Nerd culture is not murdering intellectualism
As a writer for video games (among other things), I appreciate the recognition that 'like a video game story' isn't a valid insult these days. Games haven't always been narrative pioneers, but in the last 15 years-or-so we've moved through Dear Esther, Gone Home, God of War, GTAV, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and more - each with unique and engaging stories, each weaving storytelling and gameplay together in exciting ways.
We are never just one thing. Never just one personality. We are a collected amalgamation. We are legion. We are many.
It's very revealing how it's more acceptable to talk about deeper meanings in a book written for five year olds than it is for a book written for fifteen year olds, people love their hierarchies. You ever think the oft discussed decline in reading might come from the way many English teachers talk about what the students read in their free time? I had English teachers who loved to randomly put down YA.
There have also been substacks I unsubbed to in part due to treating enjoying YA as an intellectual and moral failing. Meanwhile the Hunger Games is about a girl who has to put on a false marketable persona as a survival tactic but the line between her acting and her true self turn out not to be solid, surely couldn't have any deeper resonance with generations growing up with social media. People despise teenagers on an institutional level when it comes down to it.
It's always been clear to me what I like and want to make will be looked down on categorically, enjoying video games and fanfiction makes you keenly aware of the artistic hierarchies people cling to. So I'm actively hostile to the idea of hearing or caring about what the people in their ivory towers think, since they feel the same way about me for existing it's only fair. But it still gets to me at times.
I also find that a lot of the hate for MCU now borders on people getting into that mentality thinking they're being countercultural by posting boomer takes. Only followed the MCU closely for a little bit, didn't even watch Infinity War or Endgame, but I think it represents quite the technical achievement in terms of keeping things connected and largely consistent.
And I haven't seen the third, but the first two Guardians of the Galaxy movies had some genuine heart to them, there's a clear connecting theme of family. Wandavision going meta was also great, wish they didn't feel the need to explain it to people who can't process subtlety and then resolve an emotional internal conflict with a fight.
I don’t even understand why this is a discussion. Cultures change. I married a nerd. The only books hubby reads are sci fi. He was exec producer for LOTRO and was in charge of Magic the Gathering. Our kids are gamers. I am not. I don’t understand the attraction but my hubby and kids are cultured, bright people.
Also, *I* saw "Starship Troopers" in the cinema. That's time from my life I can never get back.
"Starship Troopers" sparks a whole different debate...
At the time it was slammed as a bad movie. Now it's a "re-evaluated cult classic," lauded as a sci-fi satire
Yes. Yes, it is. But it's damn near the complete antithesis of what Heinlein was trying to say with the novel, and the movie follows the novel about as well as the 1982 Conan movie did at following Robert E. Howard's stories.
So why am I someone who, above, lauded Conan as a genuinely good movie, while I'm kinda picking on Starship Troopers here?
John Milus, with his script, may have changed almost every detail about Howard's stories, and added things Howard never touched on, but his themes and attitudes are those Howard wrote, while Starship Troopers is a satire of something Heinlein was being deadly serious about (we'll ignore Heinlein's transformation from being VERY right wing in the 1940's-early/mid 1960's to becoming whatever he was in the 1970's - NEVER READ "TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE!" - except for assuming Heinlein got some good drugs from Philip K Dick).
So, enough ranting setup. Here's the core question I'm building to: At what point does an adaptation change the core themes of its source material to the point where - despite the individual qualities of the adaptation - its just... Not a good adaptation at all, and you wish the adapter has just chosen to "write something original" instead?
I could bring up more examples - 2010: The Year We Make Contact adds a cold war subplot, and "All these worlds..." Clarke didn't have, which certainly make the movie more entertaining than the book, but, "All these worlds..." DIRECTLY undercuts a core Clarke theme - that the Monolith builders sowed intelligence like gardeners, and "sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed." Lord of the Rings - I had no issues with cutting Tom Bombadil... Sure, he's a great character (representing Tolkien's 'ideal life"), but he's 50 pages of sitting around singing, which would bring your epic adventure movie to a screeching halt. But cutting "The Scouring of the Shire?" Tolkien wrote that's the single most important sequence in the trilogy - about how the "big things happening far away affect the 'little people' at home." Yeah, I REALLY think Jackson fell down there (and I heartily approve of almost all the changes he made for the movies with my biggest nit for "Fellowship" being Gandalf's sword, Glamdring, not glowing blue in Moria during the Orc attacks....).
Anyways - again, this is off topic for this week's newsletter so I'm just seeding a potential future newsletter on when adaptation moves to the point where it throws away the original intent of a work.
Oddly you can see that in long running franchises... Superman! Richard Donner and Zach Snyder leaned HARD into Jesus imagery on their movies. Of course Kal-El's creators were both Jewish and... Hmmm... Placing baby Kal-El into a rocket? Yeah Supes was TOTALLY created as a riff on Moses, with some "John Carter of Mars" "homage."
