Saturday, August 19, 2017

Nerd Culture: A Saturation

     We are reaching critical mass with this influx of Nerd Culture into the pop mentality. What does that mean for our favorite characters?

     This started at the movies. Though, when I really think about it, it started at Salt Lake Comic Con 2016. Let's do a little history lesson real quick...

     I have always been pretty nerdy. All through childhood I was super into the stereotypical "pop nerdoms" as was most people who align themselves as being a little nerdy, or having "nerdy tendencies." By "stereotypical pop nerdoms" I mean I watched the X-Men, Ninja Turtles, Spider-Man, and Batman cartoons, collected comic book trading cards, and played video games until my eyes bled. It wasn't until my later teen years that I really started reading comic books or thinking critically about these characters and entertainment properties, but I had a good working knowledge of all the things.

     As that cartoon watching, video game playing youth I wanted, as much as the next kid, for these characters to be on my movie screen. As I grew older and started to truly appreciate my entertainment and think critically about the implications that rang through the other aspects of my life, I wanted desperately for some of my favorite comic stories to get the movie treatment. 

     Batman and the Ninja Turtles both happened, and ran the gamut from awesome to laughable in equal measure within their movie franchises. Then we had a small collection of video game based movies, the only one even marginally notable being the first Mortal Kombat movie. We can write off their sub-par quality as the film makers not fully grasping the elements of the properties that made them great to begin with. We can also revel in the greatness of those few that truly were great, because of whatever the filmmakers did that wasn't too off base.

     Fast forward a little way to the year 2000. We get our first real taste of things to come with the first X-Men movie starring Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellen. It was OK. Angering for comic book readers because of the deviations from the mythology we had all grown to love, but passable. It had a lot of ears perked up with the hope that not only would comic book movies become a thing to stay, but that they would get better.

     How does this all get us to Salt Lake Comic Con? The older I get the nerdier I get. In the summer of 2012 I got the Comic Con bug. I have been to at least one, usually 3 or 4, nerd convention a year since then, and have been trying to find the unique eccentricities of each con I go to so as to fully appreciate it. As I have been going to these conventions I have noticed the growth of the con culture. Which brings us to Salt Lake Comic Con.

     I went to my first Salt Lake Comic Con in 2015. THE SECOND LARGEST COMIC CON IN THE COUNTRY! Well, at least they want you to think that. I have heard evidence to the contrary, though having been there for 3 years now I can believe it. "What is the problem though," I can hear you asking. Comic Con is not for comic books any more.

     I don't believe Salt Lake Comic Con ever really was. The year 2016 marked the 3rd annual iteration of the con, and the second time my cohorts and I had attended. There was a TOTAL of 3 booths selling comic books. At COMIC CON mind you. THREE. This year I fear there will be even less.

     A good friend of mine had a booth at the second Salt Lake Comic Con trying to hawk his comic book. While he usually makes OK on the sales front, at that year's con he didn't. He reported hearing someone say as they walked by his booth, "Who buys comic books at Comic Con?" A statement that Filmmaker Jon Schnepp also claimed to have heard when I interviewed him in 2015.

     This is a sign of the times.

     This year at Denver Comic Con there were noticeably less comic book vendors. At Comic Fest (part of StarFest Denver) there were so many booths left empty the room could have been reduced in physical size by almost half.

     Where the comic book movies we talked about before here to stay? Yes, in a big way. Starting with Iron Man in 2008 until today, Marvel studios alone has made just shy of 12.5 BILLION$ internationally. Did they get better? Now we get to the heart of the matter.

     No. At least not really. If your only litmus test is the X-Men movie from 2000, then the answer would be a resounding YES. But take into account the 1989 Batman film and the 1990 Ninja Turtles movie and it becomes mostly a wash. There were some good ones, there are some really big names attached to the movies from all aspects. But does that mean they are good?

     The comic book movie has gone the way of basically all other American Cinema. Some would argue that the comic book movie phenomena is the flag ship signaling the end of American Cinema. There are a very select few that illicit something resembling purpose or meaning, and there is a sea of others that are just aping those few. This seems to be indicative of the culture as well. Shallow, easily digested bits that have no meaning drowning out the truly valuable ones that give direction to the rest.
     Which brings us to today. This culture which by and large raised me, has become watered down. It has been co-opted by the mainstream pop culture and its origins have been long forgotten. What will this do to our favorite characters? We are already seeing it. Needlessly changing origins/ethnic heritage/sexual orientation in order to appeal to people who are in those different categories. Do not get me confused. I am by no means complaining about the changes, nor am I claiming the fall in quality was due in any way to the result of each change. I AM saying, though, that the WAY they accomplished the changes (i.e. poor writing). The fact that Miles Morales is a Puerto Rican/African American version of Spider-Man that now co-exists with Peter Parker is not a problem. The fact that Miles Morales is surrounded by ridiculous caricatures of people from those 2 heritages, and he has nothing aside from his skin tone and those relatives to tie him to the heritage, IS a problem.

     What is the solution? Better writing.

     Bring in people (who cares about the color of their skin, or their gender, etc.) who KNOW the characters, know the worlds in which they live, and have something original to say with them. We need writers who aren't trying to check off politically correct boxes, nor are they trying to write to any crazy stereotypes that have little to no grounding in reality. I need to care about the fact that Tony Stark is retiring. I should believe that Gotham is so overrun with crime and villains that there NEEDS to be 12 bat themed crime fighters with crazy tech to fight it with.

     The thing that I think people are missing here, also, is bring in MORE writers. Gotham has (no exaggeration) 13 bat themed crime fighters. Most of them we only interact with through their interactions with the main 5 bat-characters. Give them their own books. even if it is a limited run, give them a few issues to become real, fully fleshed out, characters. Eventually the diverse elements will take off on their own if you give them the room to breathe.

     Instead of playing to the lowest common denominator, take advantage of this saturation and give us some ACTUAL diversity. Sure sales of the main books will take a bit of a hit, but in the long run over all sales WILL take off. And the culture will be more rich because of it.

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