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A Bill Kuchman Pop-Ed: The Geeks Have Inherited the Earth

To borrow from the immortal words of Walter White, I won.

Well, actually we won. And by "we," I mean anyone who loves geek culture but had to spend much of their young lives hiding it.

Thanks to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy and Marvel Cinematic Universe movies like Iron Man and The Avengers,  the superhero segment of geek culture has become thoroughly mainstream, dominating movies, TV, office talk and soon your Netflix account. It's not just cool to like geeky stuff now — it's required if you want to be able to live on the same pop culture level as the rest of the world.

If you were like me, a kid growing up in the 1990s, you'll remember some pretty distinctive phases of life. When you were younger, you got to dress up as your favorite superheroes, which at the time were probably Spider-Man, Superman and Batman, thanks to the animated TV shows you spent Saturday mornings watching. (Or, if you were like me, you caught them at friends' houses since your parents thought they were too violent and didn't want you watching shows like that.) During elementary school, no one judged you if you liked this kind of stuff. When you don't even know the difference between right and left, how are you supposed to know superheroes aren't cool?

Within a couple quick years, though, your life probably took a turn. The superheroes you once loved became the realm of the outcasts. The cool kids didn't read comic books, and they sure weren't interested in who could win in a fight, Superman or Spider-Man. (The answer is obviously Superman. Duh. He can fly and has laser vision. Back in the 90s, Spider-Man didn't even have organic webshooters.) These were the dark days of your pop culture-loving life. If you were buying comics, you did it quietly and you read them at home.

The world was a different place back then. Think of the movies we used to get before there were a dozen new superhero movies every year. I remember a lot of movies based on sports, which seems to sync up with what you were supposed to be interested at this time in your life. Angels in the Outfield, Little Giants and The Mighty Ducks reminded us that if you wanted to fit in, sports were the key to doing so. Yeah, even though Little Giants was the story of a bunch of castoffs overcoming diversity, they did it by winning on the football field. They didn't wow Ed O'Neill's Giants into being their friends by rattling off all the reasons why Joss Whedon was the perfect director to tackle The Avengers.

While we were struggling with our geekdom at this time, the superhero universe was having its issues too. It's hard to fathom the concept now, but Marvel actually declared bankruptcy in 1996, making many question whether there was a future for this slice of pop culture. The idea that Disney would buy Marvel for $4 billion in 2009 would blow people's minds back then.

So here we are. It's the year 2013, and superheroes are everywhere. We won. Geek culture has replaced whatever we once talked about. (Oprah? Soap operas? Wheel of Fortune?) Just this week, Disney set a new yearly box office record thanks to the massive grosses of Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. Man of Steel and The Wolverine both won their opening weekends. We have Agents of SHIELD on TV. Daredevil is about to take over Netflix.

Even the blockbuster movies that aren't based on superheroes are based on books, another thing that wasn't cool to love during our childhoods. Back in middle school, I used to read on the bus, which was an invitation for jokes and odd glances. To anyone who loved the Harry Potter movies or already bought their ticket to the next Hunger Games movie, those books got popular because some kid was sitting on the bus reading them.

Geek culture and superhero fandom have become the backbone of pop culture, and pop culture has become what binds us as a society. You may love President Barack Obama. You may hate President Barack Obama. Odds are you love Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight. Pop culture transcends our differences, and it just so happens that pop culture is now based on the very things people once mocked.

Oh, and if Lucasfilm announces that its Boba Fett spinoff will be based on Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Tales of the Bounty Hunters, I'm going to be pretty tempted to use the fact that I read that book on the bus to spoil it for everyone who made fun of me back then.
A Bill Kuchman Pop-Ed: The Geeks Have Inherited the Earth Reviewed by Bill Kuchman on 11/14/2013 Rating: 5

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