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In Which the Author Delineates the Hidden Connection Between Presidential Politics and the Worst Aspects of Nerd Culture, and What Ensues

Our last presidential election had two candidates: Obama and Not-Obama. There's always hatred for the opposing candidate in a presidential race, but the venom directed at Obama over the last few years has been so intense that it literally defies reality: Socialist. Death panels. Birtherism. Secret Moslem. Jean Paul Ludwig. (No, seriously.)

It's certainly much deeper than anything warranted by his actions or legislation. In fact, he's done things that would have put the GOP base into orgasmic comas on the floors of their media rooms if it had been Chris Christie in the White House. ("Alex, what is 'killing a terrorist mastermind?'")

A lot of people say this is racism.

I've been thinking about for months now, and I have a different answer.

I say it's nerds.

I was a big old Star Trek nerd myself. I didn't go to conventions, and I sided more with "Evil Shatner" than the Trekkies he lambasted that one time he lost his cool, but I still loved that show. And when I heard Paramount was going to make Star Trek: The Next Generation, I was SO THERE.

Maybe you're old enough to remember what happened next. The show came out, and it was awful. The dialogue was as stilted as an Ed Wood B-movie; the plot points were clichés, there was no conflict, and every third episode ended with a deus ex machina. It made me cringe. My "normal" friends knew that I liked Trek. Now they were seeing this abortion on my say-so, and any pretensions to taste that I might have had were being tossed out the window.

But then a funny thing happened. I would wax sardonic about ST:TNG to other fans, expecting at least a nod of agreement, if not a grin at my razor-sharp wit. Instead, they defended the show. They liked it. Sure, the characters were wooden, but they had the potential for a lot more growth than the ones in the original Star Trek. The holodeck is tremendous, it's a great idea to put a mind-altering illusion chamber onto a ship capable of destroying planets. Robot sex? That's not creepy, it's daring, and hearing the crew explain the human experience to Data for the umpteenth time, that just never gets old.

I was baffled. Was I crazy? Couldn't they see how awful this thing was? So we would talk and talk – or they would, while my mind drifted – until we came to the subject of Wesley Crusher, the youngest character of the show. Here, the sentiment was unanimous: Wesley Crusher had to die.

This one made my brain hurt even worse. Sure, the character was annoying. He might even have been the most annoying of the regulars - but certainly not by much. (An unbiased viewer might have taken a long, hard look at Commander Ryker, the series' Kirk surrogate.) And my friends didn't just hate Wesley Crusher; they hated Wil Wheaton, the actor who played him, as if one sixteen-year old had destroyed the most precious thing in the universe.

To a psychologist – or an addict in recovery – this is a pretty familiar pattern. My fellow nerds couldn't admit that they were committed to crap. Their identity was tied to the show. Others might see them as losers, but they knew that they were more intelligent, more insightful, and more connected. If they liked something, it had to be objectively good. So, instead of abandoning ST:TNG altogether – my response – they recast it as a flawed but visionary series. All they had to do was get rid of that flaw, that Wesley, and everything would be wonderful.

In the end, the fans were triumphant. The show did improve, and Wesley was demoted from series regular to recurring guest. ST:TNG ran for seven seasons and developed three spin-offs, and Wheaton's career went into eclipse until he resurrected it as a blogger and, ironically, an icon to a new generation of nerds.

Like Trekkies, the GOP base is passionate. In fact, that's been the GOP trade-off for at least four election cycles – intensity at the cost of a broader voter appeal. Being the party of the angry white male has paid off pretty well, often allowing Republicans to win on issues that a majority of Americans oppose (restricting choice, tax cuts for the wealthy, etc.) But that's a problem for the country now, because the GOP base that loathes Obama is also the base that voted for George W. Bush, twice.

The problem isn't just that Bush was a bad president. It is that Bush and his administration damaged those things in the country that conservatives treasure most – military strength, financial stability, and limited government; and that he did it using the rhetoric and methods most beloved of the Right – talking loudly, and wielding a big stick. No one outside the right wing of American politics denies that it was George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, who allowed America's financial markets to collapse in a flood of unregulated chicanery; who wasted lives and treasure in an extended war that had nothing to do with bringing to justice the leaders of al-Qaeda; and who ballooned the US deficit into the trillions. George W. Bush stood for everything conservatives believed in. His style in leadership was exactly what they were looking for. And he failed.

