The State of Fandom as Expressed by Ordell and Louis in Jackie Brown

Not a long one today.

Laying unintended meta reads into a film is one of the joys of the modern age. Everyone is a sometime-philosopher as the moon waxes and wanes, and thanks to the miracle of the Internet we can blurt our random musings into the night sky. Occasionally they will be heard by an equally-unintended audience.

To paint it with my own metaphor, I think that fandom is akin to Ordell and Louis from the inestimable masterpiece Jackie Brown.

We’re all friends on the surface tied by a thin bond, ready to turn and accuse each other of treachery. Fans turn on each other, and attack for a large number of nonsensical reasons. My favorite is probably when they rush to attack/defend on behalf of an artist or performer, only to turn on them for their own dysfunctional reasons.

Fans turn on the stars they love over the most minor (perceived) heterodoxy. Fans have turned on the creators of their content in a heartbeat. Like hungry dogs, their only desire is for fresh meat.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, either. Alan Dean Foster himself lamented “toxic fans” after having a cup of vomit thrown on him. Harlan Ellison wrote a powerful essay called “Xenogenesis” about the monsters that fans can be. The stories of fans, regardless of political affiliation, acting like completely entitled children are not new. They are eternal.

Don’t blame social media. All it’s done is allowed people to shine a giant spotlight on their behavior. It’s also allowed some creators and franchise employees to reveal themselves as monsters on their own, but that’s a post for a different day.

In the interim, watch Jackie Brown and let me what you think of the comparison.

Ordell and Louis in Jackie Brown
Or, you know, just watch Jackie Brown. Everyone should.

Nerd No Longer?

I confess that the topic of “how to define a nerd” is more than a little overplayed. Heck, at this point, an effort to define “nerd” would likely get someone slapped with the less-appealing descriptor, “gatekeeper.”

Rest assured it’s not my intent to define or limit anything. This is about asking questions as I try to figure out whether I still belong to the “tribe of nerd.” I’m just “wondering aloud,” which I hope is still permitted within the lanes of the Information Superhighway.

Why wonder about it in blog form, and not just in my head? The simple, direct answer is, “Because I want to.”

Baron Munchausen in a nerd blog about nerds who are nerds because they are nerds who love Baron Munchausen.
“Because I want to” is the same reason I’m including a screencap from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, an inspired work from Terry Gilliam.

Shifting Sands

As I was growing up, “nerds” were easy to recognize by their outward obsessions and social idiosyncrasies. It was a put-down, I suppose, though I never saw anyone get bent out of shape about it.

People love to muse about how “nerds” have taken over the world through Silicon Valley businesses and cultural infiltration.

We live in a world now where comic book movies are a guaranteed cash cow for a major production company that owns nearly every other studio. You can’t walk down the street without seeing a T-Shirt that has Iron Man, Captain America, Darth Vader, or some other sign of brand loyalty emblazoned across it.

As I thought about this, my first conclusion was to think there’s no such a thing as a “nerd” anymore. After all, if all of these things are popular to mainstream audiences, it doesn’t mean that those people are becoming “nerds.”

I wanted to say it’s just an easy shorthand word, appropriated by people who want to own it. It felt like an easy, logical conclusion to reach.

That’s not true, though. I know this because I’ve been to DragonCon*, and other conventions, and there were certainly “nerds” there. There were people whose obsession levels outstripped mine by a fathom and a half. For what it’s worth, I consider it crazy and beautiful in its own way.

I think it’s just possible that what some consider “nerdy” is just normal idiosyncratic behavior. I riff on the odd topics, and I enjoy discussing Star Wars so much that some people avoid conversations about it. Some embrace it. But I’m not talking about what character said what, or insisting people adhere to the expanded “canon.”

I enjoy talking about a lot of things. I enjoy analyzing literature and film; that’s not nerdy, is it?

DragonCon logo in a part of the nerd blog where I talked about DragonCon because DragonCon is a part of nerds who love DragonCon and like repeating DragonCon in alt tags.
I did have a good time at DragonCon. Mainly because I just hung out with some fun people, more than anything else. One of the fun people was not the infamous YayShawndorman. He’s never fun.

