Open Forum Friday: Are Sci-Fi and Comic Book Movies Causing the Infantilization of Culture?


It’s been a while since we’ve had an Open Forum Friday, but this week there has been an interesting little discussion percolating throughout the blogosphere that seemed like it was worth continuing here. The discussion has to do with the “infantilization of culture” and the way that blockbuster movies are being marketed to adults and kids as if they are essentially the same audience. It is certainly not the first time the topic has been brought up with regards to the insane popularity of comic book movies and escapist fiction on the big screen. However, what is interesting is where the debate originated this time: from none other than Simon Pegg, one of the very people who has helped usher in this new era of fandom and geek culture.

It turns out that Pegg recently made some comments in an interview with Radio Times where he stated that the focus on big screen spectacle has led to a “dumbing down” of sorts, lamenting the loss of the big political dramas of the ’70s that used to be touchstones of popular culture before Jaws and Star Wars changed everything. While that might sound hypocritical coming from one of the biggest Star Wars fans around, he clarified these statements further in a thoughtful essay on his website. He explains that he still loves science-fiction and fantasy and does not think they are childish, simply that the commercialization of these genres may ultimately be delivering a lot of empty calories. So what do you think? Does he have a point or is Simon Pegg biting the hand that feeds him nere? Are all of today’s blockbusters just kid’s stuff or are there still thoughtful and political films being made? Is the infantilization of pop culture a reality or are things just the same way they have always been? Give us your thoughts here on Open Forum Friday.

  • ECONOMYpolitica

    No, but the “culture” has degraded considerably.

  • MisterQuigley

    This is a tough topic. But just to give half of a clear perspective – I travel a lot. Across the U.S. The local theater 6 where I am right now is playing 2 Furys, 2 Ultrons, 1 cartoon and something called Age of Adaline. Huh.

    And look, I’m not saying these films are bad or unworthy. BUT. It’s undeniable they’ve squeezed out films for adults. When we were dorky teens, we’d watch the Grisham flicks, R rated horror at the drive-in, Sandler and Farrley Bros R rated classics, etc. I miss those days.

    Simon Pegg has a life-long pass from me, but he should look a long hard one mirror-wise.

  • Dstrbpx

    This coming from Sean who is infamous for pushing his comic book movie agenda on Filmjunk(clandestine nerdification). Interesting, very interesting…

  • Niklas

    I’m not sure. There is simply way more movies being released in general these days. Huge blockbusters like Avengers are clearly for a younger audience but a week or so later you have Max Max which is for an older audience. I do think people in their thirties are more open to “summer blockbuster fun” than older generations but that doesn’t mean those are the only movies we watch.

    I think it’s more a case of movie theatres being there for the big blockbusters and home theatres being there for the dramas. I wouldn’t go to a theatre to see a drama without actions / effects but I would be happy to watch it on Netflix, TMN or VOD.

  • Maureen W.

    I think having general action movies that can appeal to every age group as well as every nationality is more to keep the film industry afloat. People getting worked up about spoilers and those who are overly excited by the existence of Chris Pratt and seriously want him in every film, now that’s the childish stuff. I think the blogs and writers who pander to the “poptimism” of film and tv are the people who grind my gears. Films are just trying to survive so they can put out the smaller stuff as well as the huge box office events.

  • Tim

    Completely disagree.
    Movie studios used to produce way more movies in the past.
    (Nedless to say of a much bigger variety)

    Now that production money gets divided among 4-5 movies for kids.
    Before you had lots of medium budget films for adults (R-Rated or even NC-17/X).

  • Gerry

    Film companies, it seems to me, release sci-fi and comic book films, which aren’t overly reliant on dialogue, which could be viewed as dumbed down and are hyped to the hilt, to make money in a world still fairly ravaged economically and where foreign markets have assumed increased significance.

    That’s what I’d do to survive if I was a short sighted studio boss.

