Geeks GUTting Movies

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

universum

It’s become a cliche to note that large swathes of popular culture have been taken over by nerds and geeks. Zombies, vampires, hobbits, monsters, aliens, and superheroes abound. Among this summer’s most hotly anticipated long-form digital entertainments are TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, GODZILLA, MALEFICENT, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST*, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. (Sure, there’s always Oscar season come September, but hasn’t it felt like an irrelevant afterthought for years now?) But I’ve noticed lately that we’re not just getting geek movies and TV, we’re getting a whole new geek way of experiencing movies and TV.

For example, have you noticed the trend among movie geeks to look for Grand Unified Theories? Like physicists trying to unify universal gravitation and quantum mechanics, the highest form of geek movie appreciation is the theory that unites disparate films. There’s the Pixar Theory that posits all of the studio’s films occur in the same universe, the Tarantino theory that hypothesizes that all of his films are connected, and another that ventures that “Breaking Bad” leads to “The Walking Dead.”

cosmicwebWhat to make of this? I think it’s attributable to at least two geek characteristics. First, there’s a strong preference for art that involves a lot of world-building. Science fiction, fantasy, video games, and Dungeons & Dragons all to one degree or another involve the creation of immersive alternative realities, geographies, and myths. If geek art values world-building, why shouldn’t geek appreciation do so as well? Second, geeks love having their “minds blown.” That phrase crops up repeatedly.** Like Darwin explaining evolution, they want the curtain pulled back to reveal a complex underlying structure. The Tarantino theory linked to above was written in response to the question, “What fan theories have blown your mind with their devastating logic?” Here’s Cracked on 6 Movie and TV Universes That Overlap in Mind-blowing Ways. On reddit, readers are constantly looking for mind-blowing booksOne of the most popular Internet memes plays off Morpheus’s mind-blowing (and simultaneously world-building) exposition in THE MATRIX.

Woah.

Woah.

All of this raises the real question: why do geeks find these Grand Unified Theories for art so compelling? Why the need to have their minds blown? And how soon before they start applying this kind of appreciation to non-geek art?, e.g. “This theory of how the Warner Brothers 30s crime movies all occurred in the same universe will blow your mind.” Any thoughts?

Related

  • Back here I wrote about ROOM 237, the documentary about Kubrick’s THE SHINING that consisted of mind-blowing fan theories.
  • Paleo Retiree mulls over NYMPHOMANIAC. He told me he’s working feverishly on a post titled “How the Films of Lars Von Trier, Roy Andersson, and Ingmar Bergman All Take Place In the Same Universe.”

*By the way, as a kid I spent way more time than is healthy puzzling over and arguing about Chris Claremont’s and John Byrne’s X-Men storylines. If you told 12 year-old me that “Days of Future Past” would one day be a huge summer blockbuster, but that 38 year-old me wouldn’t give a shit, I’m fairly certain that 12 year-old me would cry like a 4 year-old girl.

**Pardon the pretentious digression, but I’m reminded of Susan Sontag’s comment that, “Religion is probably, after sex, the second oldest resource which human beings have available to them for blowing their mind.” Given that the average geek has no use for religion, maybe they need art to fulfill this mind-blowing function.

About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
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40 Responses to Geeks GUTting Movies

  1. Geeks don’t really get art at all in my experience. They like entertainment though. Sure the line is blurry to us, but it’s not at all blurry to them. That’s why they like the theories, it extends the entertainment, draws it out.

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    • Not quite sure what you’re getting at. Can you expand on it a little?

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      • Well, none of my geek friends seem to at all in tune with their senses. They really don’t notice their surroundings at all and are kind of mystified and amused by someone like me who does and comments on that all the time. They seem to regard senses as a raw info feed not much good until abstracted and sucked of it’s data. And since they aren’t sensuous people they have an abstracted take on what we would call “the arts” which to me seems very dry and dull.

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      • Oh, I think I see. I guess for some people the theorizing is everything.

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      • Right. To The Wonder is never in danger of being a geek fav.

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  2. they've had their revenge says:

    This happens because they’ve all read the same shit and have been exposed to nothing else. After reading the hobbit they can’t be bothered to read a grimm’s fairy tale or sir Gawain and the green knight or beowolf. After watching a Zombie movie they won’t be the least bit curious about African religion or Haiti or a real monster like toussaint. It’s just the same shit over and over and over repeated beyond the point of cliché and when they look back at their ignorance and selfreferenctal smallness they come away not with shame but a fucking grand theory of shit culture. And it is shit culture, how far back do you have to go that the common culture was a lot of bible a little Shakespeare and not much else. Did they do worse then this? Necessity’s a mother.