I say this with love in my heart: I consider it odd that DragonCon doesn’t have a secure site. Considering it’s a convention by and for self-described nerds, you’d think an SSL certificate would be on their list. 

Nerd That Never Was?

I never thought of myself as a nerd.

I know that may seem odd coming from someone who participates in a podcasting network called “The Nerd Party.” The network is focused on what we consider to be “nerdy” things. There are shows discussing a lot of nerdy topics, focused on franchises typically considered “nerdy.”

I’m on another comedy show that has “Nerds” in the title, but I don’t know if we really are “nerdy” on that show. I guess there have been “nerdy” topics, but mostly it’s not. Does that disqualify me from being a “nerd?” Am I just like the people I tried to construct in my head earlier in this post, who fancy themselves nerds but really just like popular culture that was born out of a “nerdy” IP bought by a giant conglomerate?

I navigated a weird channel defined by two strong shores; an obsessive love of the music of The Doors, and an obsessive love of Star Wars. I was a friendly kid, but socially awkward at times. A large part of that had to do with environmental factors, though. Does that disqualify me from being a “nerd?”

I wasn’t one to wear an “I Grok Spock” shirt, though I did love Star Trek on the whole. I read the technical manuals and grew to love pointing out when things were patently malarkey. Does that make me a nerd, or someone who just likes Star Trek?

Most of the television I watched was mainstream stuff. I was a big fan of The Simpsons, but for awhile everyone was. I played Dungeons & Dragons for a hot minute, but most of the time I wasn’t even concerned about rolling the dice. That part was stultifying. I enjoyed the creation of the character, and the opportunity to think up a back story.

Just because I can recall old Simpsons episodes at whim, or other trivia from entertainment I watched, simply means I spent far, far too long watching reruns of old episodes instead of trying to be productive. Is someone a “nerd” just for having a good memory of popular entertainment?

I didn’t even read The Lord of the Rings until college, when I was snowed in during a blizzard and the Wi-Fi wasn’t a thing yet. I saw the movies like everyone else, but I never spoke Elvish. Where do I stand after that?

Eyeglasses meant to signify the fact that eyeglasses signify nerds in our culture that signifies nerds with eyeglasses while repeating the word nerds and eyeglasses to talk about eyeglasses with nerds.
Somehow, a universal signifier of nerds is poor eyesight.

Nerd No Longer?

I used to see the Marvel®™© movies at the earliest possible showing, and even bought Mondo glasses or special booklets when I saw them at an Alamo Drafthouse. I did the same for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Marketing Words That Indicate a Franchise in the Making.

The fire isn’t there anymore, though. I’m not even all that excited for #AvengersEndgame. I’m seeing it after opening night.

So I guess the question becomes, is it possible to be a “nerd,” and then stop being one? Even though I love the same things, is my lack of overt enthusiasm the telltale sign that they’re now just things I like, as opposed to things I’m “nerdy” about?

Do I have to stop using “nerd?”

Nerd Forever

At the end of all this musing, I realized that I am still a “nerd.” If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I’m sure a lot of people have tapped out before this point. Some have even been outraged by my characterizations of “nerddom.”

How did I realize this?

I looked back at the topics I’ve written about on this blog. “Nerd” seems like the only word that fits for someone who would write this nonsense.

So…false alarm. I’m still a nerd.

Thought Experiment

In many ways, this post was a thought experiment. It was more a thought experiment for me than anything else, because I have no way of polling people to see if they had specific reactions to things I said along the way to the conclusion.

I think it’s paired with this idea of complexity that gets downplayed, or outright ignored, in today’s culture. Everything is a conclusion, and people presume that those conclusions were quickly reached. They never care about the reasoning, just whether people reached the “right conclusion” about things.

But even so simple a sentiment as “I’m a nerd” carries with it a burst of introspection. I may have been through these thoughts a million times before. I may have come to the same conclusion more than once.

