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 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

Comments

What he was probably thinking is defending himself intelligently from someone accusing him of being racist.
You might dislike the phrase "geek blackphace", i must admit it's not to my taste either, but that's not a valid reason to ban the user from the thread in my opinion. The other one is an example of how vicious and unfair a baseless allegation can be.
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
TBBT is a sitcom. Sitcoms are generally the same, just the characters change.

There have been sitcoms featuring wartime medics, upper class toffs, pretty people in New York, and everything in between. The characters are always the butt of the joke.

This time it was scientists. The fact that geeks finding scientists in the same mainstream sitcoms as everybody else gets them upset kinda reinforces the “otherness” of them. Why shouldn’t geeks be in the same mainstream sitcoms as everybody else? I don’t see middle class British dentists getting upset because of a sitcom.
 
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ccs

39th lv DM

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
What he was probably thinking is ...

Please be aware - Those were entirely rhetorical questions. Moderation comments are not up for public debate or defense. If you have an issue with or commentary on moderation, we ask you to take it to private messages or e-mail, please and thank you.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don’t see middle class British dentists getting upset because of a sitcom.
There are differences, though.

The issue at hand isn't that they are "scientists". It is that they are people matching geek stereotypes. They aren't the butt of the jokes for being scientists - they are being the butt of jokes because of their stereotypical behaviors - behaviors for which geeks have traditionally already been made fun of for having.

You are taking a subculture that has been traditionally marginalized, and making fun of the things for which they were marginalized.
 

The Monster

Explorer
...um...trying to get back on topic...
The OP touches on something that has crossed my mind recently as well. I remember back in the '80s thinking that we were unlikely to see very good fantasy or 'comic-book' films until we had a generation of people who had grown up immersed in both the world of film-making and the world of geekdom.
There had been a run of big-screen hits that showed potential - Star Wars (1977) of course, but also Conan the Barbarian (1982), Alien (1979), even lesser films like Dragonslayer (1981) which was not a great film but had an astounding dragon. Star Wars followed with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but largely sat on it laurels film-wise while its universe developed in other media (books and comics - and games).

Then, some twenty years later (gosh, about a generation or so!), we get Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings series (starting in 2001) and the MCU (starting with Iron Man in 2008); Star Wars was back on the big screen in 1999 (The Phantom Menace) to decidely mixed reviews, but successful films. Thus the era of big, interconnected, preplanned stories, spinoff TV shows (on networks, cable, and/or streaming) was launched. Sure enough, film-makers who had grown up with comics and Star Wars and all those SF/F films in the 60's 70's and early 80's could now put them together effectively and consistently.

I've wondered what the next phase is, and how long it will take. "Geeky" films - superheroes, D&D-esque fantasy and so forth - are big business now, with all the good and bad that implies. Maybe it just settles into just another film/entertainment genre; maybe the popularity fades like the Western. Maybe there's some amazing new version that will erupt into pop culture in a few years. I can only hope I live long enough to see it. :)
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
TBBT is a sitcom. Sitcoms are generally the same, just the characters change.

There have been sitcoms featuring wartime medics, upper class toffs, pretty people in New York, and everything in between. The characters are always the butt of the joke.

This time it was scientists. The fact that geeks finding scientists in the same mainstream sitcoms as everybody else gets them upset kinda reinforces the “otherness” of them. Why shouldn’t geeks be in the same mainstream sitcoms as everybody else? I don’t see middle class British dentists getting upset because of a sitcom.
I’ve never understood the triggering nature of TBBT with some individuals; I self-identify as a geek/nerd and have in public for close to twenty years now; my love of computing, comic books, RPGs, and pop sci-if has never been in question even when old CEOs and CFOs in business suits would poke fun at me while prattling about their weekend golf games, the RBIs of Pete Rose or A-Rod, and how the blacktop and tight turns of any particular NASCAR track was going to affect the next race. It’s only been in the past ten years or so that these goofballs have finally understood that they’re just as big of a geek as me — usually once I point out that Barry Bonds and his season statistics is just as relevant to their day to day lives as Jon Snow or my D&D character is to mine. They have only a marginally larger chance of meeting Barry Bonds face to face... ;)

RE: Big Bang, where some have seen straw man nerd insults, I have seen good natured fun poked at a culture I’ve known all my life, and damned if I haven’t known a Sheldon or Howard or two in my years on Earth. ;) Those who find the themes that Big Bang dealt with completely insulting or unrealistic I don’t think gave it a serious look, or are not really being honest with themselves. Themes of making your own family when your actual family is dysfunctional; finding love when all your previous experiences are defined by loveless marriages; even accepting people for what they are, even when HOW they are infuriates you (I always found the example of Barry Kripke fascinating); and never giving up on your dreams, even when the deck is stacked against you. Beyond stupid stock sitcom situations, traditional sitcom mistiming and misunderstandings, there was some real heart to the characters that kept me watching. Stupid comedy I can get anywhere, what kept me coming back (and keeps me watching Mom, Chuck Lorre’s Other CBS show I watch) is likable characters who draw me into their flaws and struggles.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Those who find the themes that Big Bang dealt with completely insulting or unrealistic I don’t think gave it a serious look, or are not really being honest with themselves.
Henry, really? "You must be ignorant or dishonest to disagree with me"? You used to moderate people who used that approach to discussion.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
FWIW, I heard that it was Netflix, not Marvel/Disney, that chose to axe all of the MCU Netflix shows.
Yes. But let us not pretend that Disney's actions (say, by launching a competing streaming service) were not a major factor.
 