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    • I agree with you that there’s a self-referential quality about it. Many (tho not all) geeks seem content to stay within certain proscribed geek spheres and don’t venture beyond them. On the other hand, doesn’t that describe most of us?

      Also, a lot of geek culture doesn’t appeal to me, but some of it does. Lots of my cinephile friends don’t like TV series that much, but I love “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “Firefly,” etc. Calling it “shit culture” is harsh. I may not get much out of their GUTs, but that doesn’t mean I think what they’re doing is invalid. It’s just not for me.

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      • I wouldn’t see those as belonging to geek culture at all.

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      • Well, “Firefly” definitely, right? I guess I know what you mean about BB and MM, tho. While perhaps not as obviously geeky as “The Walking Dead” or “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” I think both of them have certain geek qualities, e.g. the density of the stories which almost requires multiple viewings, the scientist as criminal mastermind in the case of BB, Matt Weiner’s obsession with period detail in MM, the strong world-building qualities of both.

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  3. they've had their revenge says:

    And on a related note watch the old Twilight Zone’s written by the best of our old pulp hacks and you really get a feel for how damaging this nerd stuff is.

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  4. they've had their revenge says:

    Look with nerd culture you don’t get the ingenuity or desperation of the man in the iron mask escaping with a spoon, you get a cheap copy of it and because it is now a clichéd copy the tension and sense of desperation is gone: it will work because it has always worked. You don’t get twain having a laugh at tom and huck planning to escape with a spoon because, to tom and huck that is the proper way to make an escape. You’ll get two hicks escaping with a spoon because that’s how it’s done and in place of humor you’ll have a knowing wink and lots of camp because to the nerd that is how it’s done. with the nerds beloved scifi you get this in a heavy dose. In the Twilight Zone days you had scifi as something orginal now you’ll get it as cheap pastiche. In the Twilight Zone someone might imagine what it would be like to have superpowers and you end up with a kid sending to people to the cornfields if they don’t behave. With modern nerd scifi you get a bunch of winking campy references to super heroes.

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    • Yep, that’s my feeling too. And they really don’t even grok the idea that there is a thing called culture that deeply stirs some people. They just write that off as incomprehensible like sports or something.

      There are many many positive aspects of geek culture but also many highly limiting ones. Because of their infiltration into the culture they deserve a full blooded response from those who do get that there are depths here that define a civilization.

      Hah! What a dreamer…

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  5. they've had their revenge says:

    Look it seems with movies at least between the nerd aesthetic and political correctness anything real anything human has been drained from the screen it’s grotesque after grotesque.

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  6. chucho says:

    The overuse of “mind blowing” (like “genius”) has robbed the term of any value or meaning. Perhaps the habitual users of the term didn’t have much mind to blow in the first place.

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    • Like how girls have overused “amazing,” huh?

      But why that word? Why the need to have their brains shattered and reassembled? Are they looking for a substitute for religion, or is that too facile?

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      • “Mind-blowing” is a term that comes from the ’60s and originally had to do with drugs, though it very quickly moved over to being a descriptor for anything that really wiped you out man — ideas, girls, books, movies, whatever. And it became a much-quested-after experience. If something *didn’t* blow your mind, then what was the point, man? Drugs then turned into computers, computers facilitated the rise of geek culture … Could this be the line of descent? Geeks basically internalizing ’60s values via drugs>computers? Something like that?

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      • Sounds like a good hunch to me. Another thing to keep in mind whenever you hear Millennials slagging off Boomers.

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    • chucho says:

      A quick search on Twitter reveals what is blowing the hive’s mind right now: pics of Jennifer Lawrence, pics of clouds, a threesome, a soccer team’s roster, the cast of a new Broadway musical, and a Tool song.

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  7. “Christ Claremont”? Now *that’s* mind-blowing!

