How geeks inherited the Earth

Have you ever opened up a book, read the first few pages, and silently had the revelation that you had just read about your own life?

This past weekend, I read a book that did exactly that. It was magical.

Usually, when I get absorbed in a book like that, it’s some sort of fantastical adventure where the protagonist has a personality or worldview similar to my own. This time, though, I went a little out of my comfort zone with a social sciences book called I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture by A. D. Jameson.

Ten points if you can guess why I identified with it.

In 246 pages, I learned a whole lot about geek culture I’d honestly never known before—including the path of its slow-but-steady rise to mainstream popularity, and how it all started with a space movie in 1977.

Exploring the rise of geek culture

When I was in grade school, I was the epitomal stereotype of a geek. I had braces, wire-framed glasses with magnetic clip-on sunglasses, triangular hair à la Mia Thermopolis, and a weird hatred for jeans. I got teased for how avidly I devoured Redwall and Lord of the Rings novels.

Why didn’t I read Babysitter’s Club, or Goosebumps, or any of the things other girls my age were reading?

When I got to high school, I was much more cautious about letting my geek flag fly. It was the fifth school I’d been to in four years, and I was much more interested in my peers’ approval than any kind of honesty to myself.

Such are the teenage years.

The ironic thing is that this was happening just as geeks were becoming a mainstream thing. Yes, we were still kind of isolated to certain wings of the school, like the library and the music hall. But in my art class, for example, we had an entire unit based on recreating pages from a Star Wars graphic novel.

Why, then, was I so worried?

Because the stigma of geeks being somehow lesser was still very prevalent.

This is perhaps the biggest point of I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing. It looks at the stigma surrounding geeks, and how even now, despite over 40 years of evolution, an appreciation for things like superheroes and comic books is sometimes viewed as infantile and something that we need to grow out of.

If anything, though, that sort of appreciation should be looked at as a subculture—a social movement that started with Star Wars.

In this novel, Jameson, a self-professed geek, explores the popularity of Star Wars and why it resonated with so many, geeks and non-geeks alike. In its time, it was a popular critical claim that Star Wars was essentially just the geek of the New Hollywood film movement; in a world of dark and realistic films like The Godfather, George Lucas decided to make a space movie.

That space movie, which expanded an infinite universe that accepted spacecraft as everyday things, drew attention to the needs of geeks everywhere, and helped kickstart a movement to improve the realism involved in fantasy stories.

Because as Jameson points out several times in his novel, geeks want fantasy stories they can believe in; it’s difficult to believe in a world that looks picture-perfect, ends at the edge of the TV screen, and is as surprised by its own vehicles as you are.

Bringing geeks to the mainstream

I have to point out here that I’m not big on the term mainstream. It conversely makes me think of hipsters and Starbucks and bringing typewriters everywhere you go.

But the thing is, with Marvel Studios dominating the box office and new Star Wars movies coming out at a few different times this year, it’s difficult to deny that that’s exactly what geek culture is.

So how did it become so popular?

Jameson’s argument for this shift has to do with what he calls the homework problem. Essentially, he says, the issue with sticking to perpetually evolving singular storylines is that it makes it difficult for new fans to come in, because they feel like they need to catch up on everything before they see one movie.

It’s the same logic behind why I haven’t watched One Piece. It can be as good as it wants, but I don’t necessarily want to do homework to understand it.

Studios understand this, and although it can be annoying for the more hardcore fans to see their favourites reinvented and repeated time and again (not pointing any fingers, Spider-Man and Batman), it makes the stories more accessible for new fans.

What a geek wants

I think one of the most moving parts of this book was Jameson’s delving into what it is that geeks want from their media. I mean, as a stubborn, challenge-accepted kind of person, it was a little frustrating to be told what I want in movies.

But Jameson is absolutely right.

His primary argument is that the thing geeks look for most in movies, books, and more is the concept of escapism. We want to transport ourselves into other worlds, be there when Harry Potter learns all there is to know about magic, ride on the Starship Enterprise, and more.

This, Jameson argues, is where the stigma of geeks needing to grow up and join the real world stems from.

He also argues that escapism isn’t bad—within limits.

After all, how is wanting to travel to another world any different from listening to music to escape your problems, or wanting to work out your frustrations at the gym?

At the end of it all, what geeks want is to be able to escape through stories into worlds with coherent timelines and believable lore, which is why things like the MCU and even Pottermore strike such a chord.

And that’s something we should never have to grow out of.

The bottom line

Although it does occasionally take a meandering stroll through the schnarb (my dad’s preferred term for the tall grass and brambles lining a golf course), Jameson’s novel is a detailed and well-proven dissertation on how Star Wars, the offbeat offspring of the New Hollywood movement, is the perfect example of New Hollywood film, and the identifiable and iconic jumping point for today’s Golden Age of Geekdom.

And if you have any interest in or curiosity about geek culture, I definitely recommend it.

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