‘Jedi Mind Meld’? When Nerds Hold Positions of Power

president-obama-and-nichelle-nichols

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.

powell-star trekIn 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.

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Comments

  • ShaunN

    I think it’s doubtful that as many Republicans are “nerds” as Democrats. By definition, being a nerd means being smart. Conservatives tend to be less imaginative and open to change. There is a reason that the conservative movement portrays itself as being “anti-science” and has been castigated by some of its own members for being “the stupid party.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=513174413 John DeSpirito

    Uhm…or people pretending to be nerds. PS – I’m a nerd conservative. I’ve also never said anything as bigoted as “Conservatives tend to be less imaginative.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/Benburris85 Ben Burris

    Well your doubtful thoughts have has nothing to do with reality. There are multitudes of nerd fan bases in both parties. Some of the themes in popular science fiction can viewed as against big government -a powerful force/empire trying to ‘borganize’ everyone to create a useless perfect utopia. How about the video gaming nerd culture? Your a little out of touch..

  • yummers

    How about this ShaunN? Let’s not stereotype people basesd on their political beliefts…. I know it’s considered “hip and cool” to be a Democrat and thus by default”open minded”.. but use those brain cells you supposedly have to lump people in a set group. For example; I’d could easily call Democrats to be gun grabbing, tax raising socialists who wish to control what you eat and drink. Is that fair? of course not…. My suggestion to you.. grow up..

  • HenryM

    Being a nerd definitely doesn’t mean that you’re also smart. Plenty of klutzy goofball nerds who are happy be know all about Star Trek but nothing about the world. And the Republican party doesn’t portray itself as “anti-science” — it is PORTRAYED that way by the media, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly. I lean left, and I consider myself a nerd, but my nerdhood doesn’t have much if anything to do with my academic or intellectual side. There’s a ton of very mean, ignorant assumptions in your statement, ShauN. Please check your own prejudices; you might find out that–GASP!–you aren’t as smart as you think!

  • Josh

    I heard him make the flub live and did an internal facepalm for him. Then he went overboard with a bunch of Star Wars references on Facebook, which could have been funny if he weren’t the president. I can forgive a live gaff, but overcompensating for something so trivial was cringe-worthy.

    “She is also reportedly a Ninth Doctor fan, and was disappointed when Christopher Eccleston left the role.” – I know, right?!?

    “Ryan’s favorite film is reportedlyThe 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.”” – You know, I like him the more I hear about him.

  • Harlock999

    I lean right, I have a Ph.D., and I probably know just as much, if not more, about Star Trek, Star Wars, comicbooks, 80s TV, funk music, and retro video games than just about anybody.

    Being a conservative (or a Republican) really just means you’re not a fan of big government or government handouts; you believe in accountability and a free market. The utopian ideals that drive most liberals are often seen as unrealistic and, dare I say it, childish by the right.

    Unfortunately, over the past decade, social issues have somehow wormed their way to the front of every discussion regarding politics. And while Republicans are bearing the brunt of … well, everything these days? The truth is there are divisions within both parties when it comes to hot topics such as abortion, gay marriage, and the like. But that’s not the picture that’s being painted… Nope. The Republicans apparently hate anyone who’s not (a) old, (b) white, or (c) rich. It’s freaking ridiculous!

    Finally, even though they’re not in public office, high-profile celebrities such as Kelsey Grammer, Ben Stein, and Dennis Miller (yeah, we’re not talking Scarlett Johansson or Whoopi Goldberg here) are right-wingers. And those guys are definitely intelligent and definitely nerdy.

  • Dfc2896

    I’m fine with that label :P

  • demoncat_4

    who says even politicians or celebs can’t be fans too of star trek and star wars and the likes for after all the thing is suppose to reach people and generations to each his or her own love and fan of something including the commander in chief

  • james fortwoth

    obama fuckin tyrant-

  • RockinRobin

    Yeah, the rather close-minded idea of attributing characteristics to a set of people based on political beliefs is very outdated. It’s done by both sides on multiple issues, but focusing on this specific situation of “Republicans not being nerdy” or rather “Republicans being more ashamed of their nerdiness” isn’t true. I lean right and find many of the ideologies spouted by some of my favorite heroes to ring true, and not in a political fashion, because politics don’t dictate the entirety of a person’s philosophy. Also, follow Jonah Goldberg on Twitter. He has more geek references than conservative ones.

