Thursday, June 18, 2015

An Evening with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Last night my husband and I went to see Neil deGrasse Tyson speak at Jones Hall here in Houston. I'm not sure we've ever paid to hear someone just speak before; the closest was when we paid a small amount to see William Shatner speak for an hour at a convention we were already attending anyway. Neil DeGrasse Tyson tickets cost, shall we say, not a small amount.

And it was completely worth it. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, honestly. Would it be like an episode of Cosmos? Would it be a rant about politicians who refuse to consider evidence that's right in front of their eyes?

Actually, no -- it was more like stand-up comedy for scientifically minded people. The "backbone" of the talk was basically how movies look to NDT: what's right, what's not right but still cool, and what's so scientifically wrong that it's difficult to get past it. Spoiler alert: Armageddon did not fare well, but that wasn't a surprise to me, considering that the husband is an asteroid scientist, and the (to me) well-known Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop apparently uses that film to talk about everything that's wrong with science in Hollywood. (Yes, we do still own a copy of that movie. Science aside, it's a lot more entertaining than it's summer-twin-release, Deep Impact.)

Interspersed with the movie still frames and clips were.... several beer commercials! Probably the most "political" line of the evening was when NDT said, in response to a beer commercial in which primordial creatures don't like the taste of their water and so wait through a zillion years of evolution until Guiness is invented, that it's a sad state of affairs when a beer commercial is more scientifically accurate that some school curricula in this country. (We're looking at you, Southern states!) Apart from that, though, the evening was just a fun look at what movies do and don't get right, and what we can and can't forgive them for getting wrong.

I laughed like crazy. And here were the two best parts of the evening: 1) this man clearly loves science and the wonders of the universe; and 2) the atmosphere at Jones Hall before the talk. NDT fans clearly view this guy as a rock star, and he is. Of science.

And just for fun, off the top of my head, other movies referenced (for both good and bad) included:

  • Back to the Future
  • Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Contact
  • Gravity
  • Interstellar
  • The Lion King
  • Love Story
  • The Matrix
  • Star Wars (the real one)
  • Titanic
  • West Side Story
  • The Wizard of Oz
If you ever get a chance to hear this man speak, I highly recommend it.

[Edited to add: I should have mentioned that this appearance was put on by the Society of the Performing Arts (SPA) in Houston. Thanks, SPA!]

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