Chances are you have encountered this phenomenon yourself: the idea that because you know a lot about geek culture, you know EVERYTHING. A co-worker that is newly enthralled with the Marvel movies comes to you for further background from the comics, or wants an official fandom ruling on the validity of the Game of Thrones finale, or is curious if the Lord of the Rings movies are the same as the books. Something like that. The basic assumption, though, remains the same: that we all know enough to answer the question.
And usually we do. Certainly the crew here at the Junk Shop, collectively, possess expertise both wide and deep on a variety of fannish subjects, and we each have sub-categories of interest beyond the general where our knowledge would be the equivalent of a PhD’s, if doctorates existed for stuff this ridiculous. There’s no one to touch Matt on the history of Doctor Who. Burgas is an expert on Marvel’s X-books in general (and Dazzler in particular.) Travis is all about Cerebus. Hatcher can go on for days (and often has) about Robert E. Howard and the seventies sword-and-sorcery revival. Trumbull, in addition to everything he’s picked up writing about Batman: The Animated Series, is also a Sherlockian expert. Jim MacQuarrie is a walking encyclopedia of stuff about MAD magazine and the Usual Gang of Idiots. Those are the handiest examples, but there are lots more.
But there are gaps. Giant holes in our nerd cred where you’d think we’d HAVE to know something just by cultural osmosis, but we just don’t. Here is where we own up to our areas of ignorance.
Greg H: This isn’t a complete list, but these are the things that keep coming up where people are shocked that I just don’t know anything, and worse, don’t care.
The most recent one is Game of Thrones. A bunch of people were asking me what I thought about the ending, just like in the introduction above, and I had to keep saying I had no idea.
Now, I admit that it seems like a no-brainer for me to be all over that show, given my love of sword-and-sorcery. Additionally, I am a a fan of George R. R. Martin, way back from the days of Beauty and the Beast and Wild Cards.
One friend was so horrified at this that she loaned us her DVD set of the first season, but we gave up after a couple of episodes. A lot of it was that Chris Roberson had nicknamed the show Naked Fucking Murder, and we couldn’t stop laughing about it. “Oh look, they’re naked, and now, yep, they’re fucking, and– whoa, there’s a murder.”
So we gave up. Although I will say that Peter Dinklage really is as terrific in it as everyone says and I’m pleased the show raised his Hollywood stock as much as it has. But it’s just not my thing.
We had kind of a similar problem with Fury Road. We had just finished watching Minions and then we put on Fury Road and the sound made it hard to hear the dialogue. So we were kind of struggling to stay interested, and then Julie said, “well this is just live-action Minions,” so that’s all we could see. Deranged people in goggles muttering gibberish while driving at high speed crashing into stuff. We couldn’t stop giggling, so we let it go about twenty minutes in.
But the perennial, the one I’ll probably be getting badgered about till the day I die, is Doctor Who. I’ve never been able to get through a single episode of any version of that show.
I’m fifty-seven years old and for at least forty of those years, people have been trying to get me to watch Doctor Who. The thing they keep saying is, “You just haven’t seen the good stuff.” Actually I probably have…. at least the first few minutes of it. I lose interest and change the channel or fall asleep or just plain get annoyed. It’s not for me. Not Baker, not Cushing, not Tennant, not even the new lady whose name I forget. Just not my thing. I love Stephen Moffat’s Sherlock so I thought I’d give one of his a try… but nothing. Got bored ten minutes in.
So I’ve tried. Sorry everyone, it’s not going to happen for me. Let it go.
Fraser S: Like Greg, I absolutely cannot get into Game of Thrones (I didn’t like Wild Cards either, but I did love Fury Road and I’ve been a Who fan from childhood). I read the first book, described it to a friend as several hundred pages of people pontificating about how grim everything’s getting, never tried again. It’s much less my wife’s usual kind of thing, but she’s read all the books and watched all the episodes
Gaming? Not for me. I’m impressed by the craft of the visuals and the detailed plots (one of my former roommates is a big gamer) but given a choice between gameplay and reading something, or gameplay and watching a movie, gameplay loses.
But I think bigger than any specific hole is the sheer growth in the amount of geek material out there in the 21st century.
During the Bronze Age I could go down to the drugstore, buy DC and Marvel comics off the spinner rack and flip through the ones I wasn’t buying. Coupled with my brother’s purchases (we didn’t overlap, so we could then read each other’s comics for free) I had at least a rough idea what was going on in any comic books I cared about.
Not any more. Even if I was as regular a visitor to my local stores, and the comics weren’t sealed against casual browsing, there’s so fricking many of them! Not just DC and Marvel but Dark Horse, Image, and countless smaller guys. I don’t have the money or the time to try everything that I might like.
Same thing with TV. In the 1970s there might be only one SF or fantasy TV prime-time show in a given season, so I’d cling to it like a drowning man to a life raft. I’d watch just about anything, even mediocre stuff like Fantastic Journey.
Now even superhero TV is more than I can keep up with. I follow and enjoy the Arrowverse (okay, not the last season of Arrow) and I’ll start watching DC’s Doom Patrol this month, but I doubt I’ll be following any of Disney’s MCU TV spinoffs. I don’t want to pay for yet another streaming service and my TV time is thoroughly booked already.
Books? As many people have pointed out, the days when fans could assume they’d have read or at least know of every author up for a Hugo are gone. Even excluding indie and self-published books, I couldn’t stay current on all the fantasy published. Or even all the good fantasy.
