) in Marvel always made me wonder how people living in the marvel universe make sense of it (I realize that they often try to play up the idea that Asgardians are really super-science but still…)

    I would love to see more comic book series and more tv shows that were more hard science.

  5. “I have always hated it when comics have magic users and gods mixed in with purely rational characters. I also hate psychic powers in scifi. I can kind of understand it in things written in the 60s or 70s when there was a lot about whether those were scientifically possible or not but not in modern scifi. ”
    Funny, that’s what I love about comics.
    I like the post but I don’t think “believing in the supernatural” equates to “irrational and antiscience.” To take one example, the Catholic Church weeded through all the miraculous healings reported at Lourdes and only found two that couldn’t be explained by known science. That’s hardly turning off their brain.
    To put it another way, I’d count believing in the supernatural, in general, from things like the belief in Pizzagate, Satanic cults so secretive no evidence of their existence can be found, etc.
    On Reed, I’ve often thought a telling point is that in the Silver Age SS, his military service was OSS. Nobody would ever put a genius like him out in the field if they were retelling it today–he can’t be a man of action and a genius.
    Likewise Brainiac Five got increasingly unpleasant and contemptuous of normal characters as we went from classic Legion to the reboot to the threeboot.

    1. Peter

      I totally agree. I don’t think that the use of the “supernatural” in fiction is incompatible with logic – fantasy can be great when it uses consistent logic. One moment that really bugged me in recent comics was in an issue of Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four run where Reed lectured his kids about his atheism/lack of belief in supernatural entities. I was totally taken out of the narrative because 50 years of FF comics have shown Reed meeting Greek deities, fighting Mephisto, and watching his friends die and come back to life. Reed should be written as a guy who uses Occam’s razor, certainly, but the rules of the Marvel Universe seem to imply that he would also be logical to take into account previous supernatural experience before totally ruling out the possibility of future supernatural phenomena.

      (As a side note, Reed Richards is probably the character who has suffered way too much from the tendency of writers to make smart, scientific people uncool/awkward.)

      1. M-Wolverine

        Yeah, Reed should be a guy who believes there’s a scientific explanation for everything, he just has to figure it out. But not to believe in supernatural entities when you’ve probably bumped into Eternity just makes him sound stupid. Or just aping the writer’s beliefs, which is what is really happening.

      2. Atheism is an odd choice for Reed (they’ve been to Heaven after all) but I can see him being skeptical about magic. Ben’s comment in one story was that Reed doesn’t want to believe it because he can’t figure it out.
        But yes, skepticism is easily overdone. I remember a Brave and Bold where Batman, after multiple teamups with Boston Brand, declares that the idea of a ghost coming back for revenge is just impossible!
        Of course that works the other way too. I read an article that pointed out Dr. Thirteen is actually very competent at ghostbusting, and there’s no shortage of supernatural scams in the DCU, so treating him like he’s an idiot for being a skeptic ruins the character.

  6. I suspect that one of the unexamined reasons why we’ve turned away from admiring scientists is that it turned out to be a bad deal for most of us.

    We were told that in the future, machines would do the work and the people would share in the benefits; without the need for bone-grinding, soul crushing labor, without the scarcity of food and goods brought on by dependence on human bodies to do the drudgery of producing these things, we could have an egalitarian society where people are free to pursue intellectual growth or art or athletics without having to scrape for a living.

    But Tomorrowland is inherently Socialist; it only works if the people in control of the machines are willing to share the proceeds.

    As it turns out, technology and science means the rich get richer, robots take our jobs, and science means we all have to scrape harder for less of a living.

    In 1985 it took 16 people to do my job. 15 of them are now doing something else; my boss gets to keep the money that used to go to their paychecks. I make less than I did in 2003. My boss didn’t invent the Adobe Creative Suite or plateless direct-to-press digital printing, but he gets to keep 100% of the benefit of using them.

    I think the anti-science culture is at least partially responding to the fact that progress keeps screwing people.

    1. M-Wolverine

      Has it though? Sure we’re not making the profits, and it trickles down to the plebs, but how has tech not made life better than it was for our parents? When I was a kid I had to lay in front of a fan for 4 months because the house didn’t have an A/C unit, and when we finally got one for the window it was good for that room only. Now I have central air in my house and don’t know how I survived because I freak out if the power goes out for a couple of hours. We’re all walking around with communicators and tricoders combined in our pockets. If my phone turns into a phaser soon, I’m set. We don’t get lost because we all have virtual maps in our pockets or cars. We don’t even need to go out to the movies because if we’re not watching them on our phones we’re sitting in front of giant screens that are bigger than I think some movie screens I got stuck in front of in the 70’s, with better sound and picture. I can type like this, heck this place can exist. And I don’t have to run hundreds of copies in purple ink by spinning copies of it after I role it off my typewriter.

