By Sara Karlovitch

When people think of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Doctor Who or any other pop culture phenomenon, they tend to think about spaceships, magic wands and blaster guns.

On the surface, this is true. Star Wars, at a glance, is about a space fight between wizards and space Nazis. Harry Potter is about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard, and Doctor Who is about an old man who flies around in a blue police box.

However, when you peel back the epic lightsaber battles, magic school and Daleks, you are left with stories with profound and sophisticated philosophical messages. Star Wars at its core is about the duality of good and evil and how the ability to do both lives within each of us. Harry Potter is viewed by many academics as a political drama. Doctor Who is about the ethics of war and how much suffering is acceptable in order to achieve a greater good. These are just a few examples; there are thousands of TV shows, movies, comic books and novels that embody similar messages.   

Stephen H. Segal attempts to uncover at least a few of those lessons in his book Geek Wisdom: The Sacred Teachings of Nerd Culture. A collection of essays split into six sections, Geek Wisdom attempts to start a discussion about the philosophical messages hidden in pop culture.

Most of the essays are only a paragraph in length. They focus around an iconic line like, “My name is Inigo Montoya” (Princess Bride); “Ray, when someone asks you if you are a god, you say yes!” (Ghostbusters); and my personal favorite, “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger” (Lord of the Rings). Segal talks about how these lines embody the meaning of the text while teaching us something about relationships, ourselves or the world we live in.

Geek Wisdom appreciates nerd culture for the reasons mainstream society has rejected it. It’s easy to write something off as “geek stuff” without fully understanding its depth and importance.

Society has a tendency to write off nerds as people with thick glasses who wear their pants too high above their waist. This image makes it easy to ignore and disregard what some of the world’s most imaginative minds are trying to tell us. No art, no matter how silly or dorky it may seem, can be taken at face value.

Geek Wisdom does not just teach us about philosophy and culture; it teaches us about ourselves. It is an explanation of why we related to the accidental heroism of Luke Skywalker and why we hate the single-mindedness of the Daleks. Culture provides us with a way to process and understand the world around us.

We need magic schools, TARDIS’s and magical rings to teach us about ourselves and the world. Instead of making fun of culture, we should embrace it. Our world has become increasingly polluted with corruption, greed, ignorance and actual man-made pollution. Segal’s book provides us with a nice anthology of keys to a better understanding. It’s up to us to accept it.

Nerds… You’re our only hope.

Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Alberto Alvarez-Perea on Flickr.

Sara Karlovitch is a freshman journalism and government and politics major and can be reached at skarlovi@terpmail.umd.edu.

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