Category Archives: Nerd Factor

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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Nerd Factor: Unhappy Travels

Photo retrieved from https://www.cnet.com/news/scare-yourself-silly-with-over-400-horror-movies-that-cost-5-each/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Recently I saw a video that shared some advice for staying happy. Most of the suggestions were about what one would expect. Smile more. Get some regular exercise. Eat certain foods. One tip surprised me though. The advice was to plan a trip, even if you had no intention of taking it. I thought that was rather odd. Even without the context of the coronavirus, this is the season of scares. The horror genre, after all, tends to complicate travel. 

     First there is the matter of destination. If the horror genre has taught us anything, it is that places are not what they seem. By daylight, cabins in the woods seem like great places to drop out of the hustle and bustle of life, chances to get away from it all. Come nightfall, though, these tiny holiday structures quickly turn into bases that offer very few defenses from outside attacks and often house some pretty nasty surprises within their old wooden basements. 

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Nerd Factor: Muck Encrusted Mockeries of Men

Photo retrieved from https://bloody-disgusting.com/tv/3635805/swamp-thing-began-airing-cw-week-one-million-people-watched-premiere/.

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     In 1971, Marvel Comics introduced us to Ted Sallis, a scientist who must inject himself with his own special biochemical formula to prevent it from falling into the hands of enemy spies. After an accident, Sallis falls into the swamp and emerges as a monster. Thus, Man-Thing was born. One month later, DC Comics introduced us to Alec Holland, a scientist who must inject himself with his own special biochemical formula in order to prevent it falling into the hands of criminals. After an accident, Holland falls into the swamp and emerges as a monster. Thus, Swamp Thing was born. 

     Those origins may, perhaps, sound rather similar to one another. 

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Nerd Factor: Can Superman Sneeze?

When Superman Gets Sick – The Zebra Pit
Image from Lois and Clark (1993-1998)

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

For some, the arrival of autumn brings the anticipation of crisp air, brightly colored foliage, and tasty foods. For others, the same time of year brings dread of another barrage of seasonal allergies and respiratory system illness. This latter group gains our sympathies and benefits from our medicine, but their endurance of the season is often treated as an individual matter. However, we must begin to consider this on a broader level because of the threat posed by one particular person, the Man of Steel. We must ask ourselves a terrifying question. Can Superman sneeze?

After exposure to the light of our yellow sun, Kryptonians manifest an astonishing variety of superpowers. Super-breath is often regarded as a lower-tier power, useful mostly for the extinguishing of fires or the clearing of poisonous gases. Weaponized though, it is fearsomely dangerous. In Superman II, the villainous General Zod, Ursa, and Non used this ability to devastate downtown Metropolis.

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Nerd factor: Sensational Casting

Tatiana Maslany to star in Marvel's She-Hulk Disney+ series | EW.com
Image from https://ew.com/tv/tatiana-maslany-marvel-she-hulk-disney-plus/

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Decades ago, when superhero properties were guaranteed to be neither all that plentiful nor particularly all that good, fans lived in fear of casting rumors and news. That decision to put the right actor in the right part would always tell you if the producers “got it” or not.  It was almost a relief if a good actor was named. 

We tend to forget, for example, that twelve years ago most of the world did not really know who Iron Man was. The selection of Robert Downey, Jr. to play the brash but troubled billionaire inventor in high tech armor was a signal to all the comic book readers that these new Marvel Studios movies were going to be in the right zone after all. 

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Nerd factor: My Version of 2020

Villains and Vigilantes (1986) comic books
Image from mycomicshop.com/search?TID=277381

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

Several decades ago, I created a city set in the near future year of 2020. Time has now caught up to me. 

My nerd friends and I basically played two role-playing games throughout school and college. The first was, of course, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. We accumulated piles of rulebooks, guides, and monster manuals so that we could roll our dice and guide our characters on adventures written out in longhand in notebooks and mapped on graph paper. This system became world famous and is basically the conceptual architect of all the RPG tabletop and computer games that followed.

The second game was a lesser known but equally alliteratively titled game called Villains and Vigilantes. As the title suggests, this was about superheroes. Commercially speaking, the game never caught on quite the way that AD&D did. Of course, as a consolation, V&V got to avoid being blamed as a Satanic influence during some moral panics of the 1980s. As a game, V&V was a bit clunkier too, relying upon complex numerical formulas to generate some character traits. We loved it despite its flaws. Or maybe for them.

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Nerd factor: It’s just a phase

X-MEN: KITTY PRYDE Film in the Works
Image from https://www.aintitcool.com/node/79220

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     At first, the ability to pass through solid objects seems like an ideal superpower to have. No walls can hold a phaser. No ropes can bind them. And in the very physical career of superheroics, no blow can land upon them. However, there are many problems and potential dangers associated with intangibility. 

