Sophie McCook

BBC Scriptwriter & Author of New Book Thinkless

There’s an easy way of making a good child into a criminal, and that’s by making him/her (but usually him) feel like a criminal. You can start slowly with a regular frown or a shake of the head. Very soon you’ll start to expect the worst, prejudicing every new day. It works so gently and deeply that very soon the child fulfils your worst predictions.

That’s the slow method. MacArthur High School, near Dallas decided to fast track. Ahmed Mohamad is a geeky fourteen year old who dabbles in the occasional invention. These include home made radios, robots and go-karts. Last Tuesday he made a bomb. SORRY, a clock I mean. Easy mistake. He brought his home made, very clever, clock in to school to show his engineering teacher and was shortly afterwards detained by five police officers.

His headmaster threatened him with expulsion if he didn’t write a statement. The young inventor ended the day in a youth detention centre. Arrested for doing the sort of thing that was lauded in the 1980s. From Hasselhoff to Tom Baker to Ted Rodgers; you weren’t anyone in the 80s without a techno sidekick.

Geekery was an essential part of family TV/Film viewing. Why has something that was the bread and butter Third Character for Spielberg become the Scary-imaginary-terrorist with circuit boards? Were the 80s nerds really as innocent as we think?
Before we can say ‘I can’t see without my glasses!’ let’s go waterboard memory lane and see what information we can extract.

Data from The Goonies was all-aggressive nerd and proud of it. Frankly, ‘Pincers of Power’ sounds like just the sort of premeditated evil plot a non-Caucasian might come up with.

Short Circuit. An unattractive robot called Number 5 goes (A)Wall-e, after being invented by lady nerd, Ally Sheedy . He’s rude, hateful and a sexual predator. He goes on a driving spree, making ladies with pushchairs have to dive out of the road. It’s advertised as PG. Where exactly is the parent expected to start guidance with this one?

There was a moment in time when all films had at least one Jim Henson alien puppet. This is true in The Flight of the Navigator, a tale of an irritating ten year old who is ill-advisedly kidnapped by a robotic optic nerve attached to an eye-ball. The child learns to fly simply to carry out some kind of spiritual mission. Well, we heard that one before.

In the strangely neo-feminist age of the 80s it was ok to ‘create’ the ‘perfect female’, the way hipsters create craft beers these days. In Weird Science, two teenagers use a floppy disk to create Kelly Le Brock. Straight to the detention centre with you!

While we’re at it: Brian – what are you really up to? You’re in the maths club, the Latin club and the physics club, AND the Breakfast Club? As Bender says: Brian is both demented and social. In fact, I think that the after-plot for Brian is a massive mental breakdown and a ‘Bowling for John Hughes High School’ type of incident.

Bonus: The entire plot of the A-Team (a highly skilled crack commando team of renegades, bomb drunk after Vietnam, now permanently on the run from law enforcement) is that they terrorise small Appalachian villages by bursting out of chicken sheds in modified vehicles. It is incredible that there was a time we condoned this sort of terrorism through tech – especially when the female A-Team nerd mysteriously vanished after just one season.

It’s too early to know if Ahmed will allow the subsequent invitations to Google and Facebook to smudge away the obvious nasty little stain on his self-esteem. I hope he can use his nerderey for the good of human understanding, as his situation makes so clear is needed more than ever. Now he just needs a team to join, a group of teenage investigators from 1985 maybe? Now to build a time machine – first you need a little plutonium….image

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