Tag Archives: Nerd Factor

Nerd Factor: Grateful Nerd

Wanda and Vision from the Disney+ show, Wandavision. Photo retrieved from https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2020/12/the-biggest-nerdy-tv-shows-and-movies-coming-your-way-in-2021/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     This year reminded me how happy and grateful I was to be a nerd. 

     Most of the time while writing this column, I avoided writing about the coronavirus. Oh, COVID-19 slipped into my thinking here and there. I did start the year talking about how some superhero masks gave a certain advantage against disease transmission. I did decide against seeing New Mutants in the theater, calculating that it was safer to stay at home. Overall, I just stayed away from the topic. 

     That felt like instinct, but in life that usually means my brain is doing some kind of math that I have not understood. Part of this stance was a concern about the seriousness of the topic. This column bounces between joyful celebration and snarky irreverence. Neither mode seemed quite right for so terrible a pandemic. Another, and certainly larger, part was the desire to avoid the topic. I wanted a distraction. I wanted an escape. 

     Thinking about those motivations caused my renewed appreciation for my nerdiness. I needed a lot of escapes this year. 

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Nerd Factor: The Five Stages of Flash Grief

A poster for the new season of CW’s “The Flash.” Photo retrieved from https://twitter.com/cw_theflash/status/1359200652895879177.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what we often refer to as the five stages of grief. These stages represented a process through which people coping with terminal illness or conditions progressed. Over time, the model has become a kind of common wisdom. Applied, or misapplied as critics argue, to a variety of experiences, the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, may serve as a way to organize experience. 

     Here, the five stages of grief will be used to organize a problem I have been having with The Flash, now in its seventh season on the CW network. So yeah, probably another misapplication of the theory. Still, it helps. 

     1. Denial – As another bit of common wisdom suggests, the first step to resolving a problem is admitting that there is a problem. For many years, I have been in complete denial about the decreasing quality of The Flash. While many of my readers have grown up in a time of abundant superhero stories, I grew up in an era of relative metahuman poverty. Oh sure, there were plenty of comic books, but I always felt like I had to support most movies, television shows, and games. If I did not, what would happen to the genre? 

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Nerd Factor: A Close Shave

Superman with a beard.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Shaving is a daily ritual for many people, but for the superhero population this basic routine of personal grooming offers exceptional challenges. The implied goal of the superhero’s costume is to hide the identity of its wearer, thus protecting their friends and loved ones from attack by supervillains. This adds additional pressure to the task of maintaining facial hair. 

     Fully masked superheroes have a certain advantage here. Although his identity is publicly known, Tony Stark’s visage is fully covered by his Iron Man armor. As with many other choices in his life, Stark grooms for vanity’s sake. Likewise, Peter Parker does not really have to shave every day thanks to his mask. His tendency to do so regularly was no doubt instilled in him by Uncle Ben, whom we can imagine taught his nephew that a regular routine of daily grooming was a matter of great responsibility. 

     Ironically, it is the superheroes that have superhuman physiologies who face the greatest challenges in this regard. While their metahuman natures may offer them protection from harm, these enhanced protections complicate the maintenance of the old mustache and beard. 

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Nerd Factor: And Now, Starro, the Conqueror!

Starro from the New Earth comics. Photo retrieved from https://dc.fandom.com/wiki/Starro_(New_Earth).

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     There is a moment in the red-band trailer for The Suicide Squad that some may not have reacted too. That is understandable. There is a lot to process. There are tons of new characters and a lot of fan favorite actors showing up (what is the deal with Nathan Fillion’s arms? Etc.) And there is the wonderful joy in knowing that director James Gunn is about to play in a sandbox built on characters designed to be wiped out with reckless abandon. 

     Still, towards the end of the trailer, some unknown functionary observing the superheroic action on a monitor shouts “Oh my God! We have got a freakin’ kaiju up in this sh*t!” But that is not just any kaiju, that is the one and only Starro the Conqueror!

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Nerd Factor: Godzilla vs. Kong

Godzilla (left) fighting King Kong (right). Photo retrieved from https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/godzilla-vs-kong/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     It will be the Battle of Kings, a royal rumble a whole lifetime in the waiting. But by the time you read this, we will know the outcome. Who will win, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, or King Kong?

     In one corner stands the original, the giant monster from which all other giant monsters descended, the one and only King Kong. In 1933, King Kong not only electrified movie theaters to the awesome spectacle of film, it also saved the RKO Pictures from bankruptcy. The stop motion animation used to create Kong’s adventures might look quaint to our contemporary, CGI-dazzled eyes, but when Kong climbed the Empire State Building, the film prophesied the way that blockbuster special effects extravaganzas would enrich box offices and thrill future audiences. 