      People don’t think it’s better because comparative wealth seems to be getting further apart. Ancient kings didn’t have to live in a hut, but they were still stuck in a dank castle. Now poor people live far better than king’s of yesteryear. They’d think we’re all rich. Most of it is because of technology.

      1. Just the other day, Elon Musk was in the news talking about how robots are going to take away a bunch more jobs. The understanding now is that those people are going to have to find some other way to scratch out a living, and the guy who owns the robots is going to get richer.

        The promise back in the ’30s-70s was that all of society would share in the benefit of eliminating physical labor. At some point, right around the time that the future became dystopian nightmares, somebody figured out that technology promises neo-feudalism, and now here we are.

  7. Rob Allen

    Detective William Murdoch of the TV show Murdoch Mysteries is a rational, science-oriented hero, with the usual amount of social awkwardness that goes with that. But he’s almost always right, and supernatural ideas are portrayed as rather laughable, except for Murdoch’s Catholic faith.

    This is just one of the reasons I recommend the show. One cable channel retitled it The Artful Detective, so look for it under either name.

  8. Hal

    Greg, this is quite possibly the best and truest piece you have ever written. Kudos! Certainly the tiresome characterization of anyone who is *different* as suspect, bizarre, inept, or needing to change in order to “fit in” is pernicious and omnipresent; a kind of stealthy poison (um, if one can even have “stealthy” poisons…), a deadening conservatism based on the fear that such people might be *gasp* better at some things. Y’know, a perpetrator of “elitism” (oddly, there is the idea that, say, certain billionaires – that’s *billionaires*! – are, somehow, *not* elite; as if they are on the same level as “ordinary” people and do their shopping at Target). If only they’d get some hideous tattoos and chug brewskis they’d be fine. Oh, those pitiful geeks!
    However, over here in Britain there is another problem, one that gives ammunition to those who pounce on any evidence of liberalism or intelligence (intelligence not connected to business, that is) or negative capability as “sensationalist” or “un-English. That is the veneration of anyone who is a strident atheist or somehow involved with science, as if they are beyond reproach and incapable of being intransigent @$$holes or being *wrong*. All it is is the flipside, a parallel extremism. I suppose this comes out in the “magical” technology we see in movies and television. Everyone is so reliant upon it that in “real life” the notion that one shouldn’t use it too much or become locked into a parasitic relationship is ignored. And then people are shocked – *shocked*! – when it transpires that, what’s it called? VisageTome?! 😉 has been looting their personal data and others have been manipulated into making certain decisions by the morally corrupt. Fer Gahd’s Sake!
    But I digress… One of the worst things about Abrams Trek was the treatment of Spock and the Vulcans. Truly, the Vulcan side of Spock is demonized while ol’ “Gut Instinct” Kirk is valorized. The Vulcans are presented as racist bullies for the most part…and then their planet *blows up* and all but a tiny number die. See Ya, Ya Nasty Logical Jag-Offs! If we see Earth as the United States and the Vulcans as the Other with Vulcan as a foreign country there is an ugly if presumably unintended underlying message and it isn’t a positive one. After all, Kirk has always been representative of a certain kind of All-American “can-do” spirit, a two-fisted adventurer possessed Of an almost unerring sense of “what’s right”. Altho’, in the original series and the movies, Star Trek was often at its best when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy for all their flaws formed a gestalt, one balanced being out of three. A not-so Holy trinity. It’s odd that the modern movies stray further into a fundamental conservatism than the best of the original series and its movies did, and less defensible, *much* less defensible as the original was made in the 1960s! What does that say? Probably nothing good. Remember, it was *Spock* who – as popular as Kirk was – became the true Icon and Sex Symbol of the original. And why? Because he was *different*. Even his form of defense was antithetical to the usual “punch ’em” or “shoot ’em” conventions. In contrast, the modern movies both try to “normalize” him (hey, Spock and Uhura are a couple – he definitely isn’t weeeiiiirrrrd!” and to make him something of a fool and tool. They take the sometimes schizophrenic ambivalent attitude to Spock that occasionally manifested in the original and they amplify it to a ludicrous degree whilst excusing all of NuKirk’s jerkiness (Classic Kirk could be a master jerk but the new one has him beat. Hotcha!). The worst thing is the makers likely aren’t aware of it, they symbolize that most unholy of creatures: The FratNerd. Yeuch. It all appears to stem from the same place, “gotta keep the different in their place, can’t have ’em be too “elite”, amirite, geekdudebros?!” with a good dose of not wanting to alienate the hard-of-feeling. Sad really. (I could point to the similar flaws in the “normalizing”-cum-otherizing approach to Holmes’s character in Sherlock which takes hold from Season Three. It’s *that* which is the greatest problem with late-period Sherlock – that and the plotting or “notting” *pun!* – not the “queer-baiting” alleged by delusional self-righteous people who have convinced themselves that Steven Moffat who is straight and Mark Gatiss who is gay had hinted that Sherlock and Dr Watson were gay, an accusation that is pure bonkersness. Oops I have exceeded everyone’s Tediousness Quotient. My apologies. 🙂 )