Unlike a machine, people don’t just accept the outcome as resolved and move on from there. They consider, and reconsider, and only the most intractable think that their first conclusion is their best. They may get to the best possible conclusion, but it’s because they’ll get there repeatedly.

I’m sure I’ll return to the theme, if not this specific thread, a number of times in the coming days and years. It’s unavoidable. Here’s hoping I, and others, can consider another thing along the way.

I’ll let you figure out where I was going with that.

Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin which is a Batman movie featuring Batman & Robin facing off against Mr. Freeze.
Freeze is pondering….

Never Been Nerdy

Recently, a friend and I discussed what we saw as a palpable shift in “Nerd Culture.” We agreed that a tectonic shift happened once the things “nerds” loved came to dominate popular culture.

I offered what I thought was a neat insight, that “nerds used to be punk rock.”

Nerds Used to Be Punk Rock

The gentle implication of that is that the “nerds” from “our day” were once proud iconoclasts comfortable with being on the outside of social circles, and finding their own tribe.

The more damning read is that the “nerds,” now in the dominant position, are the bullies. They’ve become what was always perceived as the antithesis of the nerds, the “popular kids.”

I’m not going to go through the “litany” of nerdy things that are now “mainstream.” You know them, and I’m not trying for word count this time. The Big Bang Theory leveraged nominal pop culture references to a lengthy television run while cloaked in a patina of “nerdiness.”

It’s the classic conundrum. Have “nerds” become the very thing they hate? Are we all Charles Foster Kane?

Citizen Kane is one of the greatest films ever created. I don’t care whether it’s hip to think otherwise now.

A Passionate Note

While thinking through this all, it seems that the metric for determining if someone is a “nerd” about something is, simply, passion.

Am I passionate about things some people consider “nerdy”? Sure! I’m passionate about a lot of things, from grammar to the the fact that you should eat with your mouth closed. Some have told me through the years that I’m too passionate about some things. I concede

People are passionate about a lot of things, though. There are people who are passionate about watching The Bachelor. There are other people passionate about well-maintained yards.

For that reason, I’d disqualify simple passion as the identifier of a “nerd.” Since people can be passionate about anything, that’s a real broad metric and would mean just about everyone would be a nerd. As attractive a thought as it might be to champion while walking home from the The Breakfast Club, it’s more than a little reductive.

A Question of Fixation

You could postulate, then, that what you’re passionate about would “make you a nerd.” This would follow as a way highlight personality distinctions between someone passionate about Dungeons & Dragons as different sort of person than someone passionate about horticulture.

That sentiment seems primed for a charge of “gatekeeping.” While it’s a very popular thing to do when someone doesn’t comprehend a larger point and so someone wants to undercut your point, it would be a stretch to say that I’m setting criteria to determine membership in a group, or acting as a virtual bouncer at the metaphorical door.

It should be clear I’m not judging anyone’s likes or dislikes, or setting a bar for entry. As an aside, I find such charges curious since no one can determine what you like but you, and can sod off otherwise.

I’m talking about my attempt to figure out what, specifically, causes someone to be called a “nerd” in the first place.

Wikipedia seems to fixate, itself, on the idea of the “nerd stereotype” and have difficulty on its own nailing down the definition. There is a fascinating portion there of it about the possible etymology of the word, which I guess makes me nerdy because I read it?

Napoleon Dynamite nerd used for SEO purposely because it's soulless and manipulative
More of a geek or a dork, honestly.

Closer to the Root

As I kept digging, the question isn’t whether “those things are nerdy anymore,” but rather, “Were they ever nerdy in the first place?

The faint hint of this insight was caused by the thought that things considered “nerdy” when I was younger are “pop culture” now. It made sense that a source of discomfort for older “nerds” was that the things which were niche – comic book characters especially – are now commonplace.

That could make it a function of age, of a giant midlife crisis in slow motion. I’ve seen plenty of people wander that path, insisting what they loved when younger was a better version of what people love now. I’m talking about a different attitude. I’ve seen a discomfiting habit, among “nerds” in my own age range, to phase out of current culture and fixate on things they know from the past the same way our parents’ generation did.

