Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Chronic Tribute: Chris Knight!

The problem with being a nerd, particularly a smart nerd in the 1980s was that there were precious few role models in the media. By precious few, I mean none.

Smart people basically came in two flavors in those days. You had your haughty unapproachable asshole. And, you had the pitiful maladjusted victim. Intelligent people did not possess social skills of any sort, they were not fun, and sex with was really not on the menu, either.

The mid 1980s were obsessed with reclaiming nerddom. John Hughes made himself a legend doing it. Between Revenge of the Nerds, Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Can't buy Me Love, Lucas, and Some Kind of Wonderful, you'd think that geeks had it pretty good.

And they kinda did, except if you look closely at the nerds, particularly the smart nerds, you find one of two lessons to be learned. A few of them teach you that the nerd you pity is actually OK, and you should start pretending that immediately if you are a good person. Most of these movies teach us that nerds are just ugly caterpillars that need a helping hand or some life-changing experience to grow out of their current state. In either case, a nerd isn't something that you really want to be.

And then there was Chris Knight in Real Genius. OH, what a wake-up call that character was for me! He was deadly smart, and yes, he was a nerd in the sense that he was not assimilating into the herd.

But he was fun, he was confident, and he could use his intellect as a social tool. Chris Knight was a world class wise ass who could take you apart at will. But he could also defuse, disarm, and charm. He wasn't invulnerable. But he for damn sure was versatile- you could drop him into any situation and he could put his wits to use: lasers, books, school, work, nerds, girls, it didn't matter. This was not a guy who needed pity, he was the one calling the shots. Finally, I had a role model!

So I've spent the last twenty five years unsuccessfully trying to become Chris Knight. The standard is high, probably too high. But I'm eternally grateful that he's been out there to shoot for.

Something I just thought of that's kind of funny - Chris Knight didn't get the girl, either. At least not on screen. The key factor, though, is that it wasn't inconceivable. It was just that inside the film, it was Mitch who needed to "grow out" of his geekery, and part of that was scoring with Jordan. Chris was just fine as is.

At any rate, a giant thank you to Neal Isreal, who wrote that character. My life has been different for the better because of Chris Knight. If you haven't seen Real Genius, by the way, it's a must. Not a tour de force or anything, but a very solid comedy and absolutely quintessentially 80s.

And of course a thank you to Val Kilmer, who brought that character to life. Even at 374 pounds, he'll always be Chris Knight (and Mad Mardigan) to me!

- Ryan

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