In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker’s Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.
First, it is slightly cheaper; and secondly it has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.
— The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy
In their now deleted review on twitter of Ernst Cline’s breakout debut novel Ready Player One, @donniemnemonic introduced me to the phrase “Bazinga-ass shit”. Ready Player One is a pacy thriller with lots of suspense, action, and terribly written female characters. It also aggressively name drops all nerd counterculture produced between 1978 and 1992, like Stranger Things but without the charm. Bazinga, the catchphrase of Big Bang Theory‘s Sheldon Cooper, is synonymous online with all that is wrong with nerd subculture. Sheldon is a physics postdoc emotionally stunted to the point of open hostility who derives his sense of self from being superior in knowledge to everyone else, be that in science, or nerd counterculture. Bazinga is often Sheldon’s victory cry when scoring a petty point against someone who didn’t even realise they were being challenged. By referring to Ready Player One as Bazinga-ass shit, @donniemnemonic suggests that the book is only popular amongst nerds because of the sense of satisfaction they get from already knowing whatever fact just got mentioned. According to the Bazinga-ass shit assessment, the success of Ready Player One is therefore a damning indication of the unwelcoming and elitist environment that pervades nerd culture. Its a wonderful phrase and, although I suspect its perhaps a little harsh on Ready Player One, Bazinga-ass shit has become my go to label for things that are nerdy in an exclusionary way.
The irony of requiring a paragraph to explain, via multiple cultural references, that Bazinga-ass shit means that nerd subculture can be arcane and exclusionary is not lost on me, but now we’ve established what it means I would like to point the phrase at an unrequited frenemy: the maiden voyage of the Falcon Heavy was some Bazinga-ass shit.
The shortest of recaps. Elon Musk built a spaceship that could be relaunched, he built an even bigger space ship by strapping three of those other space ships together. This new space ship is the biggest ever space ship since the ones the USA and the USSR build to go to the moon. On the 6th February 2018, Musk & SpaceX successfully pulled off the test launch and he did it by greatly increasing the mileage on his 10 year old sports car.
SpaceX has been a vehicle for knowing nerd jokes it’s entire 16 year history, and the maiden voyage was an absolute feast of them:
- The rocket is named after Han Solo’s craft in Star Wars
- Harrison Ford was literally there to witness the flight as Musk’s guest
- It launched from LC-39a, the site of the Saturn V first flight, and the launch of Apollo 11, and the first flight of the space shuttle
- Musk retweeted a Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 reference at the start of computerised countdown
- The main core stage was supposed to land on (and eventually wound up severely damaging) the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, named after a ship in The Player of Games by Ian M. Banks
- The fairing deployment was accompanied by Starman by David Bowie, on full blast
- The Satnav of the Musk’s Tesla (named after a nerd anti-hero, who was played by Bowie in The Prestige) has been replaced with a panel that has DON’T PANIC, inscribed in large friendly letters.
“And so what?” you may rightly ask. SpaceX only exists because Elon Musk can convince people to invest in him and part of his investor appeal is this Geek God image that he’s carefully cultivated over the last two decades. The arcane exclusionary elements of nerd/geek subculture are in part deliberate. Geeks and Freaks often fail to conform to social norms, and frequently suffer for it. Therefore the elitist behavior of showing off that you know all the cool nerdy things that every nerd should know is a sort of gate-keeping mechanism to protect nerds from non-nerds who might hurt them, and allows Nerds to get one over the ignorant non-nerds using their primary strenght: their brains. Musk’s childhood conforms to the bullied geek who finds identity and success in science and nerd culture narrative to the letter so why not let him celebrate the counterculture he loves with the company he controls? If he wants to make one of the most important days in human space flight history an encyclopedia of Bazinga-ass shit, then surely it’s his look out.
Fine, I guess. As I allude to above, I kinda liked Ready Player One despite its Male Fantasy Fulfillment female characters and relentless wikipedia page quoting narative. I get all the in-jokes that Musk threw into the launch flight, and at the sight of “Don’t Panic” on the Sat Nav when the Fairings blew open, I’ll happily admit I laughed out loud, along with everyone else at SpaceX flight control.
Let’s go take a look at them shall we?
India’s mission to Mars this isn’t. I guess my problem with the Bazinga-ass shit of SpaceX is that when you make things exclusionary, you, uhhh, wind up attracting quite a narrow subset of people.
The crowd was shown only briefly during the entire launch, and I assume that’s because the live-stream director quickly realised that it consisted entirely of men with terrible facial hair and comfortable walking boots. I was watching this at home, stroking my straggly beard, wearing my well worn timberlands and the whole thing bummed me out. Space becoming private enterprise is great if it opens up accesibility to the getting into orbit for people that aren’t nations or militaries. But if it only opens up accessibility for people who can sing the whole of the “Knights of the Round Table” song, then perhaps it’s time to panic.