Hot Fuzz and Young Earth Creationism

Even if it’s not at the front of my mind, the back of my mind is still mulling over February’s young earth creationism (or whatever it’s called) “debate” between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. I often wonder about the experiences and motivations that lead an individual to any form of science-denial, but the laughable absurdity of young-earth creationism isn’t the topic here. I’m only disclosing that the debate played a part in the curiosity that helped this particular blog entry bubble to the surface. That said, if you get time, please watch the “debate” in the video above.

A question has long haunted me: How could anyone think the movie Shaun of the Dead is better than Hot Fuzz when the latter is so obviously better?

Of all my friends and acquaintances, I knew of one person who preferred Shaun of the Dead until several weeks ago. But even then the question vexed me. How could even one person feel that way?

Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, along with last year’s The World’s End, are collectively known as the Cornetto Trilogy. All three were directed and co-written by Edgar Wright, and all three feature the young and brilliant British actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

I’ll set aside The World’s End because it would unnecessarily complicate matters. So what of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead?

Both are quirky comedies with a little slapstick and well-executed over-acting. Both have dark and sad moments that compel the viewer to reflect upon friendship, death, family, and morality. Both are also fast-paced with snappy, original dialogue. Perhaps the biggest difference is that Shaun of the Dead is a zombie comedy while Hot Fuzz is a buddy-cop-action-comedy-thing. I’ve never understood why anyone would prefer the former over the latter. To be clear, while I enjoyed Shaun of the Dead (watched it once), I am addicted to Hot Fuzz (watched it 20+ times, conservatively).

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a tavern enjoying a pint of beer. I finished the glass and was eager to enjoy another when, as I approached the bar, a line of dialogue from Hot Fuzz popped into my head. “Another pint of lager, Mary.” The line probably isn’t funny if you haven’t seen the movie, but don’t worry about that.

I almost threw the line at the bartender but worried she wouldn’t know the movie, so instead, because she and I are pals, I asked if she’d seen Hot Fuzz. She had, but said she enjoyed Shaun of the Dead more. What?!!!

Then I had an epiphany. The only two people whom I’d directly asked which film they prefer responded that they prefer Shaun of the Dead over Hot Fuzz. And both are female. AHA! What does Hot Fuzz allude to over and over? Action and thriller movies, especially those of the 1980s through the early 2000s. Films like RoboCop, Die Hard, and Lethal Weapon, with montages, sunglasses, nearly invincible male protagonists, and one-liners followed by slow-motion vengeance-achieving action sequences in explosion-filled urban settings.

When I was a teenager and a 20-something, who did I consistently watch those movies with? Dudes. Do you have doubts? Next time you’re in a group of American males and females ages 25 through 40, ask for a show of hands: Who’s seen the first three Die Hard movies, or more than one of the Lethal Weapon movies? You’ll see.

So I had a question. Among those who have seen both Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, does gender influence who prefers which movie? My hypothesis was that males who’d seen both films would lean toward Hot Fuzz, at least more often than did females, because males would more often enjoy Hot Fuzz’s action-movie references.

The hypothesis merited further investigation. For science! Specifically, I guess it could be considered psychology or sociology (film studies?), depending on how you define the question. Regardless, science!

So I did a survey, the first semi-scientific survey I think I’ve ever done. On Facebook (yeah, I know) I posted the following status around 5 p.m. on Feb. 6:

Blog topic came to mind today, and it requires that I do a survey. I won’t publish your name in the blog entry. I only want the data, the numbers. So here’s the question: If you’ve seen the films “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” which do you prefer? No need to tell me why. Just name your favorite of the two, and only answer if you’ve seen both. Thanks for the help!

Within minutes, I had five responses and was surprised because four of the five were men, and all five preferred Shaun of the Dead, or “SOTD.” Then a sixth response. Shaun of the Dead again.

I am not a scientist. But I think my silly little survey illustrates a common misunderstanding that too often surfaces in debates about the most sensitive of science topics — global warming, evolution, origin of the universe, vaccines, etc. — that scientists already have an assumption or suspicion in their head and they view their results through the lens of that bias, thereby tainting a study’s conclusions.

But here’s the thing. I had an idea in my head and I was all excited about it. It was a eureka moment. Of course! Hot Fuzz references action movies, so of course men familiar with those movies would lean toward Hot Fuzz, all other things being equal. And when the first few people responded, the pattern suggested that my hypothesis was wrong. I wasn’t disappointed or sad. I was thrilled. Why? Because learning something and being surprised at the same time is great fun.

Ever watch a television documentary about whales or galaxies or birds of paradise and the narrator tells you something and you can barely believe it? It’s thrilling! Likewise, have you ever played Trivial Pursuit? Sometimes the questions are frustrating (because why would anyone know some of that stuff? I mean really!) but other times, you think, “Well, this has to be this answer” and then the person reading the question tells you that you’re wrong, that it was actually that other, seemingly impossible reality. And despite your annoyance over being wrong and the possibility that you might lose the game, a far more powerful thing is stoked. You’re caught up enjoying the surprise, that new piece of information you learned. “No. Way,” you say. But you’re smiling, right? I certainly am.

Being wrong isn’t always fun, but when it is fun, it’s more fun than being right because being wrong means surprise and awe. To think that scientists wouldn’t feel that way about discovery when you and I do would be irrational.

All that said, here are the detailed results of my survey.

Of my 146 Facebook friends, 19 responded over roughly 36 hours (from the afternoon of Feb. 6 to the morning of Feb. 8). To ensure the largest possible sample size, I waited another month, but no more people responded. On March 21 I collected the survey results from Facebook.

Respondents’ birth years ranged from 1969 to 1987 (ages 27 to 44), but please take note that the birth years of 5 respondents (4 females and 1 male) were not available on Facebook.

Of the 19 people who responded, 9 were female and 10 were male. Of the 10 males, 5 preferred Shaun of the Dead, and 5 preferred Hot Fuzz. Of the 9 females, 7 preferred Shaun of the Dead, while 2 preferred Hot Fuzz.

The responses suggest that the preference of Hot Fuzz over Shaun of the Dead (and vice-versa) among American males in their 20s and 30s is evenly distributed. In other words, the two films equally share the favoritism of that age range of American males. Of the females who responded, however, 78% preferred Shaun of the Dead while only 22% preferred Hot Fuzz.

The results suggest that my hypothesis was conclusive and correct, right? Not. At. All.

First, my hypothesis was that males who’d seen both films would lean toward Hot Fuzz (see eleventh paragraph), but the men were in fact split 50/50 between the two films. The results showed a bias not among males but among women, who apparently prefer Shaun of the Dead of the two films.

Second, my sample size was so small that any results whatsoever should probably be deemed inconclusive. Nineteen people is just too tiny a number for a survey when millions have likely seen both movies.

Third, as often happens with real research, the answer to the research question spawned other questions. Of the 19 people who responded, 12 (nearly two-thirds) prefer Shaun of the Dead over Hot Fuzz, a fact that smashes my perception that Hot Fuzz is so obviously the better of the pair.

And really, maybe I was asking the wrong question. For example, do women enjoy being startled or frightened more often than men in a given movie experience? After all, a zombie movie, comedy or not, is likely to have more startling moments than a thriller cop movie.

But the specific question doesn’t really matter to me, nor does the field of research. I care about the answers, the new information that spawns further questions that give us an ever finer understanding of the nature of life, the universe, and everything. And the more I talk to scientists, the more I believe that they feel the same way and work from the same motivations, despite any denier’s “argument” to the contrary.

Seriously, though. You should watch Hot Fuzz, and Shaun of the Dead…I guess.


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