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Life Skills for Fanboys:  Stop Trying to Make Geek Cool

written by Tony DiGerolamo, Copyright 2014

To further my goal of helping fellow fanboys, I have included an index of links of previous columns with their topics.  Don’t take it personal, I’m just trying to help.  Previous columns are indexed at the end.

The Issue At Hand

So I just got done watching the new Seth-McFarlane-Produced Cosmos, hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  Not a bad show, visually fun and educational.  I have to commend Seth and Neil and even Fox for attempting to bring the show back and add some much-needed intelligence to television.  There’s just one problem.

I don’t think it’s going to work.

Teachers have been trying to do this forever.  They take a boring subject matter and they try to infuse it with something they think people (and specifically kids) will be interested in.  Does it work?  Ask yourself this question, since you were in school: Did it work on you?

No, it didn’t and I was a kid that had an interest in science and history.  But every time a teacher put on a film strip or movie or video that attempted to “speak” to me, all it was really doing was dumbing down the material for the kids in the class who didn’t give a shit.

The Show

Now, that’s not to say the show wasn’t good.  And it might even been unfair to judge it by the first episode, it could get a lot better.  But other than learning Neil DeGrasse Tyson met Carl Sagan, the previous host, as a teenager, I didn’t really learn anything.

Maybe the show is not for me.  Maybe I’m too old and knowledgeable.  But then, why jam this show in the 9pm time slot where Family Guy and American Dad used to be?  Last time I checked, that was the “stoner slot” for people who liked to smoke pot and watch TV, not get caught up on what’s happening in the Universe.


And let’s be honest, science is not that exciting.  The most exciting part about it is a new discovery, i.e. something you don’t know.  Neil did the ol’ “let’s equate all of history into an entire calendar so we can show how short of a time Man has existed” bit.  They do that in school too and I’ve heard it like a billion times.

The Audience

So as an audience member, who is this retread of basic science supposed to appeal to?  I’m already an interested party, but I’ve heard this.  And if you’re not interested in science, you’ve probably switched over to yell at the screen while The Walking Dead makes a mockery out of physics and common sense.  So are the kids that haven’t heard this analogy and never had an interest in science suddenly going to drop their bongs and go, “Oooooh, cool!  Now I get science!”

Don’t Sugarcoat Geek

Science is hard and complex, that’s what’s interesting about it.  When you sugarcoat it, boil it down and simplify it for an audience of cartoon geeks in an attempt to draw in a broad viewership, you trade in the one thing you had that was appealing.  For instance, DeGrasse is going through the calendar and says something like “Man’s first ancestors appeared 3 million years ago”.  I instantly remembered that there was a recent discovery related to that.

Now if you go to Wikipedia, you can see lots of time frames he could’ve said.  He might’ve said seven or 5.3 million, but he says, “Three”.  This, I’m guessing, is a nod to Lucy, a fossil that’s most well-known, which is about 3.22 million years ago.  And even that, he’s rounding down.  Why?  Probably to simplify it to an audience that’s not all that interested in science in the first place.

Don’t Apologize

Geek stuff, like science, is sometimes boring, especially to the people who aren’t very interested.  If you’re not interested in space, all the visuals in the world won’t make you care about Voyager.  Sorry.  Neil was a smart kid.  He liked that stuff.  Not everyone is him.

Trying to make science cool is like saying, “I’m sorry, you don’t like this.  Here’s some cool stuff to make you like it.  See?  Isn’t it cool now?”  No.  The people you’re trying to convince are even less likely to be convinced.

Not apologizing is the way to go.  Who sounds like a better mechanic?  The one that says, “You’ve blown a gasket in your engine and it cracked the block.”  Or the mechanic that says, “Your car’s thingee is broke.  You need a new one.”  By dumbing it down, Neil put himself in the league of every half-baked science host who wasn’t a scientist.  I wanted to hear a guy that sounded like he could talk circles around me.  Instead I got just another TV head, no smarter than my local news anchor.

Next Time

Now next week, it might be more complex.  They had a couple of things in this episode, like our “cosmic address” that was a little mind blowing.  But the devil’s in the details.  Like a good TV show plot, I want to learn something new and on Cosmos, I want my brain so full of knowledge that it’s spilling over.

Geeks shouldn’t dumb it down either.  That doesn’t mean we can’t be accessible, friendly, polite and patient, but part of teaching others is letting their brains make the connection.  And we also have to acknowledge that some people are just going to throw up their hands and go, “No, this isn’t for me.”

I say, full speed ahead with complex science.  If it turns some people off, well, they probably won’t be convinced by cartoony, sciencey stuff that wasn’t very complex either.  Some people are afraid of what they don’t understand.  Those people don’t watch Cosmos.  For the ones that do, like me, let us be excited about it!  Let us walk away full of excitement so we tell our friends and then they get excited.  There’s no better endorsement of anything than a friend telling you that the something is good.

 But if you ask your geek friend, “Hey, did you watch Cosmos?  How was it?” and he replies an unenthusiastic, “Eh, it was okay, I guess.”  Then you’ll be out.  But make the show as complex as it needs to be to explain science, toss in all the recent theories and discoveries and your geek friend says, “Oh, my God!  It was so amazing!  I learned this and this and that!”  That non-geek is going to think, “Hmm, maybe I better get in on this.” Previous Columns Obesity at Cons The Art of Conversation Grooming The Line Between Fans and Pros Geek Elitism Convention Panels Convention Volunteers Food Gifts Women and Cons Get Your Room Party Together Stop Bringing Your Kids to Cons The Face of Geek Needs Work Fixing the Face of Geek Franchise Worship Presenting Your Project The New Image?