Monday, October 30, 2006

Revenge of the Geek

Hmm. Does this relate to Poker? Somewhat, but after the next couple paragraphs, I don't speak of it anymore. After all, just about every poker player out there is a geek. You know it's true, don't lie to me or yourself. True, there's your non-geek players, but they aren't serious players... they sit down with a few hundred bucks, laugh at everyone, get frustrated that nobody's betting, and when there IS a showdown, they somehow have the worse hand... but they don't count.

Seriously, find me a pro who's started in the last 10-15 years who wouldn't get their ass kicked in grade school. Sure you've got your old boys like Cloutier and Brunson who don't fit the geek mold, but their game was always based more on intimidation and instinct than raw math.

Now, this isn't an insult. Geeks have been cool for years now... and geek != dork. I'm not saying poker players are socially inept (although some would argue), or have horrible skin problems and are in a constant state of puberty... but they set off the geek radar tremendously. Face it, this a game that requires some math skills, intuition, focus, hours of "solitude" and other hallmarks of geekdom. Even the ones who don't "look" like geeks, are inevitably geeky. This is why Universities have poker clubs full of math, science, and engineering majors.

But poker is just one area of geekdom that is solidly mainstream these days. That's what this post is about. Everyone knows that "geek chic" came into existence in the 90's. Groups like Weezer took the Elvis Costello/Buddy Holly style and modernized it once again. Nirvana spoke to disenfranchisd youth and made rock cool again. Star Trek was all over the place again with The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Movies by Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarentino make millions. Even Wrestling became mainstream by the late 90's. Then there was the Internet, which made countless geeks very, very rich. Bill Gates, the biggest geek of all, is also the richest man of all. The jocks might make millions, but their paycheques come from the geeks who own their teams. With money comes power, and with money and power comes focus from the media, advertisers, and all that goes with that. It becomes a self-sustaining cycle.

So then there's the less obvious geek shows that appear - Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Gilmour Girls, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Greg the Bunny, Arrested Development. Yes, if you're a fan of any of these shows, you have geek in you. There's countless more.

Now, many geeks happen to share some common histories. In among these are the nostalgic moments and memories -- Transformers, Thundercats, Smurfs, Saturday Morning Cartoons, Buck Rogers, Star Trek, Star Wars, Looney Tunes, Voltron, comic books, superheroes, etc.. These start coming back to feed the desire for these old toys. Movies, toys, graphic novels, TV shows, all catering to the gen-x and gen-y'ers who wonder where their Optimus Prime ended up. Obviously I'm male-biased, but many of the female geeks I know (and there's many), share some of these loves, along with Jem, Rainbow Brite, She-Ra and others (and to be honest, most of the guys watched these too).

All this leads to what is a golden age of geeky acceptance today. Off the top of my head, these are some of the most critically and/or commerically successful shows and movies of the past few years:

Spider-Man, X-Men, Dr. Who, Lost, Batman, Battlestar Galactica, Pirates of the Carribean, Boston Legal, American Pie, The Office, 40 year-old Virgin, Dodgeball, The West Wing, Firefly, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, House, Alias, Anything with Jack Black or Will Ferrell, Star Wars, The Matrix, Harry Potter...

Oh, sure, there are others that don't fit the vein, but my point isn't that Geekdom is everything, but that it's accepted openly among other forms, and dominates mainstream entertainment. If you haven't seen Battlestar Galactica, you are missing the best thing on television. Hands-down. No, there's no freakin' Muffit and his annoying kid. You can find everyone else's glowing reviews out there. Dr. Who revitalized an ancient series beloved by millions and made it even more awesome -- why? Because the people making it now aren't corporate suits - they're geeks who grew up watching the original.

But wait! House? Studio 60? Lost? Pirates of the Carribean? West Wing? Yup - geek all. Do you really think you can call a show with a British comedian playing an American doctor that's full of complex medical jargon non-geek? Anything by Aaron Sorkin is geek - simply because to keep up, you have to have a brain. Ditto with JJ Abrams. Pirates have been in the geek domain for decades... and Disney rides? Pure Geek. Oh, and all you Veronica Mars fans? Geek. She's Nancy Drew for the 21st century. Just wait until someone with money realizes this and recreates the Hardy Boys under a different name.

Spider-man and the X-Men, some of the last vestiges of MAJOR superheroes to make it to the big screen just go ahead and demolish box office records. Who's going to beat Spider-man's opening weekend grosses? Why, the next Spider-man of course. Or maybe Harry Potter - a geek with magic powers -- which is no different than any superhero, who are all created by geeks. Speaking of superheroes... anybody watching Heroes? I haven't had a chance to catch up yet, but it's an excellent concept if they pull it off properly, and I can't seem to go more than a couple days without somebody asking me if I watch it.

Since geeks naturally gravitate towards technology, it's not surprising that many of these shows are embraced in those realms. Huge DVD sales, gigabytes of bandwidth dedicated to their downloads and discussion, and home entertainment setups or computers to play them on.

What's the common thread among these points? Intelligence. These are shows, movies, songs, games, activites, etc. that require some amount of thought to enjoy. Sure, there's escapism in all of them, but the fact you actually have to engage your grey matter to get the most out of them makes it all the more enjoyable.

You're going to argue about Will Ferrel and Jack Black movies? Go watch them again and tell me there isn't a subtle brilliance to the perfomances, the way the dialogues work, the setup for the jokes. This isn't Pauly Shore we're talking about here. Sure, there's an element of stupidity here, but the major diffrence? These are people who are mocking themselves, and inviting everyone to laugh along with them. Geeks are nothing if not self-deprecating. The best part? These loveable losers, these geeks, inevitably come out on top... unless Ben Stiller's playing the bad guy... then he loses. I will still argue that Dodgeball and 40-year old Virgin are two of the best major-studio movies I've seen in the last couple years.

What brought this post on? Reading somebody else's list of TV shows they watch. They only had one show on that list that I wasn't interested in (How I Met Your Mother), and that was because they knew half the writing staff it seemed (although having NPH and Allyson Hannigan in it is a plus, and nudges into geekland). Seemingly disparate forms all fall under the geek umbrella. Somehow, these connections are invisible to many marketers and networks out there. But I'll bet you no small portion of Studio 60's audience also watches Battlestar Galactica and were wrestling fans at some point (and maybe still are?), and are torn between House and Veronica Mars on Tuesday - except they have Tivo and the Internet, so they'll be okay... all the while awaiting the Transformers movie and the next book from Neil Gaiman. Of course, they also have Futurama and Family Guy on DVD to tide them over. That is, if they're aren't playing in the weekly Hold 'em Tournament hosted by Wesley Crush... err... Wil Wheaton.

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