Nostalgia is big among millennials. Sites like BuzzFeed garner a huge portion of their readership from publishing articles describing “the 10 things that all 90s kids loved” or “the biggest fashion trends we miss from the year 2000.”
If you want to talk about a person that all “90s kids” remember, Bill Nye would be a great example. Just about every millennial remembers watching Nye, either in their school science classes or on PBS after school. Nye was tall, lean and perpetually in a bowtie and lab coat. He read as somewhat dorky, but in an almost ironic way. He was unabashedly enthusiastic about everything scientific and that energy was contagious to his young viewers.
It’d be hard to imagine anyone having a bad word to say about Nye 10 years ago. After all, as evidenced by clips like that, he was sweet, informative and seemed to have a genuine passion for teaching kids about the sciences. What wasn’t to love?
Today, however, if you do a web search for “Bill Nye,” you’re not likely to see many tributes to a darling of 90s kids’ television. Instead, you’re more likely to see incensed articles written by conservative commentators about how Nye is singlehandedly on a mission to spread bad science, brainwash youths with liberal ideology and destroy the cultural values that they hold dear.
That’s a pretty huge leap for a formerly apolitical kids’ TV star.
To understand how Nye went from a darling of edutainment to conservatives’ top public enemy, here’s the chain of events to how we got here.
Climate Change Advocacy
Disney cancelled Nye’s show in 1999, but he didn’t completely up and disappear from the public view. His material was still used in school curriculums and his show remained in syndication in many markets. Instead of looking for another contract for children’s programming, Nye moved on to science advocacy, appearing as an expert on news and talk shows. Early on, Nye commented on a myriad of topics, but he quickly gained prominence as an advocate for the theory manmade climate change.
Scientists who promote the viewpoint that we are responsible for global warming are hardly a new phenomenon. However, during the 2016 presidential race, Nye endorsed Bernie Sanders, primarily due to their shared belief that climate change was real and due to mankind’s behavior.
While campaigning for Sanders, Nye made a series of comments that many found extreme. He said that climate change deniers weren’t only mentally ill, but that they deserved to be imprisoned for their beliefs. When Tucker Carlson took him to task on his show, the seeds were planted for Nye to become a target for conservative disdain.
The Gender Thing
In April of 2017, Nye’s show Bill Nye Saves The World premiered on Netflix. Gone were the days of cool experiments meant to appeal to children. Nye’s new series was targeted at adults, namely the millennials who’d grown up with him.
While much of Nye’s show is apolitical, his episode on gender set the internet ablaze. Gender issues have been a hot button issue, with liberals arguing that there are an infinite number of genders and conservatives arguing that there are only two. Nye argued the liberal case, claiming that there were myriad genders beyond male and female.
While his position alone might have angered conservatives, it was how he expressed the position that especially drew their ire. First, there was the ice cream analogy.
The New Nye
At this point, it’s unlikely that Nye will ever be able to return to his former public image. The problem isn’t so much that Nye expressed his liberal opinions; after all, the entertainment industry is full of known liberals who still have a politically broad fanbase.
The problem is, rather, that Nye has demonstrated his activism so extremely. From his call for climate change deniers to be jailed to the cringe-inducing Bloom performance, Nye hasn’t just established himself as an activist, but rather as somewhat of an extremist. Even for someone so once beloved by parents and schoolteachers everywhere, that’s a hard label to come back from.