We Nerds Are Spoiled
The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle has a display of early fan-created magazines, or “fanzines.” They are crude, ink-smeared messes, created completely on typewriters with simple drawings of fantastic otherworldly scenes. One fanzine in particular caught my attention; it was from the 1920’s and had a headline that said something like, “Let Us Band Together and Write Hollywood to Influence them to Increase the Number of Science Fantasy Motion Pictures.” That was the position of nerds throughout history — outcasts trying to wield influence on a system that barely recognized they existed.
These early nerds were all pen pals with one another and went to conventions to find other people that shared their interest, but no one recognized them as having any value. If nerds were noticed at all, it was to make fun of them. Slowly the nerds joined together using whatever communication they could. Finding another person who you could talk to about Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics was rare — a freeing and beautiful thing.
It wasn’t until the late 1960s/early 1970s that the power structure began to shift. When “Star Trek” was cancelled at the end of its second season, fans organized a letter-writing campaign to convince the network to produce a third season. Not only did the network notice, it worked. They cut the budget and produced such embarrassing gems as “Spock’s Brain,” but miraculously, “Star Trek” got its third season.
From that point forward, the balance of power shifted. No longer would nerds sit back and take what they were given, they became active participants in the projects themselves. From “Star Trek” to “Star Wars,” the more popular the property, the more each group of fans has grown to to feel that they own it.
Which leads us to where we are today. We nerds are spoiled. No longer are we trading rare prints of “Them” and “War of Worlds” or rooting through boxes of old magazines to find a publicity photo from that one really scary episode of “Outer Limits” we saw when we were ten and only half-remember. Now the world is set up for nerds.
The internet is like one giant instant fanzine where movies can live or die years before the first frame is ever filmed. In 2002, J.J. Abrams wrote a script for a “Superman” reboot that got such bad online reviews that the studio scrapped the movie. It’s rumored that Jon Favreau leaked fake stills from the set of “Iron Man 2″ so that people would be pleasantly surprised when they see the finished product. They think he’s trying to trick them into thinking the movie might have something that they don’t like so they’ll be happy when it doesn’t.
Every detail of everything nerd-related is blogged, twittered and dissected to death so far in advance of it actually being available to experience that it’s hard not to already have an opinion before you experience it.
Joss Whedon’s recently-cancelled “Dollhouse” had an organized group to save it from cancellation before its first episode was shown on TV. Think about that. People were passionately defending something they had never seen. It certainly wasn’t his best show, but it sputtered and lurched into its second season based solely on the misplaced enthusiasm of a small group of fans.
We are spoiled. That power has started to corrupt the structure of nerd culture.
If we can’t watch a show online within a day after it’s broadcast, we dismiss the network it’s on as out of touch. There is no middle ground in our world anymore. We either love something or we hate it. If the last episode of “Battlestar Galactica” doesn’t live up to our expectations, we dismiss the whole series.
Just this last weekend a “Dr. Who” special aired on the BBC in the UK. It’s not airing in America until mid-December. Of course I had to stoop to less than legal means to watch it. Wait a whole month! Are they kidding?
I used to wait years to watch it back in the 1970s. Buying smuggled copies of Dr. Who magazine to see what the next actor to play the part looked like two years before I could ever see him on TV.
I do miss the old days. I miss not even hearing about something until it hits the theater. Discovering it years after its release on some late-night movie showcase.
They also spoil us by playing to our worst tendencies. Why do you think every toy you owned as a child is now a summer blockbuster? They know you’ll talk about it. Incredibly creative people who could be doing amazing original work are stuck trying to figure out how to make “GI Joe” into a movie that will appeal to 18- to 30-year-olds, when the toys themselves are intended for 6- to 12-year-olds.
What world have we wrought?
I think it’s time for us, as true nerds, to relinquish some of our power. To let bad shows get cancelled without complaint and to quit obsessively searching for details about movies in development. Let them attract our attention with their awesomeness, not with their marketing.
Right now, our power is a chaotic squall of fan fiction and complaint. The people that create often don’t read online commentary because their “fans” are often their harshest critics. We not only boss around the creative people, we scare them.
Let’s take a step back and let the things we enjoy breathe and grow. Let’s be complimentary when we like a series and not complain about minor plot problems or slight inconsistencies in the mythos. Let’s stop sneaking onto sets and taking spy photos. Let’s stop dissecting this thing we love before we kill it.