Marc Alan Fishman: And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth
A few weeks back, an esteemed colleague of mine (oddly enough this time, not Mike Gold…) pitched a debate for my podcast: “Have nerds won? And if they have… is it a good thing?” Well, it was a great idea, and the debate on my show was fairly one sided. Now, after plenty of time to steep on the topic, I can plainly state my opinion; we have, and it is.
Before you start up your engines of flame, let me define what I deem “a nerd” and “a win”. First, I’m defining nerds/nerditry/geekdom/dorkness as a collection of science-fiction, fantasy, comic books, cartoons, or essentially any world of fiction that is heavily built on a foundation of alternative reality. If I look out into the great wide expanse of pop-culture five, ten, or twenty years prior in comparison to now, it’s clear as day to me nerds are a far more accepted sub-culture. Pluck a random person from the street and ask him who Wolverine is, and today you’re far more likely to hear “Hugh Jackman” than “uhh… an angry badger?” And where the silver screen used to pelt us with Urkel’s and Skippy’s, today’s modern TV nerd bags the hot chick with far more certainty. Suffice to say, “nerd” today is not what “nerd” was, and that in my book can be defined as a win.
Let’s extrapolate those examples. Specifically speaking to the world of comic books, and their permeation on the zeitgeist… we are living in a near golden age. Thanks in large part to the expansion of the pulpy world into moving pictures, the world at large has never been more familiar with the stalwarts of our standard. It’s a testament to the desperation of Hollywood that even the indie-esque characters of our universes are tangentially semi-famous to boot. Case in point: a cinephile friend of mine can debate me silly over the minutiae of Hellboy or Sin City. And while he knows nothing of their respective sources, the fact that they were recent films with positive reviews brought a bit of our world into his. And last I checked? There ain’t no “Before Citizen Kane” in comics. Yet.
Beyond comics, examples of “accepted” nerdity abound. Cable boasts entire networks dedicated to various geek sub-cultures. SyFy, Cloo, Chiller, Fear.net, et cetera… all catering to a specific subset of people, bridging the gap between John Q. Public and John Q. Nerd. Thanks in large part to recent films and TV shows, more and more of our once secret worlds bleed into the ether of everyday life.
The bigger question posed though becomes the value of winning itself. Is it a form of “selling out” to have the Jersey Shore Generation adore The Avengers or Arrow? Is it wrong that your yuppie co-worker loves The Walking Dead, and even sticks around for Chris Hardwick’s show? Do you feel dirty that a new generation will come up thinking J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek IS the original cast? I don’t think so. The fact that some nerds cling to their hobbies should not punish those of us who are just enjoying the ride. I honestly loathe the self-serving hyper-dorks that get their pocket protectors in a bind because the world at large wants to share in our geekdom, if only for an hour here or there.
Generally speaking, this is the point at which I might delve into “the devil’s advocate”, and try to see the world from the other side of the well. I’m straining to do it, honestly. Just two months back, I railed against the anti-Big Bang Theory crowd for their harsh criticism of the show’s generalization of the nerd-life. Perhaps I’m too forgiving a nerd? Certainly Abrams’ Trek was overtly flashy, and more style over substance at times. Big Bang Theory does make it seem like crippling social awkwardness is just a quirky way to eventually meet hot chicks. And The Avengers? The Chitauri were a shapeshifting alien race in the comics… and they weren’t controlled by a single borg-like entity. See? I can be a dick-nerd too!
Back to the debate at hand. Have we geeks won? As much as we’ll ever win, I suppose. Comics will continue to flow into profitable films (while the medium itself is driven to the iPad, and the industry becomes more creator driven then ever). Nerds will continue to be stereotyped for jokey roles, and ‘the best friend’ in romantic comedies. It’s a state of the union; to be a nerd will always come with hardship. But the zeitgeist understands that for those who can survive the wedgies, and bullying, comes a world of respect and like-minded communities. Thanks in large part to technology, the world is a smaller place. Knowing that you’re only a click away from the proof that your love of dragons, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, and second season Battlestar Galactica is keeping the world spinning on it’s axis?
Well, that’s a win worth having.
Artwork from The Joy Of Tech.
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