    The trouble with this strategy is fatigue with the product creeping in if the product remains samey.

    I’ve put off seeing the latest Avengers film for this reason. There are only so many large scale fights I can take without being bored by them. I’ll still see it though as I try and see everything.

    The problem with smaller, quality releases like ’71 and Ex Machina is that they don’t get a chance to build an audience at the cinema.

    I missed both of these films in their abbreviated run at my local multiplex. What We Do In The Shadows never even turned up there as far as I’m aware. I’d happily have paid to see all three.

    I think studios and distributors need a new distribution model for smaller films.

    Instead of 1, 2 or 3 week release schedules with 5 screenings a day have 3, 6 and 9 week release schedules with 1-2 screenings a day, at different times a) to give smaller films a chance to build an audience via free publicity / hype machines like word of mouth and podcasts and to give people with busy and different schedules a chance to see the film at a time that suits

    These are the intelligent films Pegg was talking about, it seems to me. They’re still being made.

    There are still good medium budget films being released, e.g. over the last ten years films like The Departed, Pans Labrynth, Young Adult, Silver Linings Playbook and Hot Fuzz.

    Plus not every film from the 70’s and thereabouts was uniformly great. I’ve seen a few lately and while they weren’t dumbed down the quality was variable.

    Do golden ages remain golden on closer examination?

    Would some of the duller older films I’ve seen lately have been the VOD releases of their day?

    Some superhero type films still have allure for me despite product fatigue, e.g. I’m really looking forward to Star Wars and Batman Versus Superman, despite the fact that I thought Man Of Steel wasn’t very good. I love a well done blockbuster.

    Maybe Avengers 2 will surprise me. That’s why I try and see everything, you never know where you’re going to stumble across the gold.

    There’s nothing essentially wrong with movies being aimed at adults and kids. The best ones have jokes etc that appeal to both demographics and the clever use of allegory and metaphor means that adults can appreciate them and kids can appreciate those aspects of the films when they’re older.

  • Glen

    Simon Pegg’s best movies “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” and his TV show “Spaced” satirized pop culture and genre cinema.

  • Lori Cerny

    While I understand and agree, with many of your points, however, you state, Film companies, it seems to me, release sci-fi and comic book films, which aren’t overly reliant on dialogue… ”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t films a visual medium? I don’t think dialogue-heavy movies equates “adult”. Let’s be real, movies existed before sound and when done well, deserve 5 star ratings… Metropolis, The General, City Lights, The Great Dictator, etc., etc.

    There are also many, many sound films where some of the most memorable scenes have minimal or no dialogue. Just a couple:

    2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Lawrence of Arabia, Psycho, Jaws, The French Connection, There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Alien, Wall-E, Bicycle Thieves, Yojimbo, Ran, Dreams (Akira Kurosawa), Up, The Great Escape, Diabolique, The Night of the Hunter, and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.

    Simply, some films require lots of dialogue and others don’t. It is not a cheap way to make a film and put butts in seats, but it is a collaboration between the director, screenwriter, and cinematographer.

  • Lori Cerny

    Does this mean you don’t think Mad Max: Fury Road is for adults?

  • Jameson

    The big budget blockbusters bring in the most money, which is why there’s a larger amount of those than smaller “adult” films. I also believe TV has overruled film with original, thought-provoking dramas aimed at adults i.e. The Wire, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, The Americans. Shows have budgets now and can bring in A-list talent like Kevin Spacey or Matthew MaCaughney to solidify their significance. I do believe the phenomenon of geekdom will eventually diminish, but for now I also believe adults can find pleasurable escapism at the movies and compelling narratives at home.

  • Lori Cerny

    The Peggster needs to learn that white fonts against a medium gray background is very hard on the eyes and he should fire his web designer.

  • MisterQuigley

    I think the new Max perfectly encapsulates the “infantiled adult” mentality Pegg is addressing. Right or wrong.

