The nerds are among us

Do you remember those stereotypes of nerds in 80s movies? Like the 80s, those stereotypes are long gone and much of what used to be considered nerdy, like binge-watching and loving comics/sci-fi/fantasy, are super normal.

Comics, sci-fi and fantasy are genres that are all typically associated with the nerd stereotype, and they have been marketed accordingly. Looking at stereotypical depictions of the nerd (especially those from the 80s) and, apart from their distinctive physical characteristics, they are defined by their ‘geeky’ interests. However, here in 2016, not only has the media landscape evolved considerably; the cultural interests of audiences have also advanced.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the highest grossing movie franchise, Game of Thrones is the most popular television series in the world, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the highest grossing film of 2015. It is with this in mind that I argue that what was once considered nerdy subcultures are now simply pop culture, and this is largely due to the way audiences regard genre and the shift in nerdy stereotypes.

“If you’d told me when I was a kid, ‘All you’re gonna read about is Star Wars movies and Marvel movies,’ I would’ve been like, ‘That’s fucking fantastic!’” Seth Rogen, 2015.

Comics are nerd artefacts, and the perception of someone who reads comics is often that of a geek. What’s interesting, then, is how writers have adapted these comics into the world’s most successful movie franchises. Seth Rogen attributes the unpopularity of his The Green Hornet adaptation (which was unsuccessful both critically and financially) to his failed attempt at writing to cater for a niche fan base such as himself, a self-proclaimed nerd. Essentially, Rogen focused on targeting the subculture, alienating those outside this group (those who had no prior experience with the comics), resulting in a backlash that was stimulated by the already negative stigma surrounding this group. The result was distaste from mainstream audiences and an all-round terrible film.

Whereas, the Marvel franchise’s immense success can be largely credited to the filmmakers’ ability to add “narrative steroids” as an audience-growth strategy: modifying the initial storylines just enough to gain mass audience appeal. However, in approaching the TV adaptation of Preacher, Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg found that catering for the modern mainstream audience simply meant the removal of sexism, racism and making the show more representative of present day North America — no steroids needed.

This indicates a shift in the way audiences actually regard ‘nerdy genres’. That’s not to say that people will ever re-watch Green Hornet and suddenly think it’s a quality film, but an idea has arisen that the mass production of comic-to-film adaptations has actually conditioned audiences to be more ‘nerdy’ in the watching of films. Anyone who follows the Marvel universe will know that we have now entered the third phase, beginning with Captain America: Civil War. This phase is said to reach a new level of depth, exploring characters past those of the mainstream, such as Doctor Strange. The complexity of the intertwining of plotlines, including ones spanning from a multitude of television series, is teaching audiences to read rather than simply watch the films; to study and understand them. The modern audience has to keep tack of detailed back-stories, sprawling story-lines and the allegiances of various characters, much like a typical comic-book reader.

This sounds pretty great, and for the most part it is. These expansive franchises have not only made the concept of the ‘nerd’ redundant, but even further, they are encouraging the active watching of TV and movies. However, what does this mean for the artefacts that catered the needs of the nerd subculture?

Comics

Subcultures are classed based on their nonconformity to the mainstream. The nerd subculture largely involves forums, spaces and artefacts where niche audiences can discuss and demonstrate their enthusiasm for particular films, comics and games. Essentially, artefacts define a subculture; but if the need for that subculture diminishes, so too do its artefacts. Unfortunately, the sales of comics are decreasing rapidly. Fans are not buying them for numerous reasons. Blogger Bob Canada pinned his disinterest in comics over the past few years to the modern-day realness that they revolve around. Where once, comics were about heroes fighting crazy villains in ridiculous costumes, they’re now fighting gangsters and beating up pimps. Perhaps the reason mainstream audiences are being attracted to comic-to-film adaptations is reversing onto the comics themselves, in an unintentional notion to attract the mainstream audience.

This also raises the idea that the nerd subculture, is simply becoming a part of popular culture due to its mainstream appeal. Disguising themselves as a comic store (except for its absence of comics, funnily enough) are stores like Zing, which combines the idea of nerdy artefacts with the mainstream. Located in your local Westfield, Zing offers a range of memorabilia and merchandise, from the few-hundred dollar limited edition figurines, to the $20 Popculcha mass produced bobble heads. Where collecting things used to make you a weirdo, it’s completely normal to walk into someone’s house and see an epic collection of memorabilia. However, where comic book stores were mostly for comics, Zing makes pop culture fandoms indistinguishable; you might find a Batman figurine sitting next to Hermione Granger or Katniss Everdeen.

The repercussions for this are both positive and negative. On one hand, the atefacts that defined the nerd subculture are commercialising, and some people may find that hard to grow accustomed to. On the other hand, it’s more inclusive and diminishes the stereotypes that once dictated how a group of people acted and were perceived by society. Whether you agree or disagree, what you can takeaway is that the nerd subculture is less prominent and no longer bound by stereotypes, the mainstream audience is better off with Marvel in the world, and The Green Hornet will never be a great movie.


Originally published at The Isthmus.

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