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COLUMN

It’s Geek To Me

Philip Burrowes

We are in the midst of a geekiness nexus the likes of which the world has not seen since man invented the video game sprite Webcomic. The Star Trek franchise is celebrating its all-important coral/jade anniversary. At the same time, Star Wars is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of A New Hope and the upcoming release of Episode II (if we ignore the title, maybe it will go away). Fans of Marvel Comics’ Spider-Man can mark the end to a hundred hyperbole-filled years of waiting on the webslinger’s movie this weekend.

Nobody could have foreseen that these stories would go as far as they did. NBC tried to cancel Star Trek: TOS at least three times, most motion picture studios passed on Star Wars, and Spider-Man debuted as a throwaway character in the last issue of “Amazing Fantasy.” Yet, thanks to their rabid fan support, each series persevered, leading to resurgences in their respective genres. This begs the question: which of the three groups has the proudest, most knowledgeable, longest-suffering -- i.e. geekiest -- fans?

Trekkies would seem to have the competition locked up. After all, the other two groups don’t even have names (“Warsies” don’t count). Had they stopped to think about it, they would’ve coined the contraction “cosplay” (costume play) too, given their tendency to dress the part. Moreover, they have had to live through the hardest times of the three fan bases, having to deal with several cancellations, learning to settle with syndication/UPN, and even going to see the odd-numbered movie installments. It seems such acquaintance with mediocrity has taught Trekkies the merits of satisfaction in the Buddhist vein, for if you don’t want, you will always be satisfied. For this reason, there was little noticeable fanfare over Enterprise, and the tenth movie is creeping upon us unnoticed. Nor does age explain their lack of fanaticism, for Spider-Man predates them and has a more consistent presence than Star Wars.

Between the end of the Ewok cartoon in 1987 and the reintroduction of the “Power of the Force” toy line in 1995, there was no representation of Star Wars among the general populace besides the memory. Yes, there were still books being published, but who ever heard of a fan following generated solely by books (well, before last year)?

That the memory was so indelible is a testament as much to the fans as to the movies themselves. Non-canonical works during this period, no longer constrained by the worry that the next movie could wipe away their plots, were absorbed to the point that people are actually convinced Boba Fett should have a backstory. Following the initial trilogy’s “final” VHS release in 1995, we had seven special years of merchandising mania, and now the people who haven’t seen one of the films are the odd ones out. Many have the audacity to think of the movies they go see as just that, ignoring the wealth of computer games, novels, and even the side-stories of the originals. Geekdom and popularity don’t match.

Spider-Man fans never truly had the problem of being popular, because comics have been relegated to an already geeky status by U.S. society (stupid, stupid U.S. society). Even worse, the comic “industry” has fallen from its early-90s height in prosperity, as fostered by celluloid hits like Batman and the glorification of the vigilantism he personified.

Unfortunately, as comic readers grew up they -- for the most part -- realized that “mature” comics weren’t really mature, and instead decided to do grownup things like perpetuating the patriarchy. During the contemporaneous superhero cartoon renaissance, Spider-Man enjoyed success on FOX while the comic bogged down during the infamous “Clone Saga” (there’s that word again). Only after the cartoon’s cancellation did the comics return to the top of the sales charts. Long story short, people became Spider-Man fans at so many different times, that while all are geeky they are not geeky in one identifiable way.

No, the geekiest fan base is a sleeper that is only currently on the rise. Transformers has combined all the geekiest elements of the former three along with the general appeal of big robots to create a geek force awesome to behold. During the 1980s, Hasbro (which would buy Kenner in 1991) commissioned Marvel to animate a half-hour advertisement for several lines of Japanese toys it had licensed from Takara, and the Transformers cartoon was born. While the toy line has enjoyed a revival thanks to the syndicated, CG Beast Wars, the traditional characters came back this month in comic book form, vaulting the artists of faux-Japanese studio Dreamwave to the top of the sales chart. Comics, toys, cartoons, and overage fanboys: it doesn’t get much geekier than that, folks.

All this discussion of geekdom has largely ignored the women who attend the BotCons of the world. That the above products did the same is no excuse. Rather it compounds the problem: not the problem of marginalizing women, but of marginalizing geeks. For too long, it has been assumed that just because a guy is wearing a shirt with a Federation insignia on it, or reading a Timothy Zahn novel, or saving up his UROP stipend to buy that die-cast Convoy from Tokyo Girl, he’s a loser. Sure, it’s true, but next time you see somebody like that, tell him he’s not alone. He’ll probably be too intimidated by the presence of a female to reply, but rest assured, you made his day.