  • Adam Weissman

    “you believe in accountability”

    Oh, so you support reparations for slavery and affirmative action as a remedial measure to compensate for the ongoing unfair advantage white males have in hiring and career advancement? Great! And since you support accountability, I guess you support tighter regulations and stiffer penalties for polluters, so they can’t externalize the healthcare costs they create onto individuals and the public sector when they damage our health with toxic chemicals. And I suppose you’re for tighter banking regulations, too, so we aren’t left to bail out Wall Street when it acts like a drunk in Vegas with our money and our economic future?

    “unrealistic and, dare I say it, childish”

    Kind of like not wanting science taught in schools because it contradicts a fairy tale from thousands of years ago about the world being made in six days?

  • matt

    I read comics and work with computers because I enjoy it. When I was growing up being a nerd was a bad thing when I was called a nerd it was followed up by taunts and crap thrown at me now it is considered “cool and hip” to be a nerd? Whatever I will still read X-Men even after the mainstream gets bored with this fad.

  • METhatsWho

    Wow. Someone is angry. You should start a GOP Loves Comics Club. Being a Democrat is “hip and cool”? No…it just makes sense if you aren’t a raging racist, care about the well being of all citizens, believe in equality for all, and don’t think you need to carry around an AR15 to be safe.

  • MeThatsWho

    The GOP isn’t portrayed as anti science by anyone. It’s just a fact that they are anti science.

  • http://www.facebook.com/remccainjr Edward McCain

    Small government, accountability, and a free market are unrealistic, and dare I say it, *extremely childish* ideals.

    Let’s start with small government. Imagine a country with 50 states, 50 sets of laws, 50 rates of taxation, and 50 different methods of accounting. Pile on top of it 50 different environmental regulations, 50 different educational systems, and 50 different financial market regulations. It’s chaos, pure and simple. The belief that small government is better is the same as believing that 50 small universities with different grading standards are better. There needs to be one unifying grading system. One series of tests and examinations. Without centralized and agreed upon standards and goals, without a strong governing body, you will end up with anarchy and confusion.

    The very idea of accountability is childish. It is a goal that one strives towards, but like six-sigma, suffers from basic p-value misconceptions. Yes, one should be accountable – *after* one has received instruction on accountability. One must learn *how* to be accountable. Learn the consequences of ones actions. Learn what actions lead to ruin, how to recover from those mistakes, how to prosper in spite of those mistakes. Yelling “Accountability!” to a six-year-old and locking them in the closet teaches them nothing – except fear of the closet and hatred of you. Therefore, before you can have accountability, you need education and demonstration. Invest heavily in those areas, and then you can wag a finger and admonish those that ignored the consequences.

    And when we talk about “free-market”, we’re talking about no-holds-barred capitalism, correct? Selling baby formula for $50 and bottled water for $5 after a hurricane, yes? Because that’s a free market. That’s the ugly face of capitalism. Capitalism is the idea that if you strive hard enough, one day you will be rich enough to own workers that will labor and produce for you. Democratic socialism is a much better ideal, and we should embrace it before rampant capitalism destroys entire countries in the name of greed and power. The idea that you should get an education and labor for someone else is childish. The idea that every man should strive to run his own business is equally foolhardy. But, if we combine the two – where every man receives a portion of the profits of his labor, where the economic pyramid is reversed, with business owners, shareholders and executives receiving a salary that is in proportion to that of their employees, that is actually a very grown-up ideal. There is no child yelling “It’s all mine! I earned it!”, and neither is there a child screaming “We should all share equally!”. Instead, there’s a group of adults agreeing that labor and skill are equally important, and every man should be able to support himself, without government handouts, by performing even the most menial tasks. Every janitor and ditch digger should be able to buy adequate food, clothing, and shelter with no government handouts. Everyone should have equal access to healthcare, medicine and education.

    It’s hard to surrender the personal and abstract notions of fairness and morality and consider new ones. I wouldn’t blame you if you posted a knee-jerk response – facing the fact that everything you were taught, everything you believe, might be wrong is, well, frightening.

