American pop culture isn’t what it used to be, guys. With Friday’s Avengers: Age of Ultron release, I feel like we’ve stepped into an alternate universe where suddenly things that might get you shoved into a locker in high school are suddenly so cool that everyone loves them. The only things keeping me from actually believing that this is some crazy alternate universe are that Christian radio stations haven’t started playing Dimmu Borgir and Republicans aren’t overwhelmingly on the right side of historical social issues. Suddenly, watching a fantasy series on HBO and people spending billions of dollars to see Marvel superheroes destroy cities to save them isn’t the domain of guys living deep within the dark recesses of their parents’ partially finished basements. You can, somewhat miraculously, enjoy comic book superheroes, video games and high fantasy novels today without people assuming that you’ve never been in the same room as a woman.
The “why” of the sudden popularity of nerdy shit becoming something people worldwide love is a lot more complex. If I had to take a few guesses, I think the power of a strong Disney/Marvel/Lucas Films conglomerate, combined with the Internet and an age where schools are starting to embrace technology has generated a world in which people don’t necessarily break their interests down into things socially acceptable for their cliques. If you had told me, back in 2000, that one day A Song of Ice and Fire would be a multi-billion dollar TV property, I would have called you crazy. If you had told me George R.R. Martin would still be working on the books, I would have totally believed you. I mean, we’re like 6 months from sticking him in a room with hungry crocodiles that get closer to him every second he isn’t typing words on a page. The man writes slowly.
Maybe I’m just remembering the bad parts of high school (there were a lot of those), but people were more obsessed with reality TV than they were about knowing who the fuck John Snow’s parents were when I was a kid. Looking at how things are now though, we’ve got this wonderful resurgence of content that is both really entertaining and still the kind of stuff a nerdy 90s kid would love. Star Trek came back and was awesome, Star Wars is returning to glory this year and everyone in the world is talking about a book series once thought to be so esoterically inaccessible in its depth to most outsiders that it was largely written off by anyone outside the most hardcore of fantasy fiction fans.
Beyond all this, I’ve barely touched on gaming, which has always been my poison of choice outside more recent things like “booze” and “having sex as much as possible”. So much of the American public owns consoles that Call of Duty has practically become a family party game. My dad plays them now. It’s a weird world we’re living in, not confined to more casual things like Mario. People are actually trying to experience deeper stories with games, like the absolutely amazing The Last of Us and the twisted crime drama of Grand Theft Auto V.
All of this weaves into our generation in some pretty weird ways. We’re the generation that saw both the X-Men cartoons in the 90s and X-Men movies today. Basically every kid now has access to some kind of gaming platform, even if it’s only a mobile hand-held. Minecraft, once the domain of guys that wanted to build replicas of the USS Enterprise using only cleverly placed blocks of colored sheep wool, is one of the best selling games on every app store.
We’re living in some bizarro nerdtopia populated with expansive space, fantasy and comic book epics, and I don’t think anyone has really realized it yet.
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