Friday, May 30, 2008

Retro-Journal: Nerd Romance and a Nerd on Trial in Late 2003

Today was the purported unveiling of videotaped alien life (ha!) by some guy who’s been trying to inspire the creation of an office of extraterrestrial affairs in Denver, as you may have read in the “news” — and tomorrow’s the last day of this blog’s Month of the Nerd (assuming the aliens don’t take over — but we nerds would be ready for them, of course).

Five years ago, though, 2003 was the Year of the Nerd, or so I declared at the time, due to the many nerd-pleasing movies that came out then. More about the Year of the Nerd in a moment.

First, I have to note that since the Denver guy has shown a laughable reluctance to let the press record his purported alien — and since he says the footage is a brief grainy infrared night shot — I think it’s safe to say the Denver alien is as phony as the Pacific Northwest tree octopus, a hoax/joke Dave Whitney just brought to my attention — and to which I can only say “Cthulhu ftagn!” (sp?). Actually, as aesthetic nightmares go, I’ve always thought we’re fortunate octopuses and squids don’t fly, so I should shudder at the tree octopus.

While the Northwest’s octopuses may not be in the water where they belong, there’s clearly something in the water in Denver, since this year that city’s not only hosting the major gatherings for the Democrats, WorldCon sci-fi nerds, any press interested in the “alien footage,” and — just this past weekend — the Libertarian Party, it also got (as an embarrassing package deal with the Libertarian convention) talks by 9/11 Truthers and Richard Hoagland, who thinks NASA is concealing evidence of alien civilizations on multiple planets and moons, including Mars, where he famously thinks one unremarkable rock among millions looks a little like a face (you’ve probably seen it — the “face” was even the basis of an X-Files episode, the first one I ever saw, which I hated, leading me to avoid the show for a year, but which, as it happens, X-Files creator Chris Carter himself said was probably the worst episode). The late Carl Sagan once responded to Hoagland by pointing out that with millions of photographed Mars rocks to choose from, one can easily find ones that look like Kermit the Frog or just about any other damn thing you want. People love to spot patterns, even when they aren’t there (e.g., synchronicity, astrology, etc., etc.).

Anyway, Hoagland is also apparently a libertarian or at least wants to abolish NASA’s near-monopoly on space money (and on the truth!!) — and if authoritarianism in space scares him, as it should, he’d be aghast to know that the comedic moon-Nazis are coming soon — to a theatre near you, in the form of the film Iron Sky, as I just learned this week.



1. There’s often a strong skeptical streak among libertarians (e.g., me), but there’s also a strain of what might almost be called staunch anti-skeptics in the libertarian camp, people (often from California, in my experience, arising from the same soil as the Pynchonesque happy/paranoid anarcho-hippies out there) who more or less start from the premise that whatever the Establishment doesn’t want you to believe may be worth giving serious consideration — fluoride-as-poison conspiracy theories, UFOs, a hollow Earth, CIA psychics, Oswald as robot, anything for which there’s zero evidence and no plausibility, basically.

2. In a similar and often overlapping way, I notice there is a split among freedom-lovers between those wanting to live online and those wanting to live off the grid, each m.o. having its uses. (Todd Seavey’s formula: blogging by day, blogging by night, yet no cell phone, no social-networking-sites memberships [sorry to all who've asked -- you can always e-mail], no cable TV — and maybe no TV period once the digital transition occurs, which would be fine, frankly, as I’ve gone through periods without TV before and fared OK.)

There’s a whole hippie-like libertarian wing that mainly wants freedom to do primitive things like drink raw milk (sort of like the libertarian owners of Whole Foods and a couple organic-ish friends of mine). Indeed, a raw milk seller hassled by regulators was depicted rather heroically in the last issue of Reason. Let us hope he doesn’t puke or kill someone. I think for some people freedom and living on a tiny self-sustaining plot of land without any chemical fertilizers just naturally (so to speak) seem to go together, the way that freedom and returning to a decentralized checkerboard of tiny little parish communities across England went together naturally in the mind of century-ago Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton (but more about him in December — put that on your calendar). People’s intuitions seem to split pro-modernity or anti-modernity on a lot of things. Robots for me, please.

3. In a third (and again, highly analogous) split, plenty of libertarians (me included) are arch-materialists, seeing that stance as a pretty good fit with our earthy, capitalist views (and, far more importantly, seeing it as the truth) — but, for instance, the head of the Independent Institute, David Theroux, when I met him in Vegas of all places, denounced strict materialism and argues that things like this month’s Christian-tinged Narnia movie are the perfect recruiting tools for libertarianism (he’s president of the C.S. Lewis Society of California, I now realize), precisely because spirituality, to his mind, leads people to a love of free will and dislike of earthly rulers (he’d go further and argue that materialism is logically incoherent because, to oversimplify his point a bit, determinism supposedly can’t account for freely choosing to believe in things like determinism, an argument that I, of course, find flawed — for reasons deterministically rooted in my neural makeup, for anyone doubting my consistency on this point — and, yes, historical circumstance and genetics also led me to add that last bit — and this one…).