  • http://deuceology.wordpress.com Larry Carter

    Interesting. Some of these comments don’t seem very open minded toward those that lean right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=812867845 Hysan Gearring

    I know more than a few conservatives who love comic books and science fiction. If anything, shows like Star Trek, because they view humanity as a whole, rather than liberal or conservative, they tend to have a broader appeal. Although, I remember reading a Starlog article ages ago that referred to the Original Series and the feature films with that cast as a “Republican golf-buddy” sort of group. I’m not sure how true that is, but I have noticed that older fans don’t care for DS9, Voyager or ENT….although some of them came back for the last two seasons of the latter show (but I did, too…and I’ve gone from an independent to a dirty tree-hugging liberal :) ). So while I wouldn’t be quite as harsh towards the article, it’s true that we shouldn’t peg one group as less or more nerdy.

  • cylon

    “the ongoing unfair advantage white males have in hiring and career advancement”

    Eliminating feminist teacher bias erases boys’ falling grades, study finds

    http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/eliminating-feminist-teacher-bias-erases-boys-falling-grades-study-finds

    It is girls/women who have unfair advantages.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=812867845 Hysan Gearring

    Kesley Grammer played Hank McCoy. If that doesn’t earn him nerd cred, I don’t know what will!

  • Lyle

    I pretty much call myself a moderate, because I think both sides have gone off the deep end on… well, pretty much everything. In fact, I am part of a radical moderate party that holds up signs that say, “Can we stop with all the name calling, already?”
    Anyway, I can see why most people think that the genres we like are more liberal, since liberals are more likely to believe in the whole ‘free speech’ thing and a lot of our media has heroic characters that used to be demonized by the right wing.
    I always find it funny when someone talks about the ‘vast liberal conspiracy’ in media, when, in fact, the only real conspiracy is that a lot of writers just happen to be liberal. At the same time, some of our most famous writers, like Robert Heinlein and Bill Willingham, do lean to the right, which I find funny that many genre fans ignore.
    At the same time, it is obvious that there is some forms of our genres that lean to the right. Superhero stories often tell the story of a hero who is trying to keep the status quo and a villain who is about shaking it up. Even in X-Men, where Professor Xavier is fighting for mutant rights, his arch enemy is not some conservative type character, but Magneto, a radical who thinks mutants should shake up the status quo and not work within it like Xavier wants to do.

  • http://twitter.com/TangoAlphaLima Tango Alpha

    How did this article fail to mention long-time U.S. Senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy, who is a huge Batman fan that played a cameo in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and did some voice work for Batman: The Animated Series?

  • whycan’teveryonebenice?

    Come on dude, someone may be angry, but you are being a jerk. Not all Republicans are like that. I am a Democrat and take offense to this. I have conservative friends who support gay marriage and are the complete opposite of what you state. You are being mean and hurtful and are contradicting yourself. If we are all ever going to get along, we can’t keep disrespecting each other. Even if someone else is racist and unfair does not give us the right to treat them that way. It makes us just as bad. If you believe in equality for all, then let other people share their opinion. You don’t have to like it and be hurtful to others. I think what yummers meant by being hip and cool was simply being popular, which we are right now. Besides I like being labeled hip and cool. Too bad you can’t say the same…

  • IWillTellYouWhy

    have to agree with whycan’teveryonebenice and i am a conservative. METhatsWho has a lot of nerve saying stuff like that. everybody has different opinions about everything, be they right wing or sway to the left, people shouldnt insult each other. methatswho really is contradicting himself lol.

  • dan

    How come “big government” NEVER applies to the biggest gov’t program of them all–military? How come corporate welfare and unfair taxation that favors the rich NEVER counts as gov’t interference either? I’m not saying your views are wrong, but your side of the issue is cartoonish in its inconsistencies. And NOBODY believes in the “free market” when it hurts them, only when it benefits them. The truth of American conservatism is: privatize the gains, socialize the losses. Don’t listen to their words, watch their votes.

  • dan

    It’s hard to take your link seriously when it comes from a blatantly rightwing site that makes no pretenses to neutrality on anything. Next you’ll link us to some excellent “science” against the dangers of tobacco…

  • dan

    I agree that not every conservative is “like that.” But it sure seems every conservative who gets ELECTED is like that! It’s the most powerful wing of the party right now–anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-fact, pretty much anti-anything but money and guns. Maybe conservatives need to start voting for people who don’t talk like uneducated reactionary morons…