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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. [FONT=&amp]The finale drew 13.6 million viewers for its initial airing[/FONT] -- [FONT=&amp]adding in replays and early streaming, that figure climbs to 19.3 million, setting records for the series and HBO's entire history. [/FONT]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.

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.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
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?
In a sense, probably. It’s a very common social dynamic that people within a group can say things about a group that will get an outsider attacked. See: family, ethnicities, nationalities, schools, police, etc.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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?
I expect the latter. "We laugh at ourselves" is one thing. "Those people who used to push us around, steal our lunch money, and shove us into school lockers laugh at us," is quite another.
 

Istbor

Explorer
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.
I am a STEM person and everyone I work with are STEM people. I would not generalize that group of academic and industry fields in such a way.

I certainly wouldn't say STEM people as a rule are anything, other than STEM people.

For my personal experience, I am into geeky stuff. *cough* Posting on EN World *cough* My colleagues run the gamut on geeky or nerdiness. Some aren't geeky at all, so are probably entirely too geeky :p.

Has it been a cool and wild ride, with all of these huge media events that directly play to our interests? Totally. I only fear for some sort of dry spell. I'm still holding out some hope for that D&D movie, heh.
 

Mournblade94

Villager
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?
Knights of the Dinner table was geeks making fun of themselves. Big Bang I thought started off that way and it felt like it, but once it became all about dating I started to see it as Nerdy friends and then I really started to feel like it lost it way and started laughing AT the geeks. I stopped watching it I don't know maybe 4 years ago or so.
 

Mournblade94

Villager
I am a STEM person and everyone I work with are STEM people. I would not generalize that group of academic and industry fields in such a way.

I certainly wouldn't say STEM people as a rule are anything, other than STEM people.

For my personal experience, I am into geeky stuff. *cough* Posting on EN World *cough* My colleagues run the gamut on geeky or nerdiness. Some aren't geeky at all, so are probably entirely too geeky :p.

Has it been a cool and wild ride, with all of these huge media events that directly play to our interests? Totally. I only fear for some sort of dry spell. I'm still holding out some hope for that D&D movie, heh.
I also work with STEM people. I am a STEM person.

Not one of my colleagues gets excited about Star Wars or Marvel. Video Games are not a concept they can get their head around. Dungeons and Dragons is weird for them.
 

Istbor

Explorer
I also work with STEM people. I am a STEM person.

Not one of my colleagues gets excited about Star Wars or Marvel. Video Games are not a concept they can get their head around. Dungeons and Dragons is weird for them.
And yet here you are. On EN World. Posting under the name Mournblade.
 

Mournblade94

Villager
And yet here you are. On EN World. Posting under the name Mournblade.
Sure. I'm not sure if your saying im'm contradicting myself. Just out of a whole bunch of stem at work I am the only one who is interested in anything gaming, or genre literature related.
 

Istbor

Explorer
Sure. I'm not sure if your saying im'm contradicting myself. Just out of a whole bunch of stem at work I am the only one who is interested in anything gaming, or genre literature related.

Nope. I am not saying that. Only that we can't generalize. Especially a group as big as all STEM people.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
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.
For me, quite a lot actually, until about my senior year in high school. My defense was making friends with other kids who the bullies were scared of. :) In particular, one dude’s homophobic slur was his favorite word to use against me and basically anyone he didn’t like. Don’t know if he ever actually used it against a gay person or not, but my liking D&D and being good at my classes were all the excuse he needed every time he threatened to beat me up.

Now, 20-odd years later I have a lot of perspective and see it for the childishness it was - in comparison, nerd-jokes and insults are pretty mild compared to people in this world with real problems.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I understand that some people feel that way about the show. I don't share that feeling, though.
To loop back, Morrus, you asked, "Why shouldn’t geeks be in the same mainstream sitcoms as everybody else?"

So, now we see some reasons. You haven't been subjected to geek-shaming, so no, you wouldn't share the feeling. Shows that lean too hard on sexist or racist tropes are understood to be problematic by folks who are not usually subject to racism or sexism. This show, which leaned on other traditionally negative tropes for its jokes... should also be understood as problematic, no? Maybe not as egregious, but still an issue.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
To loop back, Morrus, you asked, "Why shouldn’t geeks be in the same mainstream sitcoms as everybody else?"

So, now we see some reasons. You haven't been subjected to geek-shaming, so no, you wouldn't share the feeling. Shows that lean too hard on sexist or racist tropes are understood to be problematic by folks who are not usually subject to racism or sexism. This show, which leaned on other traditionally negative tropes for its jokes... should also be understood as problematic, no? Maybe not as egregious, but still an issue.
Yes, I fully understood your point.
 

Henry

Autoexreginated
I didn’t say ignorant, I said I didn’t think they gave it a serious look.
So... they don't know the show. In other words, they are ignorant of the show. Or, you alternatively allow that they could be being dishonest (to themselves)

How is that *NOT* the "you must be ignorant or lying to disagree with me" argument that we generally frown upon?

I understand that it is not comfortable to be told that folks find something you like to be problematic. But that rhetorical structure? It isn't appropriate, now is it?

.... but bashing it for the sake of bashing because it’s “nerd-baiting”
I am noting that there's good reasons for people to find the show to not be all that positive. Somehow, that's bashing, now? Seems a lot more like valid critique, to me.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
To loop back, Morrus, you asked, "Why shouldn’t geeks be in the same mainstream sitcoms as everybody else?"

So, now we see some reasons. You haven't been subjected to geek-shaming, so no, you wouldn't share the feeling. Shows that lean too hard on sexist or racist tropes are understood to be problematic by folks who are not usually subject to racism or sexism. This show, which leaned on other traditionally negative tropes for its jokes... should also be understood as problematic, no? Maybe not as egregious, but still an issue.
I mean, can't we just hate on TBBT because it's ... bad?

I don't really have a dog in this fight (apologies to Michael Vick), but the little bits of TBBT I have seen aren't very good.

And I'm pretty sure that they are representative of the whole; some of my relatives LOVE this show, and based upon their general taste*, I am reasonably assured that the show must be pretty terrible.



*I don't know why they call this stuff hamburger helper. It does just fine by itself.
 

cmad1977

Explorer
The core films of Star Wars are taking a hiatus on the big screen, partially because Disney did such a good job killing the franchise. The most recent movies are lackluster at best, incoherent at worst, with directors like Ruin Anderson (misspelling intentional) showing they don't understand what makes a Star Wars film a Star Wars film (and it's not just the name).

MCU may have more films planned, but we'll see how they fare without stars like RD, Jr., Chris Evans, et al. to carry them. Anyone think Captian Marvel was anywhere near as good of a movie as the first Iron Man? Think Brie Larson can be the face of the franchise?

The Big Bang Theory has always been nerd blackface. It's pretty pathetic that some folks are so desperate to be recognized that they are willing to put up with mocking and derision just to be noticed.
Oof. Never make INT the dump stat kids.
 

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