But more about late 2003: having, only months earlier, been dumped by a born-again Christian, I was pleased to find myself dating women who were, in their very different ways, all very unlike a born-again Christian — and each of them a nerd in the best sense of the word, including: a gangly, charismatic, 5′10″, sometimes-Belgium-dwelling PR vice prez who I half-suspected may have been Bryan Ferry’s lovechild, given her mother’s long-ago involvement with that rock star, despite the daughter’s insistence on having been fathered by an expert on spiders; and, early the next year, a personal trainer and freelance science writer twenty years my senior (but also a competitive body-builder).

And I have been lucky enough to date other interesting women since: a scientist, a former White House intern, a disgruntled postal employee, and so on — stopped short of marriage by some tricky obstacle such as, more often than not, my steadfast refusal to have children (be warned). But now we may approach too close to the present and too close to recent wounds for me to say more, so let us turn away from such matters for the remaining three and a half years covered by the Retro-Journal — there is a war to talk about, after all, and the death of conservatism, issues more divisive for libertarians than even the conspiracies, unpasteurized milk, and divine powers mentioned above.


But before moving on to such somber matters — and on this, the penultimate day of the Month of the Nerd — let me recount how 2003, the Year of the Nerd, ended with vindication, in court, of my nerdiness. Thanks to the ever-alert — none dare call him hyperactive — Michael Malice, who overheard (as was then his wont) some TV producers talking about needing guests for their show, he offered himself and me — as plaintiff and defendant, respectively, on the Style Channel’s show Style Court, in which one person accuses another of having a bad wardrobe. I stood accused, on national television (taped in late 2003, aired in early 2004) of dressing like a nerd and played it up a bit on the show, wearing my rarely-deployed glasses and garish Marx Brothers tie (from that brief period in the early 90s when bad ties with pictures were ostensibly a good thing).

Since neither Malice nor I actually cared about fashion (indeed, Malice had his real taste arbiter, punker Tibbie X, along in the courtroom as an advisor), we did what I contend was a masterful job of cramming as many references as possible to things we do care about into what was edited down to a seven-minute segment, done with no retakes. Malice mentioned tropical fish and Virginia Postrel’s libertarian aesthetics tome The Substance of Style, for instance. I mentioned the American Council on Science and Health, the idea of a book called Conservatism for Punks, Star Trek, my mother’s love of the ABC soap opera All My Children (a cute actress from the series was one of the “style jurors,” so I seized a “Hi, Mom” opportunity), philosophy, Looney Toons, the time I went to Limelight in the early 90s with Chris Nugent and Kyle Smith (who was told to “dress it up a little next time” by the doorman), and even the fictional character “Sebastiano,” created by my fellow Film Bulletin writer Andrew Clateman back when we were at Brown (in a poem containing such bold, Nietzschean lines as “If I were Sebastiano/ I would butt my head through the Chagall stained-glass windows, my friend” — and the unrelated interlude, as I recall, “When you’re down and feeling blue/ At the end of the eight-forked path, there’s a Buddha for you”). And it all worked in context. Again: seven minutes.

Left on the cutting room floor, alas, was me saying (in what I still think was a funny and anarchist comment), “Your honor, Michael Malice has no respect for the authority of this style court!” Also cut: Michael (after I got a verdict of not-guilty for sticking to my nerd principles and thus being aesthetically consistent) explicitly endorsing elitism and exclusion, causing the oddly peeved style judge to liken him to a Nazi (and even less plausibly, a communist), leading to the judge and Michael both revealing they’d lost relatives in the Holocaust and to Michael doing an ironic Nazi salute — probably Style Court’s first and last. They also cut some of my lines about The Substance of Style, and afterwards Postrel complained that we didn’t defend her book adequately against the judge’s dismissive comments — and like most of those who criticize Malice (such as the aforementioned born-again Christian, Dawn Eden, who’ll be just fine), Postrel now has cancer, though I do not believe in black magic.

In any case, having been officially vindicated in court five years ago as a principled and thus permissible nerd, I will feel no guilt about spending tomorrow, the final day of my Month of the Nerd and indeed the Ultimate Nerd Day, watching or rewatching all four of May’s major nerd films, mentioned at the start of each of this month’s four prior Retro-Journal entries.


jenny said...

i just got back from blade runner: the final cut (a fitting end to month of the nerd, i think), which is well worth seeing in the theater (the remastered audio and print are amazing; some neat visual tricks were done with a deft hand and the age-old question of “is deckard a replicant?” unfortunately finally put to rest).

the opening scenes were enough to take the taste of indiana jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull right out of my mouth, and it’s always nice to see the younger version of edward james olmos.

this has absolutely nothing to do with the blog entry, other than you ended it by mentioning major nerd films – and if you were to screen the studio cut, the original director’s cut, and the final cut of blade runner serially, you’d have the background for the ultimate nerd coffeehouse debate.

Todd Seavey said...

Actually, there is an additional tie to the blog entry: I got in to see the Final Cut thanks to Kyle Smith and loved it, and you see how I repay him: by telling the story of Limelight dissing his outfit. Ah, well, off to sleep and rest up for the Ultimate Nerd Day, guilt on my conscience. Maybe I’ll dream of androids in bad wool outfits.