Psychologically mature individuals may have a tough time dealing with a situation, but ultimately they absorb it, comprehend it, and move on. The American Right has yet to do that. Instead, they're participating in a classic case of mass denial. Obama is their Wesley. And after you deny one reality, it becomes easier to deny others, and that is the mulch for the quick-growing conspiracy theories about Obama's citizenship, political views, academic record, and so on. (And in denial, as in so much else, Karl Rove has literally become the face of the party; consider his on-air reaction to Obama's win on election night. It was, as my psychoanalyst cousin would say, "textbook.")

This denial is a genuinely scary thing. It means that a large minority of America's citizens are engaging in thinking that is literally pathological, in areas where the fate of the world hangs in the balance. It can lead to behavior that is profoundly damaging – like the Tea Party debt-ceiling tactics last year, or Ambassador John Bolton's behavior at the United Nations.

And even worse, Red Staters, it might make you nerds. Just like me.

Originally posted to Average Ted on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 09:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by Star Trek fans.

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Comment Preferences

  •  This fits somehow, but don't ask me why? (6+ / 0-)

    Father Time remains undefeated.

    by jwinIL14 on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 09:55:41 PM PDT

    •  ZOMG I had forgotten this! (0+ / 0-)


      I agree that early on - 1st 2 seasons - were pretty bad.  I wasn't watching much then.  Thankfully, Braga and team turned things around and wrote some fine sci fi seasons 3-6.


      The GOP says you have to have an ID to vote, but $ Millionaire donors should remain anonymous?

      by JVolvo on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:58:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was so excited about the premier of ST:TNG (8+ / 0-)

    We tuned in and watched it, eagerly.

    By about the 6th episode of the first season, me, my roomie, and my brother, just turned it off and stopped watching it.

    And we were guys with Star Trek and Star Wars posters around our apartment, we were DnD geeks and played Star Fleet Battles miniature wargames, and we really were the audience for this show.

    And it was horrible.  Dreadful.

    Like you said, eventually it got better, as they fixed so many of the things that were wrong (and Wil Wheaton was only one of many, and he not the worst part).

    The writing was so bad that the entire first season was just a joke.  And that carried over into the spinoffs.  I never did watch past Season One of ST:Voyager, because of how dreadful the writing was in Season One.

    Just horrible, horrible, writing.

    *The administration has done virtually nothing designed to reward its partisans. - Kos 8/31/10*

    by Rick Aucoin on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 10:05:49 PM PDT

    •  I think Jeri Ryan did a great job though. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Puddytat, soros

      We were not ahead of our time, we led the way to our time.

      by i understand on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 10:40:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  ... Jeri Ryan? (5+ / 0-)

        Well, first of all, Seven of Nine didn't show up for a season or so of Voyager, so her introduction didn't affect my opinion of Voyager Season One's writing.

        That said, what did she do a good job of doing, being the incredible hot ass in a bunny suit?

        If so, yes, she did a great job of that.  :D  

        Pandering, it's what ST writers have been doing since Yeoman Rand and the rest of the miniskirt brigade on the original Series!

        *The administration has done virtually nothing designed to reward its partisans. - Kos 8/31/10*

        by Rick Aucoin on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 10:51:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Jeri Ryan is connected to Obama's election (9+ / 0-)

        in a very strange way. Her ex-husband is Jack Ryan.

        In 2004, there was an open Senate Seat in Illinois. The Republicans nominated Jack Ryan, the Democrats nominated Barack Obama.

        Then details from the divorce came out. Apparently Jack took his wife Jeri to sex clubs and tried to get her to have sex in public. So Jack Ryan resigned the nomination. The Illinois Republicans picked Alan Keyes (incompetent) as their new candidate and Obama was elected Senator.

        "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

        by Dbug on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 12:47:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  The First Season of TNG Tried to be Like TOS (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Which is bad for the late 1980s since those hokey 60's plots didn't really play well at that time. The second season was much better. it takes a while for every TV show to find its voice. Also, Wesley never really annoyed me, probably because I was a young kid at the time too.

      "The problem with posting quotes off the Internet is you never know if they're genuine."--Gen. George Washington at the Battle of Gettysburg, February 30, 1908

      by Aspe4 on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 08:32:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I hear Obama is a Trekkie (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And he's not ashamed to admit it.