  • Flo Lieb

    If that is what he thinks maybe he should stop making those stupid Star Trek movies.

  • Reed Farrington

    This question reminds me of the late 19th century when Impressionism with the likes of Monet and Degas was regarded as “infantile and inconsequential.” Their paintings were even regarded as cartoons. Time will allow people to regard sci-fi and comic book films as the masterpieces they are.

    Even in the short term, once critically and fan reviled films such as “Blade Runner” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” are now regarded as classics. I hope Michael Bay will also get the recognition he deserves during his lifetime.

  • Reed Farrington

    BTW, the subject of infantilization of culture has been going on for at least a decade going hand-in-hand with the dumbing down of society. Video games are the main culprit. Ha ha.

  • Bandit Manatee

    I don’t know if it is directly due to comics but one type of film I truly miss is historical epics. I like stuff like Lawrence of Arabia, Braveheart, or Kingdom of Heaven. Seems we have gotten less of these big budget films about cool historical battles in recent years.

  • Gerry

    @Lori, the releasing films that aren’t overly reliant on dialogue point I made had nothing to do with visual storytelling,

    It’s because, I percieve, that film companies think that simpler stories will translate better, in all senses of the phrase, to audiences reading subtitles, e.g. the huge Chinese audiences. That doesn’t actually mean that those audiences would be put off by more dialogue driven movies.

    Some American blu rays, e.g. Let The Right One In had their sub titles dumbed down whereas the British blu ray didn’t. As someone who saw the British version of Let The Right One In I appreciated having the non dumbed down subtitles.

    You’re right, film is a visual medium, and in my opinion is an auditory medium as well. I don’t mean dialogue when I say auditory.

  • RockJoker

    In terms of mainstream culture i’d say yes. Though there are still plenty of cleverly made blockbasters with clever parts in them. But overall of cource not. Culture is at high point right now. It is just a metter of what you prefering to look to.

  • gasthekikes

    someone for the love of god please wake me up when the fucking capeshit ends





  • Jr

    A lot of guys my age (that grew up in the late 70’s – 90’s) never really grew up. We spent our childhoods reading comics and playing with action figures and video games and never stopped. Now we’re pumped because The Avengers is just like the comics and we can take our kids to a new Star Wars film. You can sell anything when the main selling point is nostalgia. I know it’s lame to quote Fight Club but that nailed it. A generation of men raised by women. The middle children of history. No purpose or place. No great war, no great depression. So yea, it’s a reality. It’s not a problem by itself though. The real problem is that there are so many people who can’t appreciate other forms of culture/movies in addition to the big budget flicks that they love.

  • Nick Poliskey

    Movies don’t dumb down people, people dumb down movies. People always act like the 70’s was some intellectual glory days for movies. Taxi Driver…OHHH big F-ing deal. The reason political films did well in the 70’s is because all the anti-war hipsters were finally getting real jobs and money and were seeing movies that reminded them of what used to be important…Nostalgia….don’t get me wrong, I love taxi driver and Apocolypse now just like the rest of you, but I would take Mad Max or Prometheus any day over those OK 70’s hippie flicks.

  • devolutionary

    Classic Sean. Always has to provide the perfect “choice” photos for these articles. Simon Pegg and “Paul” both look like they’re suppressing the onset of explosive diarrhea.

  • Lori Cerny

    Why do you say it is an “auditory” medium? Do you mean there are films that you can listen to without ever looking at the screen?

    I’d put My Dinner with Andre in there, and in that regard, it makes a better radio play than a film.

  • Lori Cerny

    Have you played Bioshock Infinite? THAT game is not dumbed down.

    Granted, that is only one game, but I can’t think of others as I don’t play a variety of video games.

  • Reed Farrington

    I bought the first Bioshock recently, but haven’t played it.

    I don’t believe video games by themselves are to blame. Steven Johnson in his book “Everything Bad Is Good for You” points out beneficial aspects of video games (as well as television shows).