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Nerd Factor: Food, the Final Frontier

Captain Picard with a drink. Photo retrieved from cenblog.org.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     In the Star Trek universe, food is easy thanks to a miraculous pseudoscientific device known as the replicator. An offshoot of the transporter technology that allows an entity to be disassembled down to its component atoms and then beamed to another location for immediate reassembly, the replicator basically builds food from scratch. From special alcoves all throughout the ships and often in the personal quarters of Starfleet officers, these devices allow nourishment on demand. 

     The most famous example of which is, no doubt, Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s beverage preference. “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot,” Picard says to the device and a few special effects lights and sounds later, there the tea is, steaming and presumably perfect to his order. 

     Logically, the existence of hot, Earl Grey tea implies the possibility of tepid, Earl Grey tea or cold, not Earl Grey, Coca-Cola. The opportunities would appear to be limitless since one assumes that the devices can create just about anything that a recipe exists for from a variety of planets in any point in their history. 

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Nerd Factor: Be Careful What You Wish For, Super Ladies

Wanda Maximoff having a really hard time. Photo retrieved from https://www.cinemablend.com/television/2563556/8-big-wandavision-questions-we-have-after-episode-8.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Warning: This column contains spoilers for Wonder Woman 1984 and WandaVision

     In many ways, the superhero genre is about wish-fulfilment. Superheroes have powers and abilities we can only dream of. Additionally, the device of secret identities often encourages us to imagine that inside us all, there exists a great hero ready to emerge.  

     Of course, mythology, folklore, and popular culture have long taught us that wishes can be dangerous things. Not surprisingly, the superhero genre also shows us this dark side. Spider-Man learns perhaps the best-known lesson about great power and great responsibility when his inaction leads to the death of his beloved uncle. Recently, Wonder Woman and Wanda Maximoff ventured into this thematic territory and their stories have led to some controversy. 

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Nerd Factor: The Trouble with Alternate Worlds

Marvel’s What-If Poster. Photo retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_If…%3F_(TV_series).

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     A multiverse appears to offer a variety of options. There are, however, a number of problems that confront the would be probability tourist who wants to visit Elseworlds based upon the simple question of “What If?”

     Some alternate universes just do not work: 

     The basic idea behind alternate universes is that something has changed historically. We tend to think of them as counterfactual tales. What if Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated? What if the Nazis had won World War II? The mind staggers at the possibilities. 

     These worlds become intriguing places to visit or perhaps nightmare worlds to escape. One can understand their appeal to cross-dimensional tourists.  

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Nerd Factor: Other Mike

Photo retrieved from https://whatculture.com/tv/9-most-memorable-alternate-universe-tv-episodes.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Science fiction and superhero fans live in fictional worlds that are awash with alternate realities. The concept is popular enough that it sustains one of the best superhero movies of the previous decade, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

     With Disney developing properties like Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and What If?, these alternate worlds appear to be a big part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it moves forward. Nerds are accustomed to encountering multi-dimensional versions of their favorite characters. I am always amazed at how quickly they adapt to this notion. I found dealing with something close to an alternate Mike Robinson somewhat complicated. 

     I was in graduate school in Indiana at the time. For many months, I had received late night calls asking for a particular woman. I cannot remember her name, but I do remember the anger of the man who was looking for her. I kept telling this guy that nobody at this number had that name. 

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You Might Really Be Dating a Superspy

Photo retrieved from http://www.007museum.com/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Trust is an important thing in any relationship. However, some careers require some partners to be less than straightforward about their professional lives. Because the Nerd Factor cares deeply about your emotional well-being, here are some tips for telling if you might really be dating a superspy:

     If your true love seems to have an inordinately high number of tuxedos in their closet, then you might really be dating a superspy. 

     If your significant other has a lot of tape players, then they might just be into vintage audio or high-fidelity music. If a lot of those tape players self-destruct after a few minutes of playing, then you might really be dating a superspy.

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Nerd Factor: When Captain America Throws His Mighty Shield

How Avengers: Endgame Sets Up Captain America | The Mary Sue
Image from: https://www.themarysue.com/avengers-endgame-future-captain-america/

Dr. Mike Robinson~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     While tossing some snowballs around after our recent winter storm, I was reminded of one of the classic improvisations of childhood. Advancing down upon my position from the top of our neighbor’s hill that forms the beginning of our sledding run, my son deflected snowball after snowball with his plastic saucer sled. Like many anonymous Hydra goon before me, I too learned that there was little that could be done to stop this surrogate Captain America and his ersatz shield. 

