It suddenly occurred to me when I was writing about the trailer for Never Let Me Go the other day that I was surprised that we don’t see more movies like that one these days. See, 25 years ago, when I was 15, if someone had told me, “By the time you’re 40, geeks will have taken over the world. Everything that you think is cool right — computers, science fiction, snarky humor, self-publishing — all those things that make the other kids think you’re weird… all those things are gonna be so hot in 2010. Geekitude will triumph!” I’m not sure I would have believed that.
But if I had, I might have thought that the pop-culture landscape of 2010 would be dominated by geeky grownup things… since my generation would have been grownup by then and eager for geeky stuff that is also grownup. The popular science fiction movies that geeky adults couldn’t get enough of would look like Fahrenheit 451 and THX-1138. Maybe someone would have made a Mean Streets in space, or a science fiction Taxi Driver. I would have expected, if I could have foreseen what was to come, more movies like Children of Men and Never Let Me Go — that is, science fiction stories that explore complex adult themes — garnering mainstream audiences, and fewer to no movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
I might have expected more deeply interactive social games that weren’t about visiting exotic realms and killing the creatures you meet there but about exploring those realms and perhaps getting involved in complex stories: less World of Warcraft, more immersive Lord of the Rings roundrobin fan fiction soap opera, perhaps. (Maybe Second Life is getting close to that.) Maybe a more intricate and plot- and character-driven Myst.
But instead of an adult pop culture, we have the likes of Grown Ups — I suppose the title is intended ironically, but I’m not sure the movie is smart enough for irony — which has us debating why it seems that an entire generation hasn’t grown up at all.
Why hasn’t geek culture grown up?
I’m not talking about individual geeks, of course, many of whom have grown up perfectly nicely. And perhaps some of what I might have expected is starting to happen on television, with the likes of Caprica and Stargate Universe… but even those shows are niche, and nowhere near as popular as shows on broadcast networks. (One possible exception, at least in the U.K., is Doctor Who, which garners a huge mainstream audience at home, if not in the U.S.)
Or perhaps the question is: Why are only the trappings of geekitude popular with mainstream audiences? If true geekiness really is a kind of intellectualism — and I think it is — then perhaps it isn’t that geeks haven’t grown up but that this particular brand of intellectualism was never going to be any more popular than any kind of intellectualism ever has been.
What do you think?
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