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Nerd Factor: Knew Mutants

Image from https://movieweb.com/

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     As hard as it is to believe now, a few decades back there was only one X-Men comic. Marvel’s team of “hated by the world they have sworn to protect” mutants had been lighting the superhero world on fire every month in Uncanny X-Men, but it took a lot time to start them as a franchise. Today, a Marvel character that even starts to get white hot gets their own series and probably a movie option with a rumored Disney+ series. Back then, the company was weirdly slow in spinning out even a new comic book series. 

     The first attempt to capture the glory was The New Mutants. In 1983, I got in a bit of trouble for enthusiastically reading the very first issue of their comic. Now, not quite forty years later, I find I cannot motivate myself to see their movie. 

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Nerd Factor: The Roaches of Tuckerman

Image taken from https://abancommercials.com/raid/its-good-be-tough-ant-battle-ad-commercial/14720/

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Thirty years ago this week, three college friends and I moved into an off-campus rental in a suburb. That house was an odd place and we would have many adventures and misadventures there. One of the earliest indicators that the house on Tuckerman Street would never be normal was our early encounter with the roaches. 

     Looking back, I am not exactly sure when we found that we had so many unexpected roommates. Obviously, it happened very early and I suspect that it was all part of the horrible first night at the house. Eric, a friend I had pretty much known forever, and I had arrived earlier in the day to start moving in. We had already discovered that the air conditioning at the home was not working properly. This was in Maryland in the late summer, so we had high temperatures and higher humidity; not exactly the ideal moving day. By the time Bruce got there, a friend whom I met in my freshman year when he sort of excavated a hole into my dorm room wall (a story for another time), those weather conditions had produced a raging thunderstorm. 

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With Great Power Comes Great Preventability

Still from Into the Spiderverse (2018)

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

In terms of methodology, Spider-Man is now the ideal coronavirus era superhero. Yes, the radioactively spider-bitten young man from Queens who mixes it up with both street level threats and cosmic menaces is now uniquely positioned to fight crime in this new COVID-19 age. Consider how easily most of his crime fighting activities can be adapted to the commonsense practices of personal safety we have adjusted to in our lives.

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Nerd Factor: X-Ray-ted Vision

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X-Ray Spex advertisement from the 50’s

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     X-ray vision seems like an ideal superpower to have. The ability to see through walls and other physical objects provides obvious advantages to the superhero. Need to find a hidden bomb? Start looking through all the walls of the city. Do you suspect some enemies are about to ambush you in the next room? Check ahead and see. Despite this utility, x-ray vision is a power that a superhero may come to regret possessing. 

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Nerd Factor: Too Many Bein’ Stomped On

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Birds of Prey promotional image – taken from oakharborcinemas.com

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Audiences both fascinate and frustrate me. At their worst, fellow moviegoers can be horrible distractions. I am like everybody else. I have cursed at a few rudely talkative people before. I have wished cell phones could somehow explode in the hands of people using them during a film. I have felt great pity for a parent with a crying baby. . . at least until that parent does not take the baby out of the theater fast enough.  

     Sometimes though, I find audiences really entertaining too. Today, I saw Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), the slow to get rolling but then reasonably enjoyable DC character-based film with the unfortunately long name. There was a prime example of what I love about audiences in there with me. 

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Nerd Factor: You Might Really Be Dating a Robot

Screen Shot 2020-02-11 at 6.14.14 PM

Art by Nicole Freewalt

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     Popular culture has taught us that robots may be our most loyal friends or our most terrifying foes. No matter what their motivations, from time to time, replicants and androids and synthezoids and whatever-oids feel compelled to hide their identities from us in order to move in human circles. This may cause romantic complications. Because the Nerd Factor cares deeply about your emotional well-being this Valentine’s Day, here are some tips to tell if you might really be dating a robot:

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Nerd Factor: Harley

birds

Promotional Photo for Birds of Prey

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     One of the most fascinating things about Harley Quinn is her origin. Not the tragic tale of a psychological intern who makes the terrible choice to fall in love with her insane patient, the Joker. “Mad Love” is a great story, but by origin this time, I mean Harley’s real world beginnings. Harley is the most successful superhero character to debut outside of comic books.

     These days, the major comic book companies are part of huge entertainment conglomerates. DC Comics has long been a part of Warner Brothers (these days known as WarnerMedia because things always sound cooler when words run into each other). And, of course, Marvel has been owned by Disney for a bit over a decade now. These corporations essentially mine the creative properties of their comic book companies to produce television, film, and video game products. 

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Nerd Factor: Regal Treatment Is Not Royal Treatment

 

knivesout-titlepage-background.jpg

Photo retrieved from https://www.lionsgate.com/

Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor

     We were finally seeing Knives Out. Plus, this was a date. My wife conspired with the in-laws to take the boy out for food and fun. Excited and genuinely glad to have avoided any possible spoilers after so long, we made our way to the theater in the mall with smiles on our faces. 

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