Sandy Roffey reminisces about the past and looks ahead at the future of geekdom in popular culture.
When I was eight my father gave me all the change from his tool box and my brother and I took it to the comic book store. I wandered around and found a book with an unusual group inside–a young African woman with white hair who could control the weather, a Canadian guy with claws, a Jewish girl who could walk through walls, a blue furry devil who teleported, a Russian giant, and a guy who shot lasers from his eyes. The writing was smart, the stories compelling, and my shy, awkward eight year old self identified completely with the characters inside. In that moment I joined the geek community, living in the worlds that occurred between the pages of The X-Men, The Avengers, Teen Titans and Justice League.
As a child I would constantly imagine what a movie version of my favorite teams would look like, knowing that such a thing would never happen.
Flash forward (see what I did there?) to 2000. The first X-Men movies arrive to the sound of geeks cheering everywhere. Despite the fact that Bryan Singer had a penchant for black leather and Fox let him change the dynamic of some of my very favorite Marvel “people”, it was the first time a comic book team had been featured on the big screen. It was the beginning of a new era where geek culture would become mainstream culture.
The first few X-movies are arguably not great in comparison to the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, which began a domination of the big screen eight years later, beginning with Iron Man in 2008 and still going strong with the high anticipation for Captain America: Civil War releasing in May 2016. With a stronger understanding of and loyalty to the source material, the MCU movies have not only thrilled geek audiences (fanboy rivalries aside), but also drawn in mainstream audiences, and Marvel’s The Avengers broke the all-time opening weekend box office record in 2012. Since Fox controls the rights to certain Marvel characters, they released Marvel’s Deadpool this year, and it also broke records, most notable highest-grossing domestic box office for an R rated movie. DC’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice releases later this month, and it is expected to bring the DC cinematic universe into direct competition with Marvel’s. Message boards abound with fan rivalries, sometimes to the confusion of the mainstream fans who don’t have the same background information as comic book readers. Both Marvel and DC are currently writing re-boots, and my theory is that this is to accommodate the new movie fans who want to learn more about the characters they’ve come to love on the big screen.
But it’s not only comic book movies that have joined the mainstream. Star Wars fans thrilled to finally have a new movie after 10 years, and the time was ripe for it. Geek culture is thriving, as evidenced by the popularity of geek-centric boxes like Loot Crate, Marvel Collector Corps, Nerd Block, etc. Star Wars The Force Awakens blew away any box office competition, breaking record after record even before it was released.
But more than the movies, geek culture has filtered into some of the most unexpected places you could imagine. For gamers, the rise of e-sports, in particular League of Legends, has become not only a nationally televised competition, but also offers an opportunity for a dedicated gamer to win a college scholarship. It has also caught the attention of three time NBA champion Rick Fox, who purchased a team in December 2015.
“As a professional athlete, businessman and proud member of the gaming community, I see the way that the eSports world is growing and I know we are on the verge of something massive,” Fox said.
But it’s not all big business. Even small businesses are bringing geek culture to the mainstream. Take Jade Forest Kung Fu and Tai-Chi of Rockland, MA, a local martial arts studio. The owner, Sifu Scott Jeffery, inspired by the Nerd Strong Gym in Hollywood, CA, began offering Geek Fit classes in February that are themed around Star Wars, The Avengers, and Lord of the Rings. The exercises are drawn from “martial arts, cross-fit, high intensity interval training, standard weight training, (and) Olympic lifts. Also drawing from the extensive weapons training used in Kung Fu.
” While this may sound a little unrealistic for geeks who don’t get out of their chairs much, Jeffery emphasizes that “We try to make all of our workouts scalable (so that) people can work at their own pace. The idea is to support and encourage, but leave the drill sergeant out of it.” Jade Forest will celebrate its 20th year in 2017.
And how well does that work? Kris Waterman, a self-described geek, needed to begin a workout routine after a health scare. Kris found regular workouts non-motivating, but found Geek Fit on Facebook and decided to give it a try.
“I attended both the beginner and advanced Lightsaber classes…I was very impressed with the workout, the teachers working with us, and the fact that we’re all working out in a non-judge mental environment….We (geeks) are starting to realize that we have to start taking better care of ourselves to live longer–now there is an outlet in which we can participate.” Having been motivated by Kris’ interview, I decided to check out the Avengers-themed class myself for comparison. The workout was tough! But not beyond my capabilities, and was definitely very non-judgmental. It was also “super” fun! “We wanted to create a fun, supportive, non-judge mental set of workouts, especially for folks who might not be comfortable in the traditional gym atmosphere,” Jeffery states. “If you’re a geek, nerd, or whatever, this is home. We are just like you. We know you want to improve your health and fitness, so come on in.”
So how long will the geek-centric invasion of the mainstream last? Three years ago Steven Spielberg predicted comic book movies would “go the way of the western”, but they’re still going strong. Fans on geek sites argue whether Marvel’s Phase 3 movies, Fox’s Deadpool, DC’s Batman vs Superman and Justice League Movies, or any of the Star Wars franchise will crush the others out of commission. As the little girl who longed to see Storm, Captain America, and Wonder Woman played out in real life and had to wait 30 years for it, I’m going to watch all of them and just enjoy every minute of it.
art credit – cover / Author
interior – Marvel Entertainment / Warner Bros.