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Will the real geek please stand up?


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How much do you love?

Not so long ago in a galaxy…well, it was right here, it was a dark time for geeks everywhere. Popular kids would point and laugh at us when we got out our latest issue of Starlog and pored over its glossy pages hoping for latest news on Doctor Who or the next Star Trek movie, or if George Lucas was ever going to make good on his promise of new Star Wars stories. We met after school to read X-Men comics, and argued about who would win in a fight: Batman or Spider-Man (I still claim, hands down, Batman, but there are those that would wrongly argue against).

But suddenly, we live in a day and age where comic book movies are big business, and sci-fi fantasy has nearly become part of the mainstream. The kids who once denounced such things stuff for nerds suddenly make reference to 'The Force', and wear superhero shirts purchased at high-end retailers. It seems like overnight the real fans have been pushed aside to make room for a new breed, those who could almost be called “geeks in name only”. I’m only too happy to see sci-fi and comic books finally get their due, but at what cost?

'Adventures In Babysitting', 1987The new “geek chic” has been a long time coming, but it was a slow crawl to the top. For a long time, the only nerd references that got made in television or movies were those that could be universally understood. Superman or Batman might get a mention, and it was acceptable to make a Star Wars reference here or there. It really wasn’t until 1987’s Adventures in Babysitting that more obscure references slipped through. In that film, the youngest child of the group is a huge fan of the Marvel hero Thor. She sits and draws pictures of him, wears a Thor helmet and carries around a plastic sledgehammer. In one humorous scene, she even addresses an auto mechanic as the Thunder God. It was one of the first time that those of us that read comics really sat and saw one of the lesser known heroes mentioned in a major motion picture. Then, in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, Tim Roth’s character stands in front of a poster of The Silver Surfer while going on about Ben Grimm/The Thing. All of a sudden, geeks were out in the open for everyone to see, and we were bringing our brand of crazy to the party.

Stan Lee in 'Mallrats'Kevin Smith claims it was Quentin Tarantino’s inclusion of that monologue that inspired him to throw so much geek-related dialogue into his first film, 1994’s Clerks. In that film, there are references to comic books, random movies and of course, the infamous “Construction Workers on the Death Star” debate. It was the first time that someone had the guts to stray from simply quoting the films to actually going into a long discussion about incidental characters in the films. Smith went on to use Star Wars references in the rest of his movies, as well as references to all things geek. His second film, Mallrats (which is a great film, no matter what the critics say) went even further, quoting the Superman films, brandishing Silent Bob with a helmet in the shape of Batman’s cowl, and the possible downside of Kryptonian/human lovemaking (which was actually put to rest on Smallville, so apparently, someone was listening). Even Stan Lee makes an appearance in the film as himself, only to be barraged by very adult-themed questions about superhero genitalia (questions that I, for one, would like answered). Smith has never been apologetic for his love of nerdy media, and peppers his works quite liberally with it. But has it done more harm than good?

Screenwriters seem to have taken their cues from him, and gone out of their way to create characters who have more than a passing knowledge of comic books and Sci-Fi fantasy. Shows like South Park and Family Guy reference Star Wars on a regular basis. An episode of Law and Order featured a gentleman who collected original comic book artwork, much to the respect of one of the detectives. And though once just an obscure program to many Americans, even Doctor Who has been referenced, the most recent by Dr. Spencer Reed in last week’s Criminal Minds, when he chastised Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure for ripping it off with their time traveling phone booth (something I’ve been saying for two decades). Every department store has a wide assortment of superhero apparel, and video games based on Marvel and DC characters are big sellers, especially the last few Spider-Man games that have been released. Geek Chic has taken hold of the population at large.

Batman and Spider-Man. And we know who'd win.And while I should be happy, I feel as though the rest of us are getting the shaft. After all, while others are walking around with their brand new distressed Superman shirt (am I the only one that fails to see the appeal of buying a new shirt that looks old?), they most likely couldn’t answer most questions about the hero off the tops of their heads. These folks aren’t buying the comics, which most of the time aren’t even carried by the stores that they’re buying their shirts at. They wouldn’t dare enter a comic book shop, for fear of looking like a sad-sack nerd. They know as much about the characters as Hollywood has told them, which usually isn’t much like the original source material. And these are the people that Hollywood is making the movies for, not for the rest of us that sat up at night reading comics by flashlight, and sat and had long, philosophical discussions about Bruce Wayne’s psyche, or who would was stronger, Superman or He-Man. Filmmakers and some bloggers make light of fanboys' demands that they stick close to the source material, even going so far as to say we’re “fascist”. New fans to Doctor Who even have the audacity to rant about how nothing good ever happened with the program until RTD updated it. Frankly, it makes me a little angry, because I am one of the true believers, having read comics and spent more hours watching sci-fi than most of these “fans”.

