Geekdom Takes a Bow
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    Geekdom Takes a Bow

    With so many geek franchises coming to a close this year, it feels like we're reaching a milestone in geek fandom. From Star Wars to Game of Thrones, Avengers to The Big Bang Theory, many long-running series on big and small screens are wrapping up. What does that mean for geekdom?


    It's Been a Long, Wild Ride

    To put these franchises in perspective, Game of Thrones has been around for eight years, The Big Bang Theory for nine, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for 11, and Star Wars for over four decades. Each franchise in turn has been a game changer for how geekdom has been perceived and popularized. And all of them have been influential in shaping ancillary geek channels, from tabletop games to portraying gaming on television. But to really appreciate just how far geekdom has come, we have to start with the elder of the bunch.

    Star Wars

    The arrival of Star Wars was a sea change for every industry it touched, from toys to costumes to games. And the movie franchise has flourished thanks to a virtuous cycle in which the original Star Wars role-playing game by West End Games shaped the industry that spawned it, classifying, categorizing, and naming alien species and spaceships that were originally called "Hammerheads" and "Squid Heads." Bill Slavicsek tells the full story of how a group of dedicated fans and gaming professionals helped pave the way for the Star Wars Expanded Universe in Defining a Galaxy: Celebrating 30 Years of Roleplaying in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.

    With Disney's acquisition of the Star Wars license, the hype engine revved up to light speed. Star Wars will span nine movies (as originally envisioned by George Lucas) and its own theme park. That immersive experience has come full circle: Pablo Hidalgo, who wrote several sourcebooks for West End Games before joining Lucasfilm, helped create the Lucasfilm Story Group that now maintains Star Wars canon under Disney. The last Star Wars movie in the nine-part series concludes December 20, 2019 with The Rise of Skywalker.

    As Star Wars branched out from its main story arc with movies like Solo and Rogue One, they've begun to feel more like role-playing games. The episodic feel will likely carry over to several new series in the pipeline; Star Wars is going to have a new life in Disney's streaming service, including the adventures of Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, who also played the role in Rogue One) and Jon Favreau's The Mandalorian, which follows the events of Return of the Jedi. Speaking of Favreau...

    The Marvel Cinematic Universe

    Jon Favreau was recently named a Disney Legend by the Walt Disney Company in recognition of his work as executive producer of Marvel Studios. And for good reason; Favreau was the director of the first movie set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Iron Man, and he was influential in casting Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury in a post-credits scene that would go on to influence twenty more films. Favreau was there at the end too -- as his character Happy Hogan in Avengers: Endame to wrap up the franchise he and Robert Downey Jr. launched in 2008. The MCU concluded with Avengers: Endgame on April 26, 2019 (unless you count Spider-Man: Far From Home, which is currently scheduled for July 2, 2019).

    The MCU experiment proved that interconnected storytelling was indeed possible. This kind of mishmash of genres, heroes, and villains is endemic to Dungeons & Dragons and comic books in general, but it's not easy to pull off. After Marvel's success, several other franchises declared shared universes -- including Marvel's comic rival, DC -- only to stumble out of the gate. For a dire warning of just how hard it is to pull off what Marvel achieved, look no further than Universal Studios' Dark Universe, which closed up shop after the box office flop of The Mummy.

    Like Star Wars, Marvel will live on in Disney's streaming service -- although Marvel was there first with its Defenders series on Netflix that included Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. Also The Punisher, although he's definitely not one of the Defenders. And Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was always supposed to be set in the MCU but has become increasingly disconnected from it. Disney shut down all of its errant franchises on Netflix, with a plan to relaunch series for Vision, Scarlet Witch, Loki, Falcon, the Winter Soldier, and Hawkeye.

    These changes are significant for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that both Marvel and Disney properties are increasingly walled off from general cable viewers, requiring fans to subscribe to Disney+, the company's own streaming channel and a future competitor to the likes of Hulu and Netflix. The budgets and acting talent attracted to franchises on the small screen have shifted considerably too, making a television series viable for movie stars who might have turned up their collective noses in the past. And for that, we can thank Game of Thrones.

    Game of Thrones

    HBO's Game of Thrones took a sprawling, world-spanning fantasy epic featuring graphic sex and violence and made it part of the cultural zeitgeist, completing the journey that began with J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and continued through Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. The finale drew 13.6 million viewers for its initial airing -- adding in replays and early streaming, that figure climbs to 19.3 million, setting records for the series and HBO's entire history. Game of Thrones wrapped up on May 19, 2019.

