Thursday, September 29, 2005


National Geek Day

According to this amusing conversation between Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon, September 30th--release date for Serenity and MirrorMask--is now officially National Geek Day. (This is a good week to be Neil, all around.) Time Magazine is also running an interesting sidebar article, "The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth," which touches on a lot of the same topics.

As I've pointed out before, I think that, in a very real sense, we have won--"we" here meaning geeks, and "won" taken to mean mainstream culture. The mainstream has completely consumed, digested, and assimilated geek culture, and now it's difficult to remember a time when big summer blockbuster films weren't all superheroes and science fiction. When a huge percentage of the new offerings in television's fall season are genre (Threshold, Invasion, Surface, Night Stalker, Supernatural, et al.) it doesn't suggest that a culture shift is happening; it stands as proof that we're living in a post-shift world.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation was a breakout hit in syndication back in the late eighties, there followed a spate of syndicated genre shows, most of them well and truly horrible. This suggested that producers had recognized that there was money to be made off the backs of genre fans, but it was money they didn't have to work very hard to get. When Lost was the breakout hit for network television last season, we now have a spate of hour-long genre shows. And considering that the worst of these new series is still a (marginally) watchable drama with a sizeable budget--ironically, of the three "invasion" series, the one with lowest budget, "Threshold," is clearly the most watchable of the bunch--it means that studios are taking the market for this material seriously. Or, at least, as seriously as they take the markets for cop, lawyer, and doctor shows.

It's my impression that there's a segment of fandom that resents this shift, to some extent. Rather than seeing the mainstream adoption of geek culture as a vindication, perhaps they see it instead as the mainstream taking away from them something that, heretofore, has been exclusively theirs. Part of this may be the same species of resentment one finds among fans of an underground music act once they go platinum--"I liked them before they were cool." But I think there might be something else at work, as well. The "principled disdain for ... ordinary social conventions" mentioned in the Time article could, in some cases, be seen as the effect, and not the cause. Many of us were drawn to geek culture as kids because we didn't fit into the mainstream culture in the first place, for whatever reason. We weren't the right size, or the right shape, or we wheezed with asthma when we ran, or wore thick glasses, or even were attracted to the wrong gender--whatever the specifics, something set us apart, something that we ourselves recognized but, often worse, something that other people recognized as well, and exploited. Childhood sucks for everyone, I firmly believe, but it can be worse for some of us than for others. And geek culture served, for many, as a place where they could find acceptance they couldn't find elsewhere. When that culture is then co-opted by the same mainstream that wouldn't accept the "geeks" in the first place, it's easy to see why some would resent it.

For my part, I see the geekification of the mainstream as a positive thing. Not only does it suggest that we were right all along but, as a fan of this sort of material, I'm heartened that there is so much more of it available now than ever before. The disposable free time that I devote to watching television and movies is now full of genre stuff and, for the first time since, well, ever, there is more quality genre material than I can keep up with.

Sadly, though, on September 30th, the first official National Geek Day, I won't be able to see Serenity or MirrorMask, both of which I've been looking forward to watching for a long time. Instead, I'll be on the road with my wife and daughter, heading north to spend the weekend with my folks. But, my fellow members of the geek nation, know that while I won't be with you in person, I will most definitely be there in spirit.

I think you're spot on about the culture geekification. It bodes very well. Interested in what you think of 'Serenity.'
Sadly, it looks like I won't be able to see Serenity for a while. My wife is busy with a new job, which is tying up her nights and weekends, but she won't let me see the flick without her. We've already got tickets to see a stage show written by a friend this weekend, which was her only night away from the grindstone in the next two weeks, so it'll be the middle of October before I get to see Serenity. Grr!
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