Haven’t watched the new Tron or Alice in Wonderland trailers a dozen times yet? Bet you tried on your Don Draper tie, though. It’s okay, argues Esquire.com’s new pop-culture columnist: The Hollywood machine has turned even the cool kids into anticipatory fanboys of something or other.
There’s nothing but the faint echo of squeals and the odor of crapped fanboy pants to remind us now of Comic-Con, the center of the geek universe for a couple of highly anticipated, mostly disappointing, and altogether over-Tweeted days each summer in San Diego. It went off last week just about as expected, with Hollywood’s usurping of the decades-old comics-biz confab (and its audience) elevated to feverish new levels of glitz thanks to first glimpses at James Cameron’s Avatar, Disney’s Tron Legacy, Robert Pattinson’s New Moon, and other top-shelf titles headed to a loser near you in the next year.
Still, Comic-Con hardly owns a monopoly on the phenomenon of modern pop-culture fandom, which has evolved into so much more than the domain once consigned to smart kids with bad complexions and/or shrines to short-lived cartoon shows in their basements. It’s about our obsessions — all of our obsessions, no matter the media or genre, nor our respective age, sex, or ethnicity. You know you have them, and — like it or not — you know you’re implicated. You, too, are a geek for something. We all are.
Relax. It’s not as bad as it sounds, and in any case it’s not your fault. American (or British, or Japanese, hell, even Canadian) culture won’t really allow for anything less — not with billion-dollar economies at stake and individual reputations relying on your complete emotional investment in their properties. Being a fan today means more than being loyal to a brand, though: If we keep our survey to the more generally accepted geek parameters of Comic-Con, then the quality of one’s anticipation of Harry Potter and the Neverending Franchise or the latest Joss Whedon series is often more important than the quality of those products themselves. Consider it an added bonus if Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland adaptation actually happens to be good. If not, no worries; Hollywood’s rapid production cycle ensures that the sting of suckerdom is merely temporary. The sacred source material is unhurt, after all, and a new object of nerd lust is always right around the corner.
Yet less-conventional modes of geek living are everywhere. I may have never bothered last spring to see the hugely anticipated, poorly received graphic-novel adaptation Watchmen, but I hit my local video store two weeks ago to rent Season Two of Mad Men the day it was released on DVD. I caught up belatedly with all thirteen episodes virtually overnight. Then, last weekend, while the Web debated the relative merits of Comic-Con darlings Avatar and Kick-Ass and swooned at the news that the next Batman film would likely start shooting in 2010, I considered my submission to Banana Republic’s new Mad Men Casting Call contest.
And I don’t mean whether or not I really want to compete for a walk-on part and a $1,000 gift card. Of course I do! What I was considering was whether or not to wear a blue suit or a black suit, and how to best get the cigarette smell out of my apartment after taking my requisite self-portraits. Total geek. And AMC is betting that I’m not the only one nursing such ruminations. It’s a pretty genius read on the part of the network, which has faith that Mad Men obsessives will channel their inner Don Draper or Joan Holloway just as readily as Star Wars freaks will prowl San Diego in costume as Han Solo or Princess Leia.
But it also recognizes how the geek gold standard has changed since thirty years ago, when George Lucas was king and Christopher Reeve gallantly rocked Superman tights without the faintest trace of irony or self-doubt. We’re way beyond the point of playing dress-up. Mainstream entertainment bubbles with more beloved anti-heroes than ever, turning offerings from Mad Men (philandering ad-world cutthroat) to Weeds (drug-dealing suburban MILF) to The Dark Knight (well-meaning billionaire crimefighter stirs more trouble than he prevents) into deeply sympathetic reflections of their viewers’ own compulsions, fantasies, and flaws. Their respective chemistries of complexity and accessibility make them three flavors of the same cult catnip. Even the serial-killer series Dexter received a panel this year at Comic-Con.
They also bring that long-missing component that old-school, hard-line geeks probably never thought they’d encounter in their bailiwick: women. The obvious influx comes from the Twilight series, excerpts and stars from whose second entry, New Moon, last week flooded Comic-Con’s vast Hall H with teeming, screaming tides of estrogen. The recipe? Add liberal doses of actual romantic tension to all the contemporary, standard-issue fanboy ingredients — angst, moodiness, the supernatural and/or superhuman potboiler potency. (The casting doesn’t hurt; Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart make for a slightly more supple duo than, say, Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox.) But even last year’s big-screen adaptation of Sex and the City proved a geek watershed of sorts for anxious, urbane ladies, for whom Manolo Blahnik pumps are as much a symbol of self-actualization as a Trekkie’s vulcan ears.
And right on cue, there’s news of Sex and the City 2, ready to suck another few million moviegoers, their dates, and all that cash into the irrepressible geek vortex. There’s even an open casting call in New York for those among them who fit the “international types… professional soccer players, fashion models, urban club goers, gays and lesbians, celebrity types, upscale socialites” and others populating the SATC universe. In other words, the aspirational true believers in full regalia — come one, come all. You know they will. And they don’t even have to travel to San Diego. Which is good, because geekstink still isn’t quite as universal as geekdom.
By S.T. VanAirsdale | esquire
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