‘Jedi Mind Meld’? When Nerds Hold Positions of Power
President Obama had to backpedal last week over a major mistake he made in front of the press. His flub wasn’t about drone strikes or sequestration. No, he used the phrase “Jedi mind meld.” On Sunday, the president stated, “After a very public mix-up last week, my communications team has provided me with an easy way to distinguish between Star Trek and Star Wars. Spock is what Maureen Dowd calls me. Darth Vader is what John Boehner calls me.”
A self-professed Trekkie, Obama most likely doesn’t need the help of his staff to tell the difference between the two franchises. He has even confessed to a boyhood crush on Nichelle Nichols. Last year, he lived out every fan’s dream by meeting his Star Trek crush at his office (the oval one) and posing for a photo with the actress while giving a Vulcan salute.
The Commander-in-Chief might as well also be called the Fan-in-Chief. According to The Telegraph, the president collects Spider-Man and Conan the Barbarian comics and has read every Harry Potter book. In recent years, more and more people in positions of power have revealed that they are, in fact, science fiction and comics fans.
Across the pond, Queen Elizabeth herself is a an ardent Doctor Who fan, toting her DVDs along to her Scottish residence, Balmoral. She is also reportedly a Ninth Doctor fan, and was disappointed when Christopher Eccleston left the role.
In 2000, Tommy Lee Jones revealed that he and college roommate Al Gore watched Star Trek together when they should have been studying for exams. Even stranger, while he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin Powell visited the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and witnessed Gene Roddenberry giving Wil Wheaton his real-life second lieutenant bars from the Army Air Corps.
After losing his congressional seat in 2011, Rep. Alan Grayson (no relation to Dick) sent an email to his followers that included a snippet from Green Lantern #76, comparing Green Lantern’s inability to fight racism to the Republicans’ inability to stick up for the little guy. He even referred to Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld as the “Masters of the Universe.” Grayson has since regained his seat in the House, representing Florida’s 9th district.
Rep. John Lewis, the famed civil-rights leader, will release the first volume of the comic book he penned with Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell later this year. The book, called March, depicts Lewis’ time as an activist during the Jim Crow South. While Lewis has not said whether he is a comics fan himself, he certainly understands the power of the medium.
The phrase “admitted fan” appears more than once in newspaper articles about President Obama’s love of Star Trek, as though this secret were on par with the smoking habit he couldn’t seem to kick during the 2008 campaign. Being a Trekkie, a Green Lantern fan, or a Whovian is still perceived in some circles as the antithesis of the cowboy machismo that might someone elected to national office. Safer to say your favorite movie is High Noon than Star Wars. In 2000, Gore’s love of Trek may have contributed to his image as a wonk, a geek — not the guy you sit down with for a beer.
In reporting this story, it was difficult to find conservative members of the U.S. government who have revealed a great love of comics or science fiction. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t out there (certainly our fan culture includes both Democrats and Republicans). In 2012, Rep. Paul Ryan insulted President Obama’s agenda by calling it a “comic book.” Ryan’s favorite film is reportedly The Princess Bride, the fantasy film based on William Goldman’s novel. He likes the movie so much that his wife’s Secret Service codename was “Buttercup.”
It might be that there are just as many politicians on the right side of the aisle who stay up late reading Batman, but Democrats don’t have the same qualms about electing an “admitted” comic book nerd into office. As tough as it might be to get elected if you appear too nerdy, I would imagine that a modern politician who hadn’t seen Star Wars or heard of Mr. Spock would seem wildly out of touch with a large portion of American culture (and a large portion of Americans). As a new generation begins to take office, perhaps a few more fans will come out of the closet.