The things we called “nerdy” were always pop culture items for kids. Everything from Transformers to G.I. Joe, to comic books and more, has always been pop culture, and heavily marketed. They were toys given long-running television shows which were 30-minute commercials at their core. The one exception might be the aforementioned Dungeons & Dragons, except even that got a cartoon and a movie I never bothered watching.

In other words, the things that I, and almost all the people I’ve personally known who called themselves nerds, have always been the focus of box office success, televisions shows, and overpriced trinkets for the crapper. Things haven’t changed, it’s that people have refused to let go of the things they loved as kids.

Still Pondering

As I kept mulling  these ideas, I began to doubt if I’ve ever truly been a “nerd.” It seems now that it might simply be a mantle I claimed, but don’t deserve. I’ve loved things with a childish love, but as established above, passion isn’t a solid criterion.

Passion would certainly explain the behaviors of some nerds who are now the bullies. Even the ones who claim they’re against bullying are all about proving their…whatever. I don’t pay attention, honestly, and don’t know why other people do.

What’s different is priority, I guess. My own father nurtured a love of model trains for his entire life, but  never got excited enough about model trains to seek out arguments with total strangers about them. Perhaps he would have, if social media had existed.

I doubt it. I knew the guy pretty well, he was fairly grounded. At the end of the day, then it seems that the qualifying characteristic of a nerd is…childishness? That can’t be right.

Can it?

OK, maybe the fact that I made this image is evidence I’m a nerd. But if so, a funny one.

The Immutable Impermanence of Character Trivia: The Corollary Argument to The Perpetual Reboot Theory

Previously, I spoke about the Perpetual Reboot Theory I’m forwarding as a counterpoint to the seemingly-popular theory of the “Perpetual Second Act” for comic book characters. In fact, my soundly-argued and robust counter-theory sprang out of a similar debate, also (inevitably) with my pal Craig as we were preparing to record an episode of Words With Nerds.

We were debating whether Wonder Woman’s one weakness remains “being bound by a man.” Setting aside all the “feminist” sensibilities that offends, and the character’s original fetish inspiration, I contended that in these modern times such a thing no longer applied. Wonder Woman has changed through the years, and this aspect of her is undoubtedly lost to the mists of time and previous iterations.

In what appears to be a corollary of the “Perpetual Second Act” theory, Craig contended that what was once true for a comic book character is always true, until it is specifically contradicted.

This thought, while intriguing and creepily Orwellian in some sense, is something with which I cannot agree. After realizing I was making no headway with my point in person, I decided to give voice here in my own public forum. I pay for the URL, I may as well use it.

Everything Changes, Everything’s the Same

As they are quietly reinvented for each decade, comic book characters regularly slough off or retain as much of their personal story as the new creative team wishes. They are, in other words, in a state of perpetual reboot.

As they are reimagined, powers are gained and lost. Aspects of their origins are updated to play better for newer audiences. As audience sensibilities change, so too does much of the accompanying effluvia of a character.

While certain baselines have to remain for the new character to retain identifiability, the new creative team is free to ignore or include whatever they wish from each previous era. Batman’s parents are shot dead during a mugging, but the event from which they were returning can be modified so long as the key element remains. Someone in the future may well decide they’re coming back from a circus, though I’m sure that would anger someone and become its own historical curio as circuses are now out of fashion.

As a side note, what holds true for a comic book character isn’t necessarily going to carry over to their movie doppelgänger, and vice versa. That’s rather obvious, though the two media certainly do inform each other.

Returning to the sticking point that spurred all of this, Wonder Woman’s “only weakness,” as it was revealed decades ago, was being bound by a man. Again, this makes sense in terms of the character’s apparent origin as an S&M fetish character, but I don’t think anyone honestly would argue that it remains her weakness in the modern day.

A wonderful discussion among nerds on Stack Exchange illustrates my point. While Wonder Woman did have the weakness if her bracelets were bound by a man, reference to it has dissipated through time. As with every question about a character, it depends on the time period/iteration.

