Simon Pegg Warns Against "Infantilization" of Popular Culture

Genre movies are "ultimately driven by market forces," argues the 'Star Trek' writer and actor.
Focus Features

Simon Pegg has taken to the Internet to clarify comments made during an interview regarding whether or not nerd culture is responsible for "dumbing down" popular culture — but if you think that means he's backing down from his concerns about the increasing dominance of genre cinema, think again.

Pegg's original comments, made to the British magazine Radio Times, saw the actor and writer decry the effect that genre entertainment has had on mainstream culture. "Part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste," he was quoted as saying. "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."

That was enough to provoke a response from Gawker Media's io9, which wondered whether Pegg was projecting his own concerns: "Not to play armchair psychiatrist to Pegg or anything, but this does sound dangerously as though he didn’t take anything away from The Avengers, Star Wars, or Star Trek — and now wonders if he’s thrown his whole life away on them," the piece noted and asked, "Is he trolling, or has he really gotten so little out of years of science fiction?"

Pegg offered an in-depth answer to that question on his own website. The short version? He was neither trolling nor has he gotten little out of years of science fiction — but he's concerned, nonetheless.

"Recent developments in popular culture were arguably predicted by the French philosopher and cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard in his book, America, in which he talks about the infantilization of society," wrote Pegg. "Put simply, this is the idea that as a society, we are kept in a state of arrested development by dominant forces in order to keep us more pliant. We are made passionate about the things that occupied us as children as a means of drawing our attentions away from the things we really should be invested in, inequality, corruption, economic injustice etc. It makes sense that when faced with the awfulness of the world, the harsh realities that surround us, our instinct is to seek comfort, and where else were the majority of us most comfortable than our youth?"

Even the most morally complicated genre material, argued Pegg — citing both Ex Machina and Mad Max: Fury Road as evidence against his own "dumbing down" commentary — are "ultimately driven by market forces, and somebody somewhere will want to soften the edges so that toys and lunch boxes will be sold." Instead of rejecting the genre entertainment of his youth, wrote Pegg, he was speaking up in its defense.

"On one hand, it’s a wonderful thing, having what used to be fringe concerns suddenly ruling the mainstream," he wrote, "but at the same time, these concerns have also been monetised and marketed and the things that made them precious to us, aren’t always the primary concern [to those controlling the properties]."

Pegg, himself, remains in partial control of one property: He's continuing to co-write the third Star Trek movie, which he named in his post as Star Trek Beyond. He'll next be seen onscreen in this summer's Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, due out July 31.

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