  •  The borg made it worthwhile (7+ / 0-)

    The war episodes with the Borg were terrific, and made a household name of wolf 359.

    The Battle of Wolf 359

    We were not ahead of our time, we led the way to our time.

    by i understand on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 10:35:15 PM PDT

  •  I wonder what (7+ / 0-)

    CleverNickName thinks about this.

    A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. - Greek proverb

    by marleycat on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 10:38:46 PM PDT

    •  For those that don't get the reference here (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      viral, marleycat, trumpeter, JVolvo

      Wil is a kossack.   Click the link and I am sure you can find his take on some items of interest.  

      "Small Businesses Don't Build Levees" - Melissa Harris Perry

      by justmy2 on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 06:02:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My first thought (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jabney, marleycat, trumpeter, JVolvo

      on seeing the headline was "Hey! You can't call out a fellow kossack in your title!"  :)

      The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. - 9th Amendment

      by TracieLynn on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 06:32:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Although it should be obvious in the article- (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      trumpeter, marleycat

      -I'd like to point out again that I didn't agree with the fan assessment of Wheaton the actor. I think he - and Frakes, and Spiner, and all the other cast members - were obviously talented and professional.

      •  I wasn't questioning your assessment of the show. (0+ / 0-)

        I agree with you, for the most part. I'm just curious how Wil Wheaton would view the analogy to the GOP.

        A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. - Greek proverb

        by marleycat on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:22:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Yup. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      prfb, JVolvo

      Wesley Crusher was a badly conceived character, but that had nothing to do with Wil.  Wheaton is actually a nice guy, and a decent writer on his own.  It ain't his fault that Roddenberry had an idea that didn't work well, or that the show didn't hire the right writers (or listen much to the good ones they did hire), or that his character was a whiny teenager.

      And there's really no connection between that and the GOP, save that the initial idea was not well considered, and was badly written.

      Stop picking on Wil.

      I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

      by trumpeter on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:07:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  From what I hear, the problem with STNG (5+ / 0-)

    was that writers were given free reign, and most chose the easy route of having Wesley Crusher, boy genius, solve their main plot point. Wil Wheaton was, after all, the only known and bankable star at the time, coming off Stand By Me and Toy Soldiers.

    It's been 3.5 decades. Grudges that old against teen actors are kinda ... pathetic. But if you want to go after one, try Kirk Cameron.

    "I was a big supporter of waterboarding" - Dick Cheney 2/14/10

    by Bob Love on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 11:43:35 PM PDT

    •  A Friend of Mine Raised an Interesting Point (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bob Love, moviemeister76

      The subsequent seasons of TNG lacked something that season 1 and TOS had in common - they were weird. When he pointed that out to me I had to agree, and admit that I kinda liked the weirdness, and am sad it had to go to make the series more appealing both "literarily," as it was panned for above, and just less confusing to the average muggle. :p

      •  Very much agree (0+ / 0-)

        The first two seasons of TNG seemed to be more focused on how strange aliens really would be to us humans. After that, though the show appeared more visually slick and the writing style more sharp, it became little more than the TNG crew meeting another new alien race which just happened to act exactly like we did.

        Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

        by moviemeister76 on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 08:41:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Yeah, wasn't Wil Wheaton who said... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ..."Suck my fat one, you dime store hood."?  That goes down as one of the greatest lines in the history of cinema.

      "The opposite of faith is not doubt. It's certainty."

      by Simul Iustus et Peccator on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:18:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  2.5 decades since 87-88. :o) (0+ / 0-)

      The GOP says you have to have an ID to vote, but $ Millionaire donors should remain anonymous?

      by JVolvo on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 10:07:47 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm having a real hard time with: (9+ / 0-)

    The GOP is just like Trekkies (!)

    They're more like the Borg.  Resistance may be futile, my friends, but at least you aren't bored before you're assimilated!

    Viva la resistance!

    •  Agreed. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Lots of new ideas, some of which pan out, a few really good times, a lot of crap - this isn't like the Democrats? Still better than watching 24, even if the acting isn't as good.

      At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

      by serendipityisabitch on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 11:59:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have just been burning through DS9 (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Puddytat, 207wickedgood, prfb, Stude Dude

    I love it. The Quark episodes are generally dreadful, but on the whole I think it was the best Trek ever.