Well said, Simon. I am nine years older than you and long ago gave up any fear of childishness. The argument by people telling us we can’t enjoy what we’re watching or reading something because it’s not “challenging” enough, in their opinion, has bothered me for many years. This snobbery should have been chucked in the bin centuries ago but somehow still prevails. You can enjoy the new Scorsese and Marvel movies as much as each other without it being a problem as it’s your choice
Anyway, better not get started on a rant or I’ll be here all day 😁
Looking forward to seeing The Marvels this weekend and, yup, Loki ending was a triumph 👍🏼
Very nice write up! As a music composer for video games (and also a writer of fiction) I have a lot of admiration for game narrative creation. Something I don't think people give enough credit. Thanks for sharing :)
Loved this. I'm especially suspicious of anyone who uses "videogames" as a sweeping term when the videogames universe is so varied, from Flappy Bird to Hideo Kojima's masterpieces, just to mention some polar opposites. If when you think of videogames you only think of the former, then your opinion on the topic is heavily impoverished.
Ahh! Loved this. I think because I was homeschooled through middle and high school I was protected from the ridiculous labeling and exclusion of that time in most of our lives and have never fallen prey to other people’s labeling of me. I remember when I went to college (film school) it was the first time in a long time I was back in a typical social schooling setting. The teacher asked us all what kind of movies we wanted to make, and when I said I was excited to create entertaining blockbusters and adventure/action comedies, the other kids (and even the professor!) stared at me with such judgement! From that point on they ignored me in class, as if I was not to be taken seriously!! They all wanted to change the world with their “serious” student films. I was so glad to have been able to see that moment clearly and not be affected by their judgement because it struck me as incredibly juvenile. Incidentally, that day at lunch I connected with the other students that would become my best friends from then on! Also-- my “nerdy” fantasy thesis film went on to be widely known throughout the film school for doing all sorts of innovative things during production and even won over 20 awards and nominations at festivals-- it also screened at comic con! I guess it proves your point-- you can accomplish so much more and truly connect with your inner truth when you allow yourself to, well, just be yourself!
Also-- I’m watching One Piece and it’s flipping awesome! I’m having the same experience as you watching Naruto, and the same thoughts. I also LOVE the music. Naruto is next for me.
I also admit to being REALLY cheesed off during the promo tour for the film when Casper Van Dien said, "I think it's based on a book, or something," and Dina Meyer responded, "Really? I didn't know that!"
I dunno - struck me as two highly paid actors who didn't do their research.
This is a great post. You nail everything neatly and precisely in line, no bending of the metal or mishit hammer here. Okay, that's probably a stretched metaphor, but still, I really enjoyed reading this post, especially after I read Erik's piece and felt a little sad. A superb reply/cleansing of the air.
Congrats on your nomination!
When it comes to liking stuff, the best part of being an adult is getting to define what “adult” looks like. I think for our generation especially, we watched past generations just be so miserable because of the tight boxes they were stuffed in (for many reasons). If I continue to like a thing from my childhood and it brings me joy, why should I leave it behind? I am a 40 year old who watches cartoons and collects Funko Pops. I had writing professors try, and fail, to beat the genre out of me. I find joy in the fantastical and that’s where I happily squat. I feel bad for the people who are so self conscious, so concerned about how people perceive them, that they throw away things they love because being accepted by others means more.
Hear hear! And I say this as someone who's so thoroughly a superhero movie nerd I watched the Supergirl movie with Helen Slater and Faye Dunaway.
The 1982 Conan movie is genuinely a very good film, even though it bears about as much relation to the source material as the Will Smith "I, Robot," (so, other than the title and some character names, none at all...)
That about does it for truly excellent High Fantasy films of the 1970's and 80's. Even if I DO love "Beastmaster."
Otherwise, it's the same damn snobs and gatekeepers we've had for decades. We just use a different word to describe them ("gatekeeper"), and they use different terms to degrade. Like what you like. I won't tell you not to like it. I may tell you why *I* like or don't like a thing, but that doesn't mean you're wrong to disagree with me...
Unless it's about Chris Nolan's "Batman" trilogy, which sure as hell ain't Batman.
Anyways, all well stated, as usual, young man.
I'm a nerd, unequivocally. Like a read Claremont's X-Men and that's the only X-Men, DM card stamped 1987, 600 baud dial-up MUD playin' nerd. But I do not especially care for 'nerd culture.' Or any 'culture,' frankly.
It perhaps verged on the very border of a rant, but no complaints here, I love a good rant! 😂
I found the whole piece so interesting as I’d never really turned my mind to the idea that it was the culture that had changed. I just assumed that I’d become comfortable with the idea of being an intellectual AND a nerd, embracing the full spectrum of my nerd out loud because I was older and no longer GAF what people think.
I hope it has changed. I hope ‘the youth’ as I’m now allowed to say as I’m in my forties, are more accepting of each others interests and joys. I think they are - certainly it looks like it when I see my friends kids and the connections they’ve forged in fandoms.
But I absolutely reject the idea that intellectuals are not nerds. They’re just a very SPECIFIC kind of nerd. I wore being a ‘law nerd’ as a badge of honour for a long time - reading textbooks for fun etc etc. Just because it’s not sci fi doesn’t mean it’s not nerdy!