Let’s use another long-running character as an example. Superman has seen his fair share of weird powers born from the necessity to meet publishing deadlines through the years. A great rundown of the weirdest is here.

I’m sure no one really considers Superman’s powers even to have included generating miniature versions of himself out of his hands. Not just that he doesn’t have the power to do so anymore, but that it didn’t happen in current “continuity.” Yet, going with the idea that an idea is forever in place until specifically contradicted, he did. He must have, so long as you discount the idea that the Superman of the 1950s is not precisely the same Superman as exists in the 2010s.

Bat Shark Repellent

To demonstrate my point, I asked my esteemed Words With Nerds cohost a question regarding Batman.

The question was whether Bat Shark Repellent exists outside the continuity for the 1966 movie, and attendant television series of that era.

Setting aside the fact that there is a reference to it in Lego Batman, which is a sendup of the entire history of the franchise, I don’t think any fan would seriously maintain that such a thing is in Batman’s arsenal. Frank Miller’s Year One and Dark Knight Returns, key reinventions of the character that informed many later versions, certainly don’t use it. I’m pretty sure that Alan Moore would cook and eat your family if you suggested it had a place in The Killing Joke.

Moving to film for the sake of normal people, Christopher Nolan’s Batman works don’t seem like the sort to keep it in stock; given we see the origin rebooted to fit the modern era, we certainly see neither its creation nor its application. Bat Shark Repellent doesn’t exist for Tim Burton’s envisioning of the character. It doesn’t even exist for Joel Schumacher’s, though one could argue it would seem to belong there.

The retort to this could easily be that movies are “different from comics.” But they are different only in terms of the medium used to reboot the character. It’s not really different than when a new team takes over Wonder Woman.

I’m sure some creator has also included nods to such a thing, and I’m not going to bother debating the fun they certainly have with meta nods to character history. Those meta nods are in fun, a wink at the audience through the fourth wall, though I’m sure some consider them validation when necessary.

To Be Perfectly Clear

The problem, then, has become fans themselves. That’s a theme that I’ve come back to repeatedly over time, usually throwing stones at my fellow Star Wars fans.

Possessed by an obsession with “continuity” and “connectedness,” fans have become rigid interpreters of back story and what is inviolate about it. They will accept change, but it must be on their specific and rigorous terms only. Again, you will find similar Star Wars and Star Trek fans demanding their place as the arbiter of something is specifically contradicted, they hold it as sacrosanct and inviolable.

To be sure, I’m speaking broadly of one set of fans. I have to believe that there are plenty of others who have recognized that this is all supposed to be fun, and if an iteration of the character from the 1960s reflected those times, it’s OK to ignore it now.

But more importantly, there is the question of who among the fans is the more authoritative voice for what may be disregarded. Sales obviously play a role, but perhaps a Ruling Fan Council should be brought into play. If a majority of that Council likes an element that hasn’t been mentioned in a while, the publishers are duty-bound to bring it back.

Perhaps certain demographics can be given more weight. Perhaps to have a vote you must prove you’re one of the best and most knowledgeable fans of all in a trivia contest. Then, at least, all that esteem you’re due for knowing minor trivia about a character’s history pays off.

Honestly, I’d love it if the worthless things I remember about Star Wars could get me a seat at that table. Because then Hoojibs are back and my #Hoojibs4Life campaign wasn’t for nothing.

The Concluding Untenability

It’s plainly untenable to contend that once a story or character element exists, it remains in effect until specifically contradicted. This gets muddied further when current creative teams acknowledge or use elements of previous iterations. A default position could become that those “consistencies” don’t exist until the creative team decides to bring it into their own continuity.

However, as stated above, that doesn’t equate to a blanket claim that every character element is destroyed with each reinvention. After all, despite the changing times, Captain America is still the poster child for Performance Enhancing Drugs.

In fact, it is further tempting to avoid the argument as a whole and think of it as Schrodinger’s Comic, where an element both does and does not exist until the current creative team decides to acknowledge or discard it. But that gets us back to the problematic idea that an item is inviolate until negative acknowledgement, which is again an untenable position.

