“I’m a scientist – I don’t believe in anything!”

As a young girl it seemed most of the adults in my life told me I was smart.*  Teachers, family, members of the community.  And I believed it, I suppose.  I got good grades and most things came easily to me.  Now, thirty-two years old and with a family and adult responsibilities – and an awareness of my own relative privilege in the world – I don’t feel smart anymore, not especially.  I notice, though, my thought processes are considered interesting to many, and I’ve often been told by people in my life they “like the way my mind works” (often with the caveat of “even if I don’t agree with everything you say,” which I plan to write more about in a later blog entry).

To get on topic: I wish I could express to you, dear readers, how much I love a good (bad?) B-movie, especially science fiction, and how much these films are food to my brain and imagination and probably have a heck of a lot to do with “the way my mind works”.  And although I’ll watch modern B-movies – and even occasionally dabble in the larger-budget efforts that trot out B-movie tropes, they’re never quite as good as the original thingContemporary send-ups, as long as they take themselves seriously in the details and homage, are also appreciated and well-loved in Casa del Hogaboom.

Last night the family and I watched the Roger Corman-directed science fiction film X: The Man with the X Ray Eyes.  We all enjoyed it very much.  Ralph liked the story – which was relatively straight-forward and spooky – and thought the film could benefit from a re-make (I agree).  The kids enjoyed the creepiness, the “science” (in that way they’re following in my footsteps) and the easy-to-follow storyline.  I liked watching Ray Milland, an actor now gone who starred in two of my favorite films.  In X he was able to class up his role considering it has pretty laughable aspects to it – like when he assaults a fellow surgeon in the operating room but they still allow him to operate afterwards, for example.  He even brought a little – a tiny bit – of dignity to the otherwise sexist and silly naked-partygoers-by-virtue-of-xray-vision scene.

But like so many B- and Z-movies, in Milland’s performance as Dr. Xavier we are gifted with what I call the Arrogant White Male Scientist, a man who with ambitious intentions goes to explore some unknown part of the world or perhaps discovers some monster heretofore unknown to man (or re-discovers it)** – or maybe he’s a Regular Scientist Guy who ends up called upon as the last hope to save our planet from an invading menace (note: today’s popular version of this sci-fi hero fella are less science-y and more, running-around-with-shirt-off-and-using-a-big-gun-y).  Usually the guy is for the forces of Good, like Peter Graves’ character in It Conquered the World.  Sometimes he’s a sleazeball, like Phillip Terry in The Leech Woman.  Or like Mr. Milland’s Dr. Xavier, he’s basically a good guy (if a bit egotistical and entitled) but goes a bit too far and bad things happen to him.  One thing about him: when called upon a new situation, he always somehow knows a bunch of bullshitty “facts”, and whether discussing real or fictional science he speaks condescendingly to everyone else in the room who for some reason accepts this sort of douchey behavior.

I love the character of the Arrogant White Male Scientist dearly.  Because I used to be in the Sciences (Chemical Engineering, to be precise) and there’s still a lot of Arrogant White Male to go around.  Besides, in the real of B-movie “science”, the lines are just so damned silly.  Sometimes I forget though how the AWMS looks to those with new eyes, like my daughter, who intently watched the first few minutes of the film:

“That’s light,” Dr. Xavier says to the comely Dr. Fairfax, as he pulls the blinds open and turns toward her. “Waves of energy that excite the eye.  And the nerve cells transmit this energy to the brain.  And with the brain, we see.”

At this my daughter Sophie turns to me and asks politely, “Oh, so she doesn’t know anything?” Which is pretty damned funny: the Arrogant White Male Scientist talks to people – even fellow physicians – as if they had less knowledge of the world than the average seven year old (and, may I add, considerably better manners to be treated in this way).

My 5 year old son Nels, on the other hand, watched the film with a lot of intensity and interest for the gooey details: he loved the creepy eyeball in the first shot of the film, and the concept of being able to see through walls, flesh, glass, one’s own eyelids.  But about 70% of the way through the film he’d quieted for some time.  At the Vegas scene he turned to me and asked seriously, “But can he see through hats?”

You know, those motherfucking hats.  Which so often foil our plans.

* P.S. Parents, stop telling your kids they are “smart”, unless it’s a compliment you give out freely and often to most people.  “Smart” kids end up being lazy and entitled and thinking they’re better than everyone else.  To borrow a quote from a schmaltzy film I dislike but the rest of America seems to love, “Smart is as smart does.”

** Readers with a knowledge of these films – I find John Agar to be one of the more repellent versions of AWMS if you ask me. Peter Graves was a bit cute.  Your thoughts?

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