In the latest mini-episode, Mike and Casey aim for the flat top as we puzzle over our last big question: Are drivers legally obligated to pull to the shoulder of the road for the Ghostbusters’ Ecto-1?
We read your responses, and ask panelists Ryan Chaddock and Chris Walker their thoughts on the matter.
Is the Ecto-1 a licensed emergency vehicle? Are they breaking the law when they flash blue lights and blare a siren? Do the Ghostbusters even care about the potential danger of wielding totally unregulated, dangerous technology in a major city?
And for the next Radio vs. the Mailbag!: “What was the turning point that pushed geek culture into the mainstream of popular culture?”
We want to hear from you!
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I really enjoyed the conversation on the latest episode around Ghostbusters. It was great.
Anyways, you asked what we, the gentle listeners think was the turning point for geek culture. I don’t really think there was any one thing that did it, rather that there was a perfect storm of things that together turned geek culture mainstream. A few examples of this you’ve already discussed, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I would kind of put somewhere in between niche and mass appeal.
You also mentioned The Lord of the Rings. I think that was definitely one of the cinematic reasons for geek culture going mainstream, since it was unique at the time in being a fantasy film with seriously high end production values and meticulous effort put into everything, from scale models of fortresses and CG models of monsters down to the leaves trailing from Frodo’s cloak and the dirt under his fingernails. It wasn’t a cheap piece of schlock like most fantasy films up to that point (Dungeon’s & Dragons, anyone?); it took itself, the genre, and, most importantly, its audience seriously, and I think that’s why it had such a huge cultural impact.
But as I said, I don’t think it was any one thing. I think in terms of literature, we cannot overstate the importance of Harry Potter. I’m one of the few people in the world now who was actually into Harry Potter before it went mainstream, which is my one hipster credential. I read the first two books in 1998 and the series kind of exploded in popularity by the time Azkaban was released in 1999. What’s so crucial about Harry Potter’s impact is that it was not just fantasy enjoying mainstream popularity; it was literature. Unlike any other books before it, Harry Potter got many children, who wouldn’t choose to do so otherwise, to actually pick up a book and read — not because they had to for school, but because they wanted to. I was in secondary school for most of Harry Potter’s run and in university for the last couple of books, and I remember hearing my classmates discussing the events of the books with as much passion and interest as they would the latest episode of Eastenders or Coronation Street, or the X-Factor. I remember having to get hold of the family copy of each book first so that I could read through quickly enough to not have anything spoiled for me — and, failing that, I’d buy my own copy. With such overwhelming popularity, it’s no surprise at all that Hollywood cashed in on the series before it was even finished.
Those are the big things I can think of, but they just cover fantasy. As far as sci-fi goes, Mike may hate me saying so, but the Star Wars prequel trilogy was in the works at this time and, whatever critics may say, the films were box office hits and they still have tons of merchandise being brought out all the time — you can always buy a Darth Maul figure. Plus, as you said on the Lucas episode, kids who grew up with those films do like them, and many of those kids are now young adults, so I imagine that helped with sci-fi. As for comics, Spider-Man and X-Men. The first two Spider-Man films, X-Men II, and probably Batman Begins as well really put superhero movies back on everyone’s radar and I think they’re the reason the superhero genre has really exploded over the last decade, finally culminating in something as grand as The Avengers, which would never have been possible if geek culture hadn’t become so mainstream.
Finally, I think the internet itself is a huge contributor to the victory of geekdom. When the internet first started out, it was something only computer nerds were into. But as business began to realise the economic potential of the web, more and more companies got websites, more and more people started to have their home computers connected, we went from pay-by-the-minute dial up to a flat monthly fee for broadband, and everyone started using the internet. In fact, the internet may be a big reason why so many people have home computers these days at all, and many households today simply cannot have just one computer like mine did up until 2004 when I finally felt the need to get my own, because everyone needs to get online these days. The internet is a major tool of education today, so a lot of parents feel the need for their children to have their own computers. But going back to the internet, web 2.0 in particular, I think, has been a huge turning point. Everyone’s on Facebook now, loads of people upload videos to YouTube, and technology has grown around these things to make internet access easier to the point that we now have the internet in the palm of our hands and everyone uses it, when something like a smartphone would have only had geek appeal if it had existed in 1994. But now, they’re a must-have commodity for everyone, and it’s just assumed that you’ll have one. Hell, only a few years ago, people talking about “apps” before smartphones had really caught on sounded like weird geek lingo, but now everyone knows what apps are and most everyone with a smartphone uses them.
But also, the internet has allowed connectivity. In 2000, when I was first getting online, I spent a lot of time browsing websites about Transformers and Sonic the Hedgehog — two of my biggest life-long interests. In 2001, I joined my first internet forum, which was a Sonic forum. I was able to connect like never before with people who shared interests that would have got me laughed at in school. I think that sort of thing made it possible for geeks around the world to realise that we’re not alone, and that has emboldened us. The things we’re into are cool, and we don’t have to be ashamed of what we enjoy, no do we have to do it in secret anymore. We can connect with others in our fandoms and in doing so, organise events where we can get together and meet more people who think like we do. And because of this, things like Comic-Con have become so popular that the Westboro Baptist Church will protest them. Cosplay is now cool and people admire the work that goes into. People unashamedly share their interests online because they know there’s others out there who appreciate it, and I think that has made the world so much safer for people who in the past may have wanted to dip their toe into geek culture, but were too afraid of being bullied to risk it. Now they know they’re not alone and it’s okay to enjoy superheroes, sci-fi, and fantasy, because a lot of people do, and the entertainment industry takes us seriously now.
Truly, it is a good time to be a geek.
Anyways, sorry about the really long reply. I hope my ramblings yield some useful insights.
As far as the moment that geeks became chic…
You know, an easy answer would be Star Wars, a geeky thing that is a cultural juggernaut… but, in my opinion, things took a turn for the geeky better when the first X-men movie hit theaters. After X-men came out, it really legitimized Superheroes in a way unseen since the BATMANIA momentum created by Keaton and Killed by Clooney.
X MEN layed the groundwork for the modern Superhero blockbuster, and was reinforced by a solid as hell sequel, and Sony’s spider-man Franchise.
Maybe it’s something else, but the first time I was ever popular for my comics’ knowledge stemmed from X Men.
Batmania laid the groundwork, tho.
So there is that…