Perhaps what you insist on retaining for a character reveals more about how you want to see them than the current state of the property about which you’re talking. I’m no psychiatrist, so I wouldn’t know.

I just know that I should, after all, be class president.

Flashback Blog: Mace-ing with the Dark Side

It’s Sunday, I’m tired, I’m working from home to prep for a skirmish about a site at work (I will win) and I’ve got about 6 blogs in progress but not ready for prime-time. So I dug one out of the old Star Wars blog archive from the original kessel korner. I’m on a mission to take those all into this archive anyway since they’re bound to torch that area anyway as they rebuild the site. They’re shutting down the forums, it’s only a matter of time until they get to the blogs.

So I picked one that’s near and dear to my heart, and at the time generated a fair amount of controversy among my fellow fans. To be honest, I stand by my conclusions, and think that it certainly makes for a richer interpretation. Perhaps it was just born out of watching LOST too much. The Sam Jackson pic is the one I used all those years ago, the lightsaber is just added for flavor.

Anyway, enjoy.

Mace-ing with the Dark Side

Originally published on May 13, 2006, at the original kessel korner

Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu
One of the best characters from the prequels, and one whose depth and importance is often overlooked. This is largely due to myopic fanboy bias and whining. There, I said it.

This blog is in response to an ongoing conversation thread regarding Mace Windu in the HS forums. In it, I stated that Mace Windu would have gone to the Dark Side if he had successfully killed Palpatine, and that interpretation was challenged. Here, I will provide my points as to why I think Windu was about to become a new Dark Lord.

First, this is definitely open to interpretation. My interpretation is that Windu was ready to do whatever was necessary for a “final victory”; to me, the willingness to win without principles equals a “Dark Side” movement.

Look at the whole picture. Mace was ready to take over the Senate (with good intentions, but remember that road to Hell being paved with them), in effect eliminating the Republic. The implication was that the Senators in league with Palpy would have to be removed from power, forcefully if necessary (no pun intended, but very much enjoyed). This is why Yoda said the plan led to a “dark place.”

Windu had one final step to take, since his thoughts were already going to that dark place. Kill a “defenseless” person to enact the plan.

Now, the roaring counterpoint I expect to see eloquently stated below is that Palpatine was never “defenseless”. I agree that he was completely without the means to defend himself. However, he was at the mercy of Mace Windu. Windu decided to show none, and he had a plan to take control and “clean out” the senate. Sounds like the making of a Dark Side switch to me.

Remember, Anakin did not become a Sith Lord by simply killing Dooku. But it made his later Dark Side actions easier, as it is a slippery slope once you are willing to leave your principles behind.

Mace Windu replica hilt
Awesome hilt design, and purple is my favorite color too. It’s also Sam Jackson’s, and he campaigned Lucas to let him have a purple saber, which broke the ‘rule’ for Jedi..

I don’t see the line, “Too weak…I’m too weak…” as an outright lie. There is a grain of truth in there. All the best lies, after all, have at least a grain of truth in them.

The balance of the Force is teetering on the edge at the moment Palpatine is staring down Windu’s blade. Palpatine had very obviously poured everything he had into killing Windu. I doubt that part of his master plan was to have his face get screwed up/ have his true face revealed, after all. Windu offered more resistance than he could handle. And he was about to kill him.

Palpatine had one chance at that moment. Anakin Skywalker.

Anakin steps in. Once he takes his energy to the Dark Side, the balance is tipped. The Dark Side experiences…well, let’s call it a “surge.” Yoda feels it halfway across the galaxy.*

Palpatine gets the necessary “rejuvenation” at that moment to just flat-out destroy Windu quickly and easily. Mace’s missing saber was pretty much irrelevant at that point; it definitely made it easier, though.

So in a way, Anakin cost Windu his life but saved his soul.

…From a certain point of view. 😉

* I don’t care if a map somewhere shows it’s less than that. You get the point.