  9. Louis Bright-Raven

    Jeff Nettleton says, “I’ve lamented about this far too often. You rarely even get real mysteries in comics, anymore. What you get is a bunch of internet magic, where a computer pops up the answer, without any analysis. Very rarely are clues pieced together and even rarer when it is done as playfair. I really miss The Maze Agency, which exemplified both the playfair mystery and great character interaction…”

    Do you realize Jeff that every time anybody’s tried to relaunch MAZE AGENCY, the retailers and fandom alike have totally ignored it, yes? Caliber’s 1997 three issue miniseries started at 4,250 copies ordered, then dropped to less than half that so that it didn’t even list in the top 300 sales. The 2005 IDW series – #1 4,294 copies, #2 3,105 copies and #3 2,952 copies.

    Sadly, these are just not sustainable sales numbers.

    1. “… the retailers and fandom alike have totally ignored it…”

      In a real business, the publishers would recognize that their market is not to be found in the comic shops and would ignore Diamond and go sell their comic where their potential readers are to be found.

  10. M-Wolverine

    “…the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”

    I love this column. And that line is part of what I hate about modern society. If I have to hear one more time “you shouldn’t judge, everyone’s view is valid, you should accept it because it is just different” I’m like NOOOOOO. That’s what makes us human; not thumbs, or fire, or being upright, but the ability to JUDGE. Think. Assess. Not all ideas are created equally. Some are fucking stupid. And need to be called out as that. That’s not to say people don’t have the right to say them, or be stupid. Just don’t expect to be protected from your dumb ideas.

    Star Trek, there was definitely a proposition that humanism, being human, and feelings matter. And to some extent it wasn’t wrong. But I think they did a pretty good job of balancing the Kirk-Spock dynamic. If they hadn’t Spock would be the bad guy foil in the crew, rather than the hero equal to Kirk. (Bad guy not in that he would be evil, but with recent deaths, the Dan to Harry in Night Court, or any other number of like characters). And McCoy, yeah, he probably wouldn’t get away with that in today’s workplace no more the far future one, but I don’t think he was anti-intellectual. Under that old country doctor look was a cutting edge medical scientist, discovering new cures. He just liked busting everyone’s balls. And none more than Spock because 1. Spock seemed like he needed the cutting down the most and 2. under all that they respected the hell out of one another, and there was a genuine like. I remember one Star Trek graphic novel where old McCoy is asked having seen them both who he’d rather have as Captain, Kirk or Picard, and he says Spock…but don’t let it go to that pointy eared head.

    I do think they’ve taken Sherlock to anti-social disfunction…but was he ever really not at least unsocial? He wasn’t incapable, but at least in old movies, if not the books themselves, seemed to really spent a lot of time telling people how they were wrong without any concern with for their feelings. And not always because they were in “tell me in English!” mode. (Which I always thought the answer should be “sorry you’re too dumb to understand, I’ll try and tell you like you’re a 3rd grader.”)

    Mr. Terrific didn’t have to be a macho guy (though he could have been). He’s not that macho in the comics. He’s CAPABLE. There’s no reason you couldn’t have a good looking, fit, capable guy who isn’t oozing Oliver Queen type testosterone. The TV version of terrific is doubly bad, because not only do they make the nerdy guy nerdy and not macho, but they have to make the gay guy nerdy and not macho.

    We’ve talked about it before, but in old sci fi movies it’s usually a scientist who is coming up with something to save the day from the monster. You look at most of early Marvel, and they’re all scientists. Reed, Tony, Bruce, Peter, Hank, Charles who has Professor in his superhero name. Even their greatest villain has no powers other than being smarter than everyone else. Really the only place you’re getting scientist heroes now is the MCU. And even then they’re creating Ultrons.

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