But, for better or for worse, I can be the bigger man, and appreciate the fact that there is a whole new world of super heroes and villains being brought to light, and that people who would have otherwise never been introduced to them now see what we’ve been talking about for years. And we can make fun of those nu-fans at the comic book shop.

See also:

I Was A Teenage Doctor Who Fan In America

Are Americans afraid of everything foreign?

Fanboy war prompts closing of DC Comics' blog comments

The loneliness of the long-distance 'B'-movie fan


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#1 *nods sagely* Richard Cosgrove 2011-03-03 17:23
Great article, Caleb, and one I agree wholeheartedly with. Like you I've been a geek for my whole life and proud of it even when it wasn't cool (which let's face it, until recently was pretty much most of the time). I can also embrace (admittedly with the occasional Auton like grin) the emergence of 'geek chic' in society, if only so I can drop the occasional 'nerd bomb' into conversations, like knowing which issues of Spidey Raimi took (enjoyable) liberty within the Spidey movies, or that Bane is considerably more than Mr Freeze's *****!

As fro Kevin Smith, love the guy! I remember the first time I saw Clerks (when it came out) and laughing myself stupid thanks to the geek overload that has, as you rightly say, continued through all of his movies (even Jersey Girl!). Same with Reservoir Dogs, which I had the priviledge of watching way back when it first came out at a small arts theatre festival in my hometown in the company of the man himself, who was just about to go supernova in celebrity terms, but who that night stood in the bar talking and drinking with all of us other nerds and geeks, sharing our love of comics and movies. :-)
#2 Clerks. Caleb Leland 2011-03-03 22:56
It was 95, and I was in college. I was hanging out in my buddy's dorm room, when he asked if I had seen it yet. All he said was "Wait till they get to the Death Star discussion". I've been a KS fan ever since, and I eagerly await seeing Red State.

And I admit, I am jealous. I would have loved to have been in that bar hanging out with Tarantino. The man is an auteur, and always tells a great story. I also loved the two-part story he did for CSI. Proved he can do television, and maybe he should try a series of his own.
#3 Did you write this for me??? Gabriel_Ruzin 2011-03-03 23:31
Wonderful piece, Caleb. Here's the deal, noobs --

If you didn't sit outside in front of your hometown movie theater all day to see a Star Wars movie, I'm not sure if you're a real geek.

If you didn't hang around a comic book store before opening time so you could get in as soon as they opened and grab your handful of new titles, I'm not sure if you're a real geek.

If you didn't play Magic: The Gathering or know histories of different Star Trek ships or play D&D or have a working knowledge of the Death Star superlaser, I'm not sure if you're a real geek.

Am I proud of knowing these things? Maybe, maybe not. But the Geek Crown is a heavy one, and a burden that I'm willing to carry for the greatness of all that is geekdom.

Well done, fellow geek. I think it's safe to say that you're a 'real' one. hehe :)
#4 I wrote it for all of us Caleb Leland 2011-03-04 04:46
With the exception of Magic: The Gathering, I am guilty on all charges. I can also name every actor to play The Doctor, what planet he's from, and what TARDIS stands for. And if that's not enough, I can claim to be the only person I know to own a Klingon Dictionary. I am geek, hear me roar!
#5 I'm a fraud Luke Connolly 2011-03-08 14:21
Guys, looking at this list I cannot help but feel I am a wolf in sheeps clothing.

I have never really had a massive interest in any of the above; but at the same time I always liked them - if you understand.

However, I love the look of things like comic-con, conventions, etc - and would happily watch a Star Trek episode from Patrick Stewart onwards - but I still feel like a jock who has nerd-urges...

Help me...please.
#6 Luke Caleb Leland 2011-03-14 03:30
...I am your father. No, not really, I can't back that up.

You sir, have a knowledge of video games that I bow to. Even if you fail in any other aspect of nerdhood, you are the uber-gamer.

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