The Semi-Definitive Algorithm to Why Nerds Freak Out About Things

In this week's "Postal Apocalypse," we're talking the Fringe finale, Dragonball Z, Jimmy Olsen's potential sex change, and, of course, more apocalyptic advice. Also, I've tried to create the grand unified theory of why (and how much) nerds get upset regarding changes to their favorite characters and franchises. As always, please email your questions to postman@io9.com. Now, on with your letters!

Dead Meds

J:
In the Post-Apocalypse USA, what level of priority do you put the different level of doctors out there? Obviously most doctors have specialties/fields, or is the "general" doctor your preferred MD? Do dentists fall anywhere in importance (no one seems brush in the post-world)?

Basically, the only doctor worth a damn in the post-apocalypse is someone who can heal people with the tools on hand, most likely bandages, splints, maybe antiseptics and/or antibiotics, if you get lucky and find some somewhere. Any doctor that needs to prescribe something you don't have or can't get does not matter. Oh, you need glasses? Too bad. You have asthma? Go look for an inhaler, I guess. You have high blood pressure? Well, the zombies were going to kill you anyways.

Of course, it's not like medical specialists ignore the basics; that's why they take 18 million years of medical school; even a neurosurgeon should be able to do all the things a general practice doctor would do. But here's where the general practice doctor has the advantage — diagnosis. Now, while I'm sure some neurosurgeons remember every single human body problem and illness they studied, most of them will have dropped that knowledge to concentrate on brain stuff — it's what makes them good neurosurgeons.

But again, no amount of neurosurgical knowledge is going to do anybody a lick of good after the apocalypse. Being able to tell when a child has ebola and needs to be abandoned by the side of the road to prevent the rest of the group from getting it? Useful.

Dragonball Ecolog-Z

angryrider:
Dear Mr. Postman,
Why is it that every battle post-Freeza in Dragon Ball Z, islands keep getting destroyed by either the hero, villain, or both, and there freshly new ones with grass and trees in the next episode. What kind of Earth is it when destroying the lands only serves to bring new lands like the Hydra? And are there any Earths like that?

Well, you're assuming that Goku and pals just didn't travel to new, verdant landscapes for each battle. I mean, max, each battle destroyed a few hundred acres of land; it only seems like more because each battle lasted three weeks or so. The Earth could easily accommodate that, in the sense it provides all that land for the destroying. In another sense, SUPER SAIYANS ARE CAUSING GLOBAL WARNING.

As for what kind of Earth it is, it's worth remembering that the Earth of Dragonball Z once featured a dog ninja, a sentient piece of candy that beat the shit out of a being that killed 99.999% of the Earth's population in about two minutes, and an anthropomorphic pig that asked a wish-granting dragon for a pair of women's panties. So it's best to not worry too much about it.

Forehead Foresight

Ken:
Dear Postman;
To me movies are not so much about entertainment, as they are about preparation for the apocalypse. That being said, I recently watched a movie "Trial of the Screaming Forehead" which has me stumped. Essentially the movie explores the likely scenario that prosthetic foreheads from beyond the moon invade a small town (presumably as a first step to global domination). The foreheads had two weaknesses, sound and a substance called foreheadrazine. In the movie a scientist with a chronic foreheadrazine addiction finds he has influence with the foreheads and they decide to elect him king. I've looked into obtaining foreheadrazine for my go bag with no luck. Also, I wonder if I were to obtain foreheadrazine and become the alien king, would that make me a sellout? Would it be akin to me purposefully becoming a super zombie in order to become king of the zombies? Should I worry about selling out humanity in such drastic times?

First of all, zombies don't have kings, super or otherwise. They're libertarians.

As for the Forehead People situation, it depends entirely on what you do once you become king. Do you work to bring your giant foreheaded people to some sort of accord with the remaining humans, and usher in an age of peace? Or would you simply wallow in your new lifestyle, having your new subjects bring you gold, and cavorting with giant foreheaded concubines while the screams of smaller foreheaded humans waft through your open windows? Becoming king of an alien race wouldn't make you a sellout, it's what you would do afterwards -– or not do, I suppose -– that would decide whether you're a traitor to the entire human race.

But what you should be worried about is the giant forehead people. Nic Cage. James Van Der Beek. Walton Gogglins. Peyton Manning! They're here, and they're watching us! … with their giant, giant foreheads.

Fringe Benefits

CMS:
Is it me, or did the Fringe finale kind of suck? Not like Lost levels of suck, just kind of a mild pull of general suckiness throughout.

