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December 30, 2016

Talk Nerdy To Me

Text by Simone Louis

What were once considered niche or cult movements are making a big impact on cinema, television and pop culture

Star Trek and The Big Bang Theory actor Wil Wheaton recently said that the acceptance of nerd culture shouldn’t be described as a trend that is now ‘becoming mainstream’. ‘The mainstream is catching up,’ he explained, and he was right. Ever since Hollywood began establishing fantasy universes with Star Trek and Star Wars (confuse these two at your own peril) and the digital revolution propelled nerds like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to star status, the wave has been steadily swelling. In 1978, Richard Donner released the world’s first modern superhero movie, Superman, and the film industry hasn’t looked back.

Now, after the turn of the century brought Bryan Singer’s X-Men as well as a regular influx of cinematic properties from Marvel Comics, J. R. R. Tolkien and — how can I not mention — J. K. Rowling, calling oneself a geek or nerd has become a badge of honour. Just look at this year’s biggest Hollywood productions: Deadpool, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, Ghostbusters, Suicide Squad, Doctor Strange and the eagerly awaited Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The Avengers series gained a massive cult following, just when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise made a highly successful comeback under the aegis of Paramount Pictures in 2014. And it doesn’t stop there. Last year’s Oscars were infiltrated by Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Even Bollywood decided to embrace the trend, testing zombie fandom with Go Goa Gone and Rise Of The Zombie!

Serious about survival
Speaking of zombies, who today doesn’t know of The Walking Dead? Years before it became a thing, I was spending my days surrounded by friends who had detailed systems in place for the supposedly impending apocalypse, which included a safe house stocked with tools that can double as weapons, food, fuel and appropriate means of transportation. Each person in the ‘crew’ was given a responsibility depending on their skill set, a chain of command was established and routes were mapped out…I’m not even exaggerating. Such discussions are fairly common now, after the TV series swept the world with its closest-to-accurate depiction of a zombie-ridden world. Blockbuster films like World War Z also reinterpreted theories established by earlier hits like Night of the Living Dead, Resident Evil, I Am Legend and Warm Bodies. One might be inclined to think this is ‘just a niche genre’, but the statistics speak for themselves. The fever has caught on, and there’s no antidote.

Not child’s play
Although the sheer reach of the comic book industry on TV and cinema is undeniable, another offshoot of ‘geekdom’ is quickly claiming its place as well — video game movies. Following terrible screen adaptations like Far Cry, Double Dragon and Hitman in the past, gaming companies took matters into their own hands this year, producing the movie versions themselves. Ubisoft recruited Oscar-nominated Michael Fassbender to play the lead role in Assassin’s Creed; the Ratchet & Clank film was written by creator Insomniac Games, and Blizzard Entertainment got hands-on with the big-budget Warcraft movie directed by BAFTA winner Duncan Jones. Simply with the announcement of these films, global sales of video games rose eight per cent in January, hitting 6.3 billion dollars. So let’s just say, this is a format that will stick.

Techie takeover
Browse through any high-street (sometimes even luxury) brand’s collections these days and you’ll find that clothing and accessory trends have moved from ‘swag’ to ‘geek chic’ (a phrase that has even been introduced into Oxford English Dictionary). It may be a drift that has trickled in from other creative avenues, but now it’s a fashion moment in its own right. Cosplay is getting more and more elaborate…and don’t even get me started on the number of girls dressed as Harley Quinn this Halloween! Celebrities have helped the movement, with music producers The Neptunes rebranding as N.E.R.D., and big stars donning thick-rimmed spectacles and sweater vests. Sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and The IT Crowd created cult favourites like the OCD Caltech theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper and the cheeky IT technician Roy Trenneman.

When all is said and done, though, money matters…and this is another reason we haven’t seen the last of the geeks. Every big-time movie production house is wrapped around their little fingers. The producers seek their approval and have even been known to make changes based on feedback tracked through online forum discussions. It’s not unusual to find heated debates ensuing as you walk out of a superhero movie, and when a conversation regarding any of these fandoms breaks out, you’d better hope you know enough to engage. In 2014, The Lego Movie raked in 257.7 million dollars in the US and another 211.4 million worldwide, following the Avengers franchise’s 623-million-dollars worldwide grossing. In 2012, Angry Birds became the first mobile app to reach 1 billion downloads, following which it became the first app to sell its movie rights. What would the plot be? Nobody knew and nobody cared — The Angry Birds Movie came with a pre-existing audience, and it made 150 million dollars. It goes without saying that Pokémon Go is waiting in the wings.

Maybe it’s the fact that people are finally getting the chance to publicly enjoy and show off what were once called ‘weird obsessions’, or it could be that geeks and nerds believe in a unique winning combination of logic and strategy with fantasy at their core. Much more than a phase, this long-standing culture shows promise for greater longevity and flexibility than others before it. It’s about time that everyone gets with the program.

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