     Unsurprisingly, we played superheroes quite a bit when I was a kid. We improvised a lot of that play as best we could. A friend’s saucer sled became Captain America’s shield. A wooden mallet I had made for some forgotten school project sometimes substituted for Thor’s hammer. One friend of mine was a lacrosse player. His helmet, shoulder pads, and gloves instantly made him Iron Man. 

     Never fear, this is just nostalgia not comparative childhood judgement. Imagination is imagination. I would never insist that we somehow had a better childhood than kids do today. Although there was something undeniably cool about those big old lacrosse gloves. Those things really did look like gauntlets could toss off a repulsor ray or too. Believe me, if we could have convinced our parents to buy us more authentic superhero gear, we would have begged and pleaded to get them. We just did not have many licensed products back then. 

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Nerd Factor: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Box Office Blues: Warner's “Wonder Woman 1984” Is Mostly a Bust in 2,200  Theaters After 5 Weeks in Release | Showbiz411
Image from https://www.tweaktown.com/news/76960/wb-fast-tracking-wonder-woman-3-after-ww84-success-on-hbo-max/index.html

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Wonder Woman 1984 was the greatest thing to happen in the coronavirus curtailed movie business in a while because people were finally able to see a big superhero action movie. Wonder Woman 1984 was also the worst thing to happen in the same context because the movie simultaneously debuted on a streaming service, circumventing and therefore imperiling the movie theater business as we have come to know it. 

     Anything new is always a mix of excitement and always danger. What struck me about the whole affair though was the ordinary context in which it occurred. I watched a revolutionary moment for film from the comfort of a recliner in my living room. 

     Oh sure, this was Christmas Day. Traditionally for my family, Christmas is a very busy holiday spent frantically opening gifts while trying to see everyone else’s reactions to the gifts you got them. This particular holiday was a bit different as we chose not to travel and to limit interactions. Still, sometime before lunch, we had come down from the rush of gifting and receiving and settled into the usual subdued pace of people who had just participated in a major athletic event or an artistic performance. A calm satisfaction of a job well done where everyone seemed to have walked away happy prevailed. 

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Nerd Factor: 24,000 Stories for Alex Trebek

Photo retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Culture/legendary-jeopardy-host-alex-trebek-dies/story?id=17967146.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Alex Trebek was the game show host’s game show host. Since 1984, the Jeopardy! host has been welcome in living rooms across the country five nights a week. When Trebek passed away due to pancreatic cancer this weekend, we lost a familiar friend.

     Even before Jeopardy!, Trebek’s career as a quiz master was remarkable. He hosted his first game show in 1966, the Canadian high school academic competition Reach for the Top. For every year after that, Trebek hosted at least one game show, an impressive accomplishment in the notoriously fickle business of television. Overall, he worked every year for 54 years. 

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Nerd Factor: Connery, Sean Connery

Sean Connery: A look at some of his career-defining roles - National |  Globalnews.ca
Image from https://globalnews.ca/news/7434727/sean-connery-movie-roles/

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     To understand the power of the late Sean Connery’s star persona, consider two roles. One made Connery a household name. The other was a role Connery never played. 

     The first role is, of course, James Bond. Basically, Sean Connery made James Bond into Sean Connery. The character of James Bond had existed before the movies. Ian Fleming’s spy novels were best sellers for about a decade before anyone saw Bond on film. 

     The story goes that before the movies came out, Fleming had imagined Bond as a very different person, more like actor David Niven. If you are unfamiliar with David Niven, look him up online. I will wait here while you do. 

     David Niven does not look like James Bond, does he? That is no slight. Niven was an outstanding actor, but we all have trouble picturing him as Bond. In fact, Niven did later play James Bond, in a somewhat strained parodic movie called Casino Royale that was released in 1967. The idea of Niven in that role was meant to be funny. 

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Nerd Factor: Ghost Bothering

Photo retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/226094843779571986/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Lately I have been wondering: is it really possible to “hunt” a ghost?

     I am not thinking about the actual existence of ghosts. Personally, I am highly skeptical about the veracity of that particular paranormal phenomenon. But if ghosts do exist, can they be hunted?

     Oh sure, it is possible to imagine all sorts of fantastic technology that could be deployed to do this. I mean, we all saw Ghostbusters. Just wave a P.K.E. meter* or something like it around and a certain undetermined number of beeps later, ghosts are located.

     But is that actual hunting?

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