M.L. Martin

Adventurer
Speaking only for myself, I didn't stop watching TBBT because I found their handling of 'geek subjects' offensive … I stopped watching it because I realized I didn't particularly like any of these people.

(Now, some of the plot points with Sheldon's mother? Those I found mildly offensive.)
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
There are differences, though.

The issue at hand isn't that they are "scientists". It is that they are people matching geek stereotypes. They aren't the butt of the jokes for being scientists - they are being the butt of jokes because of their stereotypical behaviors - behaviors for which geeks have traditionally already been made fun of for having.

You are taking a subculture that has been traditionally marginalized, and making fun of the things for which they were marginalized.
I understand that some people feel that way about the show. I don't share that feeling, though.

I don't love the show or anything, but I think it's fine. No better or worse than other sitcoms. Plus they mention Batman sometimes.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Mom was a big fan of TBBT, but I found it merely OK. I’d watch it with her if I were around her when it was on, but didn’t watch it on my own.

In part, my disinterest was due to me being in a group that had some...similar dynamics. I didn’t need the show to experience those kinds of interactions.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
As a STEM (engineer) person, I didn't find anything about TBBT offensive, I haven't watched it a lot. Mostly it seemed about academics, and I'm in the field, what I do is mundane enough that no-one would make a TV program about it. I have helped other engineers get jobs at Boeing or Tesla, that would be more exciting than an elevator installation. STEM people as a rule aren't into very geeky stuff, for example, I sometimes have a pint with propulsion engineers from Neil Armstrong hall of engineering, and only one out of the group actually likes science fiction. It's a pretty button down group overall, STEM people.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I understand that some people feel that way about the show. I don't share that feeling, though.
So, a possibly relevant question (for anyone, really) that is somewhat personal so you don't need to answer it publicly, but bears consideration:

Were you, as a kid, bullied for having some of the personality traits seen in the show's main characters? Did you get (socially) pushed around or demeaned for being a geek/nerd?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
So, a possibly relevant question (for anyone, really) that is somewhat personal so you don't need to answer it publicly, but bears consideration:

Were you, as a kid, bullied for having some of the personality traits seen in the show's main characters? Did you get (socially) pushed around or demeaned for being a geek/nerd?
No. I was definitely a geek, and hung around with my geek friends, but there was no bullying. I get that other people have different experiences.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
If you asked Young Ralif about the future of pop culture, he might have predicted a second Star Wars trilogy, but certainly not a third. Never in a million years would he have guessed that a major fantasy book series would become one of the top live action television series. That the comics he read would be adapted into anything more than low-budget cheapies or cartoons. Heck, he wouldn’t have even guessed at a long-running sitcom about a bunch of nerds and geeks.

It’s entirely amazing that all this happened at all.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
There are differences, though.

The issue at hand isn't that they are "scientists". It is that they are people matching geek stereotypes. They aren't the butt of the jokes for being scientists - they are being the butt of jokes because of their stereotypical behaviors - behaviors for which geeks have traditionally already been made fun of for having.

You are taking a subculture that has been traditionally marginalized, and making fun of the things for which they were marginalized.
So is there similar rage against Knight of the Dinner Table? It clearly focuses on many of the same dynamics and foibles of the gamer subculture. It's no more kind to its targets (maybe even less because the characters are more stereotypical and less generally humanized than BBT). Does it get a pass because its author is more clearly a gamer geek than the writers of BBT? Because it circulates within the gamer subculture rather than among millions of viewers?
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
So, a possibly relevant question (for anyone, really) that is somewhat personal so you don't need to answer it publicly, but bears consideration:

Were you, as a kid, bullied for having some of the personality traits seen in the show's main characters? Did you get (socially) pushed around or demeaned for being a geek/nerd?
Personally, yes. But I was also bullied for being black, for being overweight, for being Catholic and other things, so it all blended together.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
So, a possibly relevant question (for anyone, really) that is somewhat personal so you don't need to answer it publicly, but bears consideration:

Were you, as a kid, bullied for having some of the personality traits seen in the show's main characters? Did you get (socially) pushed around or demeaned for being a geek/nerd?
Sure, but look at the culture around us. The stuff we used to be the only ones admitting to obsessively following? It's freaking everywhere. It's our biggest movies. It's all over the shopping malls in Hot Topic and Box Lunch. It generated one of the most successful sitcoms on television as well as one of the most successful shows on a subscription cable network. If there's a culture clash going on, we're not losing it. We're thriving.
 

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