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  8. To back things up just a step: what is it about “world building” that geeks so adore in fiction experiences? I like a convincing setting and atmosphere myself, and god knows I love me some Robert Altman movies … but Altman doesn’t seem to be a big geek favorite. (Why not?) Anyway: mostly I’m a narrative guy, though god knows you need a setting for the narrative, situations and characters. (And given that you need a setting, why not have some fun with it?) Back when I was a kid I’d sometimes try reading sci-fi and I could never get very far into it, because it seemed to be 99% world-building and 1% story-and-characters, the exact opposite of what I prefer. Chapter upon chapter of descriptions and rules and such for the world that the book was creating and selling, while a lame story puttered away and lame cliche characters failed to interest or engage. But some people love that and find it awesome. And god knows sci-fi (and fantasy) have become our default entertainment mode, hence “world-building” is every damn where. But what is it about world-building (in sci-fi and fantasy especially) that so enraptures the geek? And why are they so much less attracted to juicy characters caught up in dramatic, unfolding situations? I’m so temperamentally unable to understand this that I need some help here.

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    • Toddy Cat says:

      In my experience, lots of geeks and nerds prefer things to people, but they often very much want some sort of social relations, hence their fascination with computers, drones, zombies, replicants, androids, and aliens, which are lifelike, but at the same time are not really people, or in some cases, really alive. This also explains their preference for “world-building” over characters, and why so much modern scifi seems so boring to those of us who grew up in the Golden Age of swooshing spaceships, beautiful space princesses in distress, and conflicted heroes. “Star Wars” owed its initial popularity to its homage to this aesthetic, but it soon became geekified, and now no one but geeks are interested in it. Anyway, modern kids are becoming more geekified because, thanks to PC, helicopter parents, and stunningly mixed messages about sex, kids are really leery of actually interacting with each other in person. So much easier to “world-build”, post selfies, or download pron…

      Or perhaps the answer is simply that given by PJ O’Rourke thirty years ago “Some people are unable to enjoy the simplest pleasures without being hurled into frenzies of analysis”.

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  9. Toddy Cat says:

    Praise from Caesar. Thanks

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  10. Dungeon Imp says:

    I agree about fantasy and science fiction leaning heavily on a world-building aspect, and personally, I find that when done well, it can be very involving (in both the exploration of a deep, mysterious foreign land and culture, and drawing ties to our real world as a social commentary/criticism.) But some of the best examples of works in these genres have both the world-building and stories/characters to match. Why is it assumed there can only be one and not the other in the same work? Though if one thinks the Golden Age of scifi is out of 50’s pulp fiction then maybe we just fundamentally differ in what we feel an absorbing narrative to be.

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    • I’d never put world-building down (let alone the taste for it), it’s just not something I get a kick out of.

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    • Toddy Cat says:

      Perhaps I should have put “Golden Age” in quotes – that’s what the period from the 1920’s to the 1950’s used to be called in scifi. Do people not use that term any more? And yeah, I think that world building can be really cool, and old-time scifi authors like Clarke and Heinlein and Asimov did a lot of it. But usually, it was to set as a backdrop to some kind of action or character interaction. Today, it seems to be the primary purpose of the exercise. Nothing wrong with that, but it certainly represents a change, and it’s interesting to speculate on why and how that happened.

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    • Dungeon Imp says:

      I think I misconstrued your use of Golden Age to mean the sci fi B movies of the 50’s–which I think of as silly monster/creature features rather than sci fi. Not sure what the popular understanding of the term is, but to me–one of the millennial generation–Golden Age means 1950’s era American culture. Since you were referencing Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, et al then it’s my mistake as they are certainly not pulp and are well regarded in the annals of great sci fi writers–though I’m a bit ashamed to admit I’ve read little of their work. I feel like there may be modern equivalents to these Golden Age writers such as Neal Stephenson, Iain M Banks, Alastair Reynolds to name a few science fiction writers who I think can deliver an exciting narrative within a science fiction framework. On the fantasy side I would count Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss, and early Raymond E. Feist as heavy character and plot driven works.

      But I realize all I’m really talking about are books. Since the original post was referring to movies, and in particular the summer blockbusters, I share some of the same bafflement as to why these movies are so successful and popular, as I don’t find them to be good for much other than eye candy and popcorn munching. My guess is that since they play to a wide audience: from the 5 year old kid to the 45 year old man child who never let go of his favorite crime fighting superheroes in tights–this big of a demographic means major money for studios, and so an increasing number of movies slated are comic book, cg-based summer blockbuster types. They’re also filled with popular movie stars and have massive budgets so they can put in all the lovely computer-generated violent explosions and family-friendly explosive violence. Also, you have to consider foreign markets. Hollywood is the number one maker of these types of movies, and no one else in the world can yet make them at this level, so they in a sense have this market cornered world wide, which means loads more money for the studios. Character driven art films can be made anywhere and made to appeal to local tastes for that (very limited) market.