    The enormous popularity of the series means outlets that don't usually cover geek content are struggling to explain it. Reporters keep trying to explain what a wight is; tabletop gamers need no explanation. That's not creator George R.R. Martin's only influence on fantasy creatures -- fantasy writer Charles Stross borrowed the names "githyanki" and "githzerai" from Martin's sci-fi novel, Dying of the Light, for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Fiend Folio. Martin's own experience with tabletop role-playing games was shaped by SuperWorlds, which gave him the inspiration to launch the shared world anthology known as Wild Cards.

    Game of Thrones' epic approach to storytelling feels a lot like adult D&D campaigns. It's also made topics of dragons, giants, and wights lunch-table talk at workplaces around the world...a cultural shift for geekdom as fantasy has finally become more mainstream. Which brings us to another franchise that normalized geekdom.

    The Big Bang Theory

    The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) popularized geeks as a sitcom -- whether it venerated or mocked its subjects is up for debate. TBBT also featured several D&D references, culminating in an all-star episode featuring William Shatner, Joe Manganiello, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kevin Smith playing in Wil Wheaton's celebrity D&D game.

    The comedy was TVs longest-running muti-camera sitcom since 2010, averaging 12.75 million total viewers, bringing in in $125 million to $150 million in ad revenue per season for CBS. Its syndication revenue (nearly 300 episodes) generates over $1 billion for Warner Bros. Television. TBBT concluded on May 16, 2019.

    TBBT's long run -- from mocking geeks to flaunting its geek cred -- is emblematic of all the aforementioned franchises' arcs. What started as a core group of hardcore fandom who loved the toys, books, and comics has turned into something for everyone. That tracks with the popularity of D&D too. If the future plans of Disney are any indication, we can expect a lot more fantasy content on streaming channels...and more non-geek coworkers spoiling the episodes at lunch.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.

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    Last edited by mykesfree; Tuesday, 18th June, 2019 at 04:48 PM.

  3. #3
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    Big Bang Theory is faux geek and unfunny.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Kramodlog View Post
    Big Bang Theory is faux geek and unfunny.
    Agreed. It relies on stereotypes that were outdated when the show premiered, let alone a decade later. We were never the target audience, but they still insisted on featuring "geek-famous" guest stars. I'm glad it's over. Good riddance.
    XP schneeland, monsmord gave XP for this post

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    The MCU didn't end with Avengers: Endgame, a large part of the storylines ended, but certainly the MCU didn't end as can be seen by the slate of movies coming in Phase 4.

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    I hated Big Bang Theory because it tried so hard to cater to geek-chic culture. Then I watched a few episodes and now I like it because it references stuff I like. I guess I really am that easy.

    Bazinga.

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    If the author thinks SW & the MCU have come to an end on the big screen, boy is he going to be surprised....

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    I think at some point though, these things became popular culture and ceased being "geekdom".

    For instance, at work, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone that doesn't like super-hero movies and there was a group of 60-something ladies talking about Game of Thrones.

    But there is only one other person there that loves Svengoolie and old genre movies.

  9. #9
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    You're describing pop culture. Star Wars has been super popular for over 40 years. Geekdom, at least to me, has to have some element of unfashionability or unpopularity. Anyone who had the courage to play DnD back in the 70s is a geek. Geeks follow their own star, not the crowd. Just being into Star Wars, GoT, etc, does not make one a geek.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Over the Hill Gamer View Post
    You're describing pop culture. Star Wars has been super popular for over 40 years. Geekdom, at least to me, has to have some element of unfashionability or unpopularity. Anyone who had the courage to play DnD back in the 70s is a geek. Geeks follow their own star, not the crowd. Just being into Star Wars, GoT, etc, does not make one a geek.
    He is describing geekdom AND pop culture, the two are not mutually exclusive. As the picked on geeks of the 70s and 80s grew up and began to dominate tech and entertainment, what was once nerdy and worthy of mockery is now what everybody loves!

    What geeks love has nothing to do with it's relative unpopularity, but true geeks fixate and obsess to a degree over their chosen passions, whether it's D&D or rock collecting. Most folks enjoy superhero movies these days . . . but most still don't read comics and don't have encyclopedic knowledge of the multitude of heroes, villains, and storylines that stretch back decades. Geeks were picked on when I was growing up (80s), and that is less true today (but not totally true, unfortunately).

    Geeks follow their own star and not the crowd? Geeks had the courage to play D&D? That's hilarious. We weren't geeks because of our fierce independence and bravery (*snort*), we were geeks because we didn't fit in and had to find something to fill the void, being comics, games, or movies.
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