Welcome to the first-ever installment of “The Geek Debate” here at Movies.com. This ongoing series is for all the various kinds of geeks and non-geeks out there to discuss the world of geekdom. Every other week there will be a new topic and you’re all invited to debate, agree and disagree with me and other readers.
One of the greatest debates in all of geekdom is “Which is better – Star Wars or Star Trek?” As one of those not-at-all rare geeks who enjoys both properties equally for very different reasons, that subject is ripe for a series of articles. I can't possibly fit all that into the first installment, so you may expect something like that to hit this page in the future. It became a major plot point for the 2009 movie Fanboys, where grownup Star Wars fans embarked on a journey to storm George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch months before Episode I: The Phantom Menace was set to release in order to see the film ahead of time.
The subject I found more fascinating, though, came with this question: “At what age is it time to put away your toys and stop being a geek?” For Eric (Sam Huntington), his journey began after deciding to grow up and stop being a geek. He had abandoned his friends and started working at the family business, a used car sales lot with his cowboy father (Christopher McDonald) and ex-jock brother (David Denman). When he learned that his friend Linus (Chris Marquette) was dying and would not live to see the release of the new Star Wars film, he was reminded why he used to love being a geek in the first place
There are two main reasons why people who identify themselves with “geek” culture might choose to leave it behind. The first is simply growing up. Perhaps that fan fiction you were writing in your teens and tweens doesn’t satisfy you any more. Maybe you’ve moved onto a full time job with a marriage, children and a mortgage and simply don’t have the energy to make time for it any more. This is ostensibly what happened to Eric in Fanboys. The other main reason geeks will sometimes leave their passions is that the property either comes to an end or changes so drastically that it becomes undesirable.
I was a huge comic book fan in my early teens. I had a decent collection and went to the comic shop often until I turned 16 years-old and stopped all together. I got a girlfriend and then went to college. I didn’t stop being a geek, but my primary passion for years had been comics. I didn’t return to that passion until I was 22, out of college and finally had some disposable income and limited bills.
In Fanboys it was Eric’s need to grow up that cost him his friendships and took him away from his love of Star Wars. He made a conscious choice to move on and even stopped drawing a comic book that he had never gotten around to publishing. He had not yet gotten to the point of marriage or children, but he was gearing up for that kind of life and trying to make his father proud. By the end, he had finally published his comic book and was becoming reviled by fans, which is a benchmark of many great creators.
For aging geeks, the difficulty is often finding the time for the passion. I may not spend as many afternoons plowing through 20 comic books as I did when I was single, but the desire is still there and that time I can still spend reading them, or even writing about them for websites like this one, is time valuable to me. To quote The Comic Book Guy from The Simpson’s Movie: “I’ve spent my entire life doing nothing but collecting comic books, and now there’s only time to say: LIFE WELL SPENT!!”
Adapt or Die
One of the problems geeks have to face is that all good things eventually come to an end. Take Star Wars for example. There are only three movies in the original trilogy and three in the prequel. After watching them all, there are no movies left. If you’re lucky, the property you’ve chosen to be geeky about will spawn another series. For Star Wars, there’s a Clone Wars TV series, a myriad of books and comics, video games and more, but geeks can be very fickle about their fandom. As time goes on and the property changes to hearten new fans, the older ones will sometimes feel left out in the cold.
Another example is comic books. The entire industry has adapted to serve new audiences over and over again. Last year, DC Comics relaunched their entire line, which encouraged new readers to buy their product by creating a jumping-on point. At the same time, some previously lifelong readers found it to be a jumping-off point. Of course they can still enjoy the books they have amassed over the years, but the entire DC Universe as it was before had changed. The same thing happened in 1986.
I’ve covered a number of discussion panels at comic book conventions, but one of my favorite experiences was at Megacon 2010 in Orlando, Florida when Dan Didio (editor at DC Comics) expressed that he could tell when a reader began looking at DC Comics based solely on how he answered the question, “Who is The Flash?” Jay Garrick had been the first Flash in 1940. He was later replaced by Barry Allen in 1956. Wally West took over in 1986 after Allen’s death. So normally, a fan’s reaction to that question, “Who is The Flash,” can be informed by when the reader first became a fan.
Of course things change over time. Some geek properties can become incredibly dated and lose the luster they once seemed to have. Perhaps it’s impossible to be objective about a film or TV series that was beloved in one’s youth, and sometimes creators need to vamp up their stories in order to gain a newer, younger audience with fresh ideas. Unfortunately that can leave older fans wishing the old could be new again.
Although Fanboys shied away from this side of aging geekhood, the final line in the movie suggested exactly that. When the characters ultimately sat down in the theater excited to see Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace for the first ever midnight showing, Eric turned to his friends, worried for the first time, and said, “What if the movie sucks?”
FanMEN (and Women)
Many Star Wars fans were turned off by the prequel trilogy, and many dislike how George Lucas seems to constantly update and change the original. Geeks can be very opinionated and don’t mind letting the world know. It’s disappointing when the property you love turns out to be less than perfect, and most geeks don’t mind pointing out what those things are. So there comes a time for almost everyone who has embraced “Geek Culture” to turn his or her back to one aspect or another. And your average creative company will usually be more interested in gaining a new audience because that’s where the biggest profits can be found, and there’s nothing wrong with that, unless you come to hate it.
As with anything, we can either embrace change or leave it behind. What kinds of “Geek” properties have you ever fallen out of love with, and why?