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?


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.
[h=3]It's Been a Long, Wild Ride[/h]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.
[h=3]Star Wars[/h]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...
[h=3]The Marvel Cinematic Universe[/h]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.
[h=3]Game of Thrones[/h]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.
[h=3]The Big Bang Theory[/h]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 TV’s 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.
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


Staff member
Well, I’ve read the entire Incarnations series...a while back. I have the first 19+ of the Xanth books, and several others novels of his besides.

In truth, though, I haven’t read anything by him written this century. I stopped reading because he stopped writing books I wanted to read. I get some of the accusations of misogyny, maybe he’s gotten worse, IDK. I’ve never felt like slapping him in proxy defense of the women in my life.

But I have to say, the woman my college roomie married is probably a bigger fan than I- she was in his fan club, and active enough I’ve seen her name mentioned by him in print. She was one of the spearheads getting him to make the Xanth “trilogy” into an open-ended series.

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Dances with Gnolls
Yeah, this isn't a critique of his prose in a technical sense. It is the content.

I think I have only ever read Through the Ice. Back in High School. I still have that book somewhere. I don't recall it being very... offensive. I do recall science and magic as two separate worlds. Though, that book separated the physical and the mind as well.

Anywho. There were some good episodes for TBBT. I don't know that I will ever sit down to watch the whole series though.

Dire Bare

Nobody is saying that everyone who has experienced shaming does or should react the same way. Just that having had the experience is perhaps sufficient to have issues with TBBT. Um... "lighten up" or "just get over it" are things I've been told you *never* suggest a trauma survivor do. It is dismissive.

Sorry, my word choice was awful and I was being quick and insensitive.

I do think that if you find a piece of art, like a TV show, upsetting or triggering for any reason, that's of course fine and shouldn't be criticized. Hell, if you just plain don't like an expression of art, for whatever reason, that's fine too. But I think a lot of us confuse our personal reactions to a TV show (or movie, or book, or whatever) with it's objective qualities, it being "crap" or "amazing". Of course, the quality of artistic expression is subjective (even though you can make technical criticisms), but an individual not caring for something, or finding it triggering, does not make it a bad piece of art. A lot of folks, both geeks and mundanes, find the show entertaining, hilarious, and of excellent quality.

I'll respect someone's opinion if they state, "I don't like that show because . . . ." even if I don't feel that way about it. I don't have a lot of respect for opinions that label popular art as objectively bad because they don't personally care for it.

You are right, in that it isn't a contest. But, as a cis-het-white-dude, I do not want to come anywhere near the suggestion that my geek experience is somehow of a kind with the sexism/misogyny, racism, or homophobia (and other-phobias) out there. Someone else may have been subject to pressures as bad for being a geek, but I make no such claim, and don't want to appear to be doing otherwise.

Well, as long as you don't try and place your trauma above others traumas, you shouldn't have much to worry about. It's what you have experienced, it's your trauma. I am also cis-het-white-WASPY-suburban-middle-class and all of that, and I know that many others have suffered worse than I have or can even really truly understand. But that doesn't lessen the impact my trauma has had on me. I will never tell myself, or let someone else tell me, that my trauma is less important or trivial, because others have gone through worse. There's always somebody who's gone through worse. I certainly try to empathize and express compassion for anyone who has suffered, regardless of the source or degree of it.

By that logic, Jeopardy, The Price is Right and Scooby Doo (which have lasted far, far longer) are pretty much the best shows ever created, and TBBT can go sulk in the corner. People are allowed to call things bad, even if they are popular. And call them good when they are unpopular. It is when someone starts getting mean to fans (or non-fans) for their likes that there is a problem.

I agree that Jeopardy, The Price is Right, and Scooby Doo are amazing shows! They have lasted as long as they have because millions find them entertaining. I personally don't care for The Price is Right (even though I love it's current host, Drew Carey), but I wouldn't throw shade at it and try to convince the world it's crap just because it isn't my cup of tea. I do enjoy Jeopardy from time to time though, and Scooby Doo is classic stuff man!

Sure, you can not like something for whatever reason, and even have legit quality criticisms of it as well, but to claim a show is bad despite it being massively successful and loved by millions is . . . . self-centered, in my opinion. It's not that nothing can be bad, or that art's quality is a democratic voting process, but taking subjective judgement of quality and expressing them as objective is just . . . well, we probably won't convince each other of our opinions, and that's okay too.

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