Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What DOES the Avengers mean for us?

Folks, two things first and foremost.
1) This blog post is written by me, Mike Fatum, one half of the Ace of Geeks. I got no idea how Jarys feels about it, so we'll wait and see what he says.
2) This article is entirely a response to the following article:

The Fanboy Next Door - We Just Might Have to Avenge Something

It's a great article, written by a good friend of mine, who is most well known for getting a Power Sword for free for looking like a ten year old kid. (Last one, I swear, Eric! :) ) It concerns the mainstream success of the Avengers, and what it means for all of us now that not one but two of our babies, Batman and the Avengers, are billion dollar hits. You should read it, and then come back.

The main point of Eric's article is that we all could stand to broaden our horizons and watch or read some things we don't normally consume. I absolutely agree with that. You should all check out comic books like The Dapper Men and Fables that aren't necessarily published by the big two, and make sure you watch films like Death Grip that wouldn't see in any major cinema. However, the reason Eric says this is because geek culture has gotten "too big" or "too mainstream", and that's something I'm going to have to take issue with.

One billion dollars. That's insane. That's an amount of money that, most likely, none of us will ever see. And yet, two movies in the last ten years have pulled in that kind of money. Both of them were superhero films. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, and now Joss Whedon's Avengers. When we were kids, the idea that there would even be an Avengers movie, much less one that other people would actually go out and see was a pipe dream. The closest we would ever get would be something like this:


Then Blade came along and changed everything. Suddenly a superhero movie based on a comic book could not only be fun to watch, but be commercially successful, too. That led to X-men, Spider-man, and even reboots of previously successful series like Superman and Batman. Five years ago, as I'm sure you know, Marvel began to put out their own line of films, starting with Iron Man, and leading up to the incredible Avengers that we all saw last week. (And the movie that we'll be reviewing on the podcast this week!)

It's clear, in this new world, that being a geek or a nerd means something different. Our heroes are on the big screen, making tons of money. Regular magazines like Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times review comic books and video games. Comic-con and PAX sell out so fast that you have to have the reflexes of a Call of Duty player to get tickets. It's no longer necessary to hide in the shadows, you can be a geek and be big and loud and proud and everyone will accept you. Right?

That's the point that Eric, and a lot of geeks like Patton Oswalt, in his famous "It's time for Geek Culture to die" article, are making. Now that we're out there, now that we're mainstream, the culture has moved away from its roots. To be a geek, they say, you must be an outcast, an outsider. You must like things that nobody else likes, and you probably were punished for it. It's like when an indie band "sells out" and gets that major recording contract - you know it's never going to be the same now that the guy who beat you up in high school likes The Cure.  Is it the same now that the Prom Queen is talking about how haaawt Chris Hemsworth is as Thor?


I saw Chris Hardwick doing standup last year, and at one point he went on a mini-rant about seeing a hipster kid wearing an Atari t-shirt. The kid may have never played an Atari, but he was wearing a geek culture icon proudly on the street. After recounting his own experiences being tortured in high school, Hardwick hypothetically shouted at the kid "I suffered so you could be free!" And it's true. They did. We did. We endured years of hardship to make it to the point of acceptance. Eric and I both know very well how hard it was to be a grown man who still watched the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. But doesn't that make it worthwhile?

When I first found Wondercon, the geek convention that up until this year was in San Francisco, the moment I walked in the door I felt like I was at home. I was surrounded by a thousand people who all understood and loved the same things I did. I didn't have to endure blank looks as I tried to explain the history of the X-men, because people around me were dressed as the X-men. For the first time in my life, I was home. I've found other homes since then, like Dundracon and Kublacon, and like Power Morphicon where I first met Eric. In those places, geekdom is absolutely one hundred percent mainstream.

When I was that kid being taunted and tortured, all I ever wanted was to feel like I belonged. And I, personally, don't care how many other people belong in my geek family. The more the merrier. Because if all the crap I went through, if all the times that I was an outsider means that we were merely biding our time so that my friends kids, and my kids, don't have to go through that, then I would endure middle school a hundred more times. The fact that geek culture has gone mainstream doesn't just mean that some douchebags are going to see the Avengers. It also means that some little kid in Poughkeepsie is going to see the Avengers on opening night. And he might see someone carrying Captain America's shield, and they might tell him they got it at the local comic book store. And that little kid, who's spent most of his young years feeling alone and an outsider, will walk into that store and know he has a place to belong. That's important, and far more important than our things being special.

Aaaand there's the kid now.

But there's another part to this, too. It's routinely accepted among the circles that believe geek culture needs to stop being mainstream that it's already consumed every part of life. That we find ourselves in a culture where being a geek will always be accepted. To that, I submit a small story:

About a week after I started working at the frame store, another store manager came in to check on us. I mentioned that I was tired because I'd been up until two in the morning. He asked what I'd been doing. I said, "Oh, nothing too abnormal. Just playing Dungeons and Dragons." Que the entire store laughing at me. Immediately afterwards, the manager shared a story about how he'd gone out to a club, gotten so drunk he passed out, and woken up in someone else's house. That was normal, I was a weirdo.

We haven't won yet. The battle isn't over, and people out there will still look at those of us who love geeky things as freaks and oddballs. So I say, bring on that mainstream acceptance. Bring on Comic-con, and billion dollar movies. Because we could use a little more love, and we all need a place to belong.

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