    I'm never sure if I've forgotten and left the lid up, or if InvisObama™ is using the loo.

    by The Gryffin on Sun Apr 14, 2013 at 11:45:51 PM PDT

  •  The only problem with your theory (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BlackGriffen, Chi, viral

    Obama is not the first Democratic president. And Bush was not the first conservative president to act the way he did. Yet Obama is the only president in the history of our country who was forced to show his birth certificate after he was already in office. It's more than just nerd culture.

    Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

    by moviemeister76 on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 12:07:28 AM PDT

  •  I had a crush on Jean Luc Picard. (7+ / 0-)

    And looked forward to seeing Whoopie Goldberg a lot.  Almost enough to make me ignore the rest of it.

    I'll take great and glorious goals, even if a bit flawed in the execution, over Odes to the Way We've always Done That.

    This may make me a nerd (or a romantic), but it doesn't make me a Republican.

    Back to what you were actually talking about - their base isn't passionate.  Passion is a positive emotion, and a base that has to be manipulated with scare tactics isn't passionate, it's panicked. I grant you that some of the symptoms can be similar, but the overall picture is very different.

    At least half the future I've been expecting hasn't gotten here yet. Sigh.... (Yes, there's gender bias in my name; no, I wasn't thinking about it when I signed up. My apologies.)

    by serendipityisabitch on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 12:10:45 AM PDT

  •  Does this explain Jar Jar Binks? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady, murrayewv, 207wickedgood

    Or was he actually objectively unbearable?

    •  Jar Jar Binks epitomised everything wrong (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      207wickedgood, JVolvo, Sandino

      with the Darth Vader Star  Wars movies. Yes, it was possible to create a computer-animated character. But, Lucas was so in love with having the technology that would do what he wanted he forgot he had to create an actual character, not just a walking, gibbering bundle of cliches (annoying, stupid plot device that requires constant rescuing as it makes pointless comments that are supposed to be "cute").

      TNG hit its stride in the Third Season. Season One had the occasional interesting idea, but S. Two featured the return of one of Roddenberry's old squeezes: Diana Muldaur. I never much liked her two appearances on TOS, and Pulaski was just worse. She seems to have been created simply to remind us that Data was an android and, somehow, that prejudice against "The Other" is a bad thing. Never "got" her.


      •  "You Green-Blooded Pointed-Eared... uh, Robot!" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        radarlady, Sandino

        To me it seemed like Pulaski was an attempt to recreate the famous Spock/McCoy feud of TOS by writers who didn't really understand what made the Spock/McCoy feud work.

        The same thing, believe it or not, occured in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA back in the 1970s.  For a while the comic had featured verbal sparring between Green Arrow (who at the time was being written as a hippie liberal) and Hawkman (a Thanagarian police officer, therefore an Establishment figure).  Then Hawkman was taken off the series and he was replaced by Red Tornado, a super-powered robot.

        The writers tried to keep the bickering by shifting it from "Left vs Right" to "Emotions vs Logic".  But it just maked Green Arrow look like a jerk.

        "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

        by quarkstomper on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 05:40:06 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I like your insight in this.... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marleycat, viral, prfb

    I have been pondering a related idea about how the isolated male priviliged culture of computer programmers and engineers (successful and well paid, generally and often libertarian conservatives) come to justify their belief systems for folks like Rand Paul.    this lack of critical external judgment because you are part of the in group and the refusal to believe your membership has anything to do with privilege and is solely merit is very helpful.

    You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

    by murrayewv on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 03:02:38 AM PDT

  •  No offense, but I have never understood the (0+ / 0-)

    allure of science fiction and especially of Star Trek. However, I certainly see the dangerous delusions of that large minority of Americans.

    What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

    by commonmass on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 04:33:43 AM PDT

  •  Meh. I liked the show. But your thesis is... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...compelling.  A friend of mine was a Repub.  Member of College Republicans in the 80s.  Grew up in North Dakota from a family of Republicans.  But is he now a very progressive Democrat.  I asked him what happened.  He said he got tired of trying to defend stupid Republican policies and politicians that defied common sense and common decency.  He found himself having to do it more and more often and having to stretch the boundaries of fact and reason further and further.  And he finally decided he'd had enough.  I think his last Repub vote was Dole/Kemp.

    "The opposite of faith is not doubt. It's certainty."

    by Simul Iustus et Peccator on Mon Apr 15, 2013 at 09:30:30 AM PDT

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