Geeks, Christians, and Pop Culture
July 11, 2012
San Diego Comic Con has been in Geek News a great deal the last few weeks. Over the years it has become the Mecca of Geekiness for quite a few comic book nerds. (Sadly, this particular nerd has never had the opportunity to attend.) However, some of the news I have been reading has not come across positively. Many articles and blogs on the interwebz have been talking about how SDCC has become a “pop culture event” more than a comic book convention. Some have mentioned how difficult it has become for the average fan to get into SDCC and when they do, these fans find it very hard to interact with the artists and writers of their favorite comics.
It would seem, from the interactions I’ve had over Twitter and Facebook, that the common geeks and nerds feel as if they are being shoved out of the way at SDCC to make room for Hollywood. SDCC is becoming an opportunity for the beautiful people to show off their talents and advertise their newest projects. Is this bad? For Hollywood, it’s not bad at all. For those seeking to promote the next blockbuster movie or video game, it’s really good marketing. However, for the average geek or nerd who just wants a chance to chat with their favorite artist or comic company it becomes a bit of a problem.
Why has this problem come to life? I believe it is because we’ve gone mainstream and, honestly, this has not been historically good for fringe groups. For example, Christians have often faced similar problems down through the years. Early Christianity made many inroads among slaves and the poor because it offered them an equality that the surrounding culture did not. Early Christians felt empowered by an equality unheard of during this period in history! For someone to say, “there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” was a radical idea and it’s still one many people have trouble grasping.
However, after a few centuries, the Empire took over. If you know a bit of history or have watched the Star Wars films, you realize the state has often co-opted local religions for its own purposes. (Darth Vader, anyone?) The people on the margins find themselves forced out of an active role in their faith communities while the people with power and influence rise to the top. Some of the ones in power even began to change the Christian story to the point it would become unrecognizable to Christians who had just lived a few hundred years before.
Instead of a story that gives hope to the poor and hurting, it becomes one of power and privilege. The leaders of that time took the idea of Christ as King and used that story to place themselves in His seat. They built up kingdoms and wealth and ignored the plight of the geek…errr….the Christians that were on the fringes. Eventually, those on the fringes find there is no longer a place for them in the faith and they move on to something else or end up becoming a cog in the religious machine of the powerful.
I see the same thing happening in geek culture. Much like the early Christians, geeks got very happy when we saw nerdy things becoming mainstream. Hey, we have made it! No more getting beat up and bullied, right? You like the movies and stories we like so we can all be friends, right? Nope. Didn’t happen. The stories that got many of us through much ridicule and bullying are now blasting from almost every movie theater but the non-geeks are starting to claim them as their story and rewrite them. Geeks who are unaware of their history of being on the outside also start writing these new stories. How could this happen? Surely we would be able to lend our voice to these great stories? Don’t we have people like Kevin Smith working hard to make sure geek stories are being told? No, instead we see people like Smith often forced off mainstream projects because he tries to keep it real. He doesn’t seem to have forgotten the school of hard knocks that many geeks experienced as they were growing up.
So, like early Christianity, geeks are realizing our stories are being stolen from us. Pop culture has taken over and it is making it difficult for us to go on our geek pilgrimages. It has also begun to renvision many of our stories.
For instance, the newest Spiderman movie left out one of the most famous lines often attributed to either Peter Parker or Uncle Ben. The line is, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” (In the original comic, it was a blurb at the end of the story.) I believe the director’s excuse for this is that the “subtext” of this line was present throughout the story but I would have to disagree. This was an egregious error! This line becomes Peter Parker/Spiderman’s moral compass down through the years. It is a creed he is called affirm and reaffirm on an almost daily basis.
Of course, this isn’t my only problem with the movie. We get to see Peter Parker use his “great power” to bully Flash Thompson making himself no better than the one he beats up. We also see them denerdify Peter’s science geekiness. Yes, the guy from the comics who can’t get a date because he studies hard and works in the science lab is changed to a cool skateboarder who steals his web fluid from Oscorp and later claims it as his own invention. He also takes his father’s math formula to Dr. Conners and tells the good Doctor it was his original idea.
So, geeks and Christians, if you go mainstream remember that you’re going to lose a bit of your story in the telling. Often you will find yourself given “great power” and it will tempt you to avoid the great responsibility coming your way. You will also find that this great power makes it much easier to ignore the poor and hurting and just focus on your own desires and quest for personal vengeance. The Peter Parker of the comics learned rather quickly that this was not the proper path and I know this isn’t the message from the Greatest Story ever told.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?”
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