The Semi-Definitive Algorithm to Why Nerds Freak Out About Things

I wouldn't go that far. Obviously, Charlie Jane has the full rundown of the episode here, and I agree with everything she says, but for my two cents:

The Fringe finale was disappointing in that it didn't particularly wrap the entire series up with a bow; it was more a finale to the fifth season than the show. Also, I personally never really enjoyed the "Observers rule the future" setting of the fifth season; I prefer my Observers as observers, and the switch from observing to fascist ruling never really made sense to me (yes, I get that the original Observers we unknowingly doing recon for the invasion, but 1) if the Observers were bringing machines from the future anyways, why set up shop in 2036? Why not go back to 1750 and rule pretty much unopposed? Also, if this whole thing was for an invasion, why did the Observers bother to watch all those pre-2012 historical events? I know the show has answers, but I feel they're answers made up after the fact, and were never part of the plan until the showrunners realized they may actually have to make a fifth season).

On the other hand, I've never felt the Fringe season finales were all that strong anyways, but I didn't watch the show for those, I watched it for its wonderful stand-alone episodes of weirdness, mad science, and thoughtful examination of what truly makes us human. When I think about Fringe, I think about those episodes, and those entertained the hell out of me. So maybe I didn't think the finale was fittingly epic, it still doesn't affect the massive good will I have for the show.

Superman's Gal Pal

John W.:
I got really upset when I heard the rumor that Jimmy Olsen might be "Jenny Olson" in Man of Steel, and then I instantly chided myself. It doesn't matter, obviously. It‘s not going to really affect Superman in any way. And certainly it's sexist to disapprove of the gender swap. I know this. I agree with this. But then why am I still kind of consternated about this?

The Semi-Definitive Algorithm to Why Nerds Freak Out About ThingsS

Well, the good news is that you're handling this is well as you can. For any fan, any kind of change is generally a shock. What matters is if you can look at yourself and realize it's not actually important. If it's something in the touchier sex or race category, feeling bad about your own kneejerk prejudice is good –- it's how we grow more tolerant, actually.

But regarding your consternation, the problem is that you're a fan. In my head there's an elaborate math theorem that explains exactly why and how much fans freak when something changes in their favorite franchise. It involves:

• The popularity/prominence of the character/franchise
• How long the character has been around, and how pravelent he/she/it is
• Which medium the character is being presented in
• How much variety the character' has had already (how many different and/or unusual ways has he/she/it been presented already), both in general and that particular medium
• How great the change is from the character's fundamentals
• The actual quality of the change

I haven't gotten the formula worked out, because I'm even worse as math than I am at sports, but I think those factors all directly affect fan freak-outs. So the reason you care about the Jimmy Olson sex change is because it's a new presentation of the character that we haven't seen before. New is different and scary, etc. etc.

But the reason you only care a little is because 1) you know Jimmy Olson is not that big a deal, 2) you recognize a gender swap is specifically not a big deal to Jimmy Olson's fundamental character. It might bring up a slight issue of romantic tension between Superman and "Jenny," but probably not. I'm guessing you're not even slightly upset about Laurence Fishburne being cast as the traditionally white Perry White, because 1) White is less important to Superman than Jimmy is, and 2) as Clark Kent's boss, White's race doesn't affect his relationship with Superman in the slightest.

This is also why, in my opinion, people freak out more about superhero movies than comics, because we've had so much fewer of them. Over the last 70+ years, Spider-Man has been presented in all sorts of ways — adventure, comedy, horror, sci-fi, he's been in the future, he's been Iron Spider, he's been a half-Latino, half-African-American teen –- so the character has an extremely wide range of ways he's been portrayed. But he's only had four movies, all of them played pretty straight to the most basic version of the character, which is why more people freak out when they hear about almost any sort of change happening in the Spidey movies.

Remember when Raimi first announced the organic webshooters? People lost their minds, and really — really — how Spider-Man shoots his webs is almost completely inconsequential, as long as he shoots them. When the rumor went around that Spider-Man might be played by Donald Glover, people freaked out at the idea of a black Spider-Man, because we'd had so few Spider-Man movies to establish the norms (also: racism). But when Marvel announced Miles Morales as the new Spidey in the comics? Some mild grumbling that Marvel was merely pulling a publicity stunt, but no one came as close to losing their minds as they did over Glover, which was still less of a deal than the webshooters in Spider-Man's first film presentation. But wait another Spider-Man movie trilogy or two — create a larger base of "standard" Spider-Man movies -– and people will begin to feel more comfortable with changes. I guarantee it.

Note: There are a ton of other, smaller variables here. Obviously, the fact that Miles Morales is in the Ultimate universe and not the main universe certainly helped minimize freak-outs. Also, a lot depends on you personally; I'm sure there's someone who's collected every issue of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen who is losing his goddamn mind that Jimmy might Jenny in Man of Steel, because the character is super important to him. But overall? Not that big a deal. Sorry for the super-long answer, though!

Do you have a letter for or to the Postman? Questions about nerd culture? Queries about Ideas you want to share? Email postman@io9.com!