      With the success of popular events like Comic-Con and the internet letting fans obsess over their favorite superheroes together in ways that weren’t possible before, the cultural cachet of this genre is very far reaching, and brings in people who’ve never touched a comic book before. I think to some degree, people want to like “the new thing” that everyone is enjoying, and so they see it in order to share that experience and relate to others that way. Also, the “culture of the geek” has been popularized and commodified enough to appeal to a wide range of people, and I think there is a bit of a pressure to be hip and cool to this stuff. Else, you might be ostracized. Trust me, be careful if you say that you don’t like superheroes or comic books in Hollywood, especially to anyone younger than 45.

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  11. agnostic says:

    The cerebral vs. visceral or thing-oriented vs. people-oriented seems to be the key factor. Important to note, though, that movies like these could never become mega-sellers unless they appealed to way more than just a handful of hardcore geeks. Over the past 20-odd years, the bell curve of personalities has shifted toward the spergy end of the continuum. So, there’s a lot more geeks than there were in the good old days, but even the average person is pretty geeky these days.

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    • Good point. I imagine the Internet has done a lot to bring out dormant geeky sensibilities.

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      • agnostic says:

        It may have been the particular way that things unfolded, but if it weren’t there, some other route would’ve taken us to a similar place. It’s like the grand, bombastic, epic world-building of Mid-century blockbuster movies — Oz, the South Pacific, Biblical times, and so on.

        (Also a time fascinated with 3D, wrap-around movie screens, electric shocks to the seats, and other immersive gimmicks.)

        The ones that left us memorable, distinctive characters were a smaller counter-trend — film noir. I assume that will be the legacy that folks 50 years from now will see in movies from the ’90s to now. Yeah, there were some great characters from David Lynch and Christopher Nolan’s movies, but overall it was about epic-scale world-building.

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      • When it comes to world-building I can see Nolan, but Lynch? Yeah, Lynch’s movies exist in his fever-dream alternate reality, but I’d say he comes more from the noir tradition. (LAURA and THE NAKED KISS being two influences.) Sure TWIN PEAKS has an elaborate hidden world that unfolds over two seasons, but BLUE VELVET and MULHOLLAND DR. take place in a version of 20th century Small Town USA and Los Angeles, so they don’t concern themselves with creating a geography or mythology. I think the actual task of world-building would make Lynch sick, as this clip shows:

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      • Sax von Stroheim says:

        I would say you get a taste of geeky “world building” in the late episodes of TWIN PEAKS that Lynch had less of a direct role in (the ones with David Duchovny, etc.).

        And while MULHOLLAND DRIVE doesn’t have world building, a lot of people did approach it from the same angle as one of Christopher Nolan’s “mind blowing” puzzle films (MEMENTO, THE PRESTIGE, INCEPTION). I don’t think that’s the BEST approach to that movie (or any movie/novel/work-of-art, for that matter), but, as you’ve pointed out, that approach is a big part of the culture right now.

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      • Yeah, that’s true. I forgot that my DVD of MULHOLLAND DR. comes with ten “clues” written by Lynch to “unlocking” the film. And I never saw those late episodes of TP.

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      • Maybe that’s another way of explaining how Kubrick has remained so popular. His approach lends itself to traditional cinephilia AND geeky appreciation.

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  12. agnostic says:

    If you’re people-oriented, you want sci-fi to treat themes related to human nature. Thing-oriented, you want to study alien/fantasy ecosystems and races like they were an ant farm.

    The academic Alien Studies approach bores me to tears, but not all sci-fi is that way. The Twilight Zone, Philip K. Dick, Star Trek: The Next Generation, all have believable character writing, fascinating plots, and a healthy dose of skepticism about what might go wrong if we play around in utterly foreign places (technologically, morally, civilizationally, etc.). And there’s a drive to restore balance to a social system that’s been thrown or is being thrown outta-whack.

    (Throw in Quantum Leap for that matter, then, although it’s not as engaging as the other three.)

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  13. All of these very perceptive comments and no one has to yet mention the Sir Isaac Newton? The Ur-Geek looking for the grandest and most unifiedest of the theories, first in the Principia, but also in every variation of the occult then known to magi.

    This is not to say the modern geeks are as intelligent as Newton, or even especially intelligent, it is only to say that perhaps certain personality types that are “on the spectrum” may be drawn to theories that simplify the world.

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