All of which is a good thing. It’s a sign of a healthy field when so much geek stuff, in such a wide variety, is able to find an audience. But it does reduce my geek knowledge to a tiny slice of a very large pie.
Edo: Well, this is starting to look repetitive, as so far we seem to have the same blind spots: Doctor Who. Gaming. Game of Thrones. The latter one in particular often surprises casual work acquaintances who know about my other geeky predilections, i.e., ‘Oh, man, you’re not watching it? Seriously? You’d love it!’ But GoT, like the other two, never interested me, neither the television series nor even the books.
Anyway, I have a few more, and adding them all up, it sometimes seems like I should probably hand in my geekdom membership card (as I was saying in our back-channel). For example, RPGs are inextricably associated with nerds/geeks worldwide, but they never grabbed me – even though I just entered my teens in the early ’80s when the granddaddy of them all, Dungeons & Dragons, was becoming super-popular among a segment of the geek set. I actually played my first, and only, tabletop RPG, one with a zombie apocalypse scenario, about three years ago. It was interesting, although I got more enjoyment out of simply bullshitting about a number of topics with the other guys playing than I did out of the game itself. I can see why some would find this appealing, but afterward that I had no burning desire to go back and play another.
And speaking of the zombie apocalypse, that’s another thing I’m not too keen on. Now, I don’t mind zombies as a horror trope, so I rather liked, say, the stories in Marvel’s Tales of the Zombie b&w magazine from the 1970s: I just don’t understand the continuous appeal of post-apocalyptic zombie horde-type stories, a la the Walking Dead (either the TV series or the comics upon which it’s based), even though it seems like over the past 15 years that’s arguably the most popular sub-genre of horror. I’m actually more fond of the spoofs of this trope, because it’s just so easy to ridicule.
And finally, even though I’m generally an SF-guy, here’s another one that passed me by, and then utterly surprised me when I learned it was a major franchise: Stargate. Now, I saw the original movie – you know, with Kurt Russell and James Spader – about a year or two after it came out, on VHS (yep, back in Ye Olden Dayes).
At the time, I didn’t think too much of it. I found it a watchable but unremarkable SF/action film and didn’t give it much thought beyond that. Then, about 15 years later, when channel surfing, I stumbled onto an episode of SG Universe – and was a bit surprised that somebody had spun a series out of that movie. And then when I looked it up, I found out there wasn’t just one series, but five (one of them animated), of which SGU came at the tail end. And that there were also a few direct-to-DVD movies, and, obviously, the ancillary material in other media that always crops up with franchises, like tie-in novels, comic books and video games. Incredible.
The thing is, even though I’m still a bit baffled as to how that – to me, forgettable – movie could have spawned all of this, based on the one and half episodes of SGU I watched, this is probably something I could get into. It’s just that now it all seems so daunting and impenetrable, as there’s about 20 or so seasons worth of various shows to watch, to say nothing of the additional material in other media.
Oh,well. At least, like Fraser, I rather liked Fury Road….
Matt: Looking at the lists above, I find myself knowing most of what was mentioned. I watched all of Game of Thrones, I grew up with Doctor Who, etc. Probably the biggest nerd/geek I’ve never been able to get invested in at all is the Harry Potter franchise; even back in my University days where we were asked to analyse the first book, my literature professor stated that my critique ruined the book for her forever. I have seen all the films and found nothing in them to care about, much to the chagrin of my soon-to-be wife who loves it all.
Over in anime/manga circles, I simply don’t understand the appeal of the Dragonball franchise. It’s intellectually bereft characters of extremely dubious morality shouting at each other incoherently and occasionally punching others in the face; if I wanted to watch that, I’d watch ‘net streams of C-SPAN. Attack on Titan has never grabbed me either, for that matter.
Move over to gaming and competitive/PvP shooters just don’t do it for me at all. Fortnite and similar games, as popular as they may be with others, is an area of fandom that falls completely flat for me. I’ll happily play games such as Destiny but that is mainly for the cooperative elements than the cheesey sliding-shotgun PvP nonsense.
Travis: I’m not sure if I was the complete impetus for this or if Hatcher was already thinking of it, but I made a joke that showed my lack of knowledge about Star Wars, and he brought up this topic of geek knowledge gaps for a Roundtable. It would have been a great joke, if not for those damn Ewoks!
Basically I haven’t seen the Star Wars movies. At all. Maybe bits on WPIX at times, but that’s it. I’ve gotten the stories from cultural osmosis; I’m not sure you could miss them, really, given how big they’ve become in culture.
Which brings me to another point I raised: when does something become so big it’s no longer geeky? GoT, Harry Potter, Star Wars — they’ve all become so large that perhaps they are no longer parts of geekdom? I’m not sure. I was just in a store today and heard a woman, probably in her 50s, telling her friends about how good the latest Avengers movie was.
Which is another gap in my knowledge. I don’t know squat about the MCU movies. I saw Iron Man, I’ve seen X2 (I know, they’re different movie universes), I’ve seen bits of others, but that’s all.
Part of it is that I’m just not a movie guy. I’ve seen movies, but not all that many. Heck, it’s part of my bio here!
Since we’ve brought up gaming, I’ll refer you back to the first time I felt old.
But like Fraser said, part of the reason we aren’t up on these things are because there’s just so much stuff anymore to keep track of, and that’s a good thing. The fracturing and mainstreaming of geek culture is overall a cool thing, obviously created by the rise of the internet. But it does raise the question of is there a set of things that geeks should have to know to be geeks, and if so, what? It seems like back in the day it was a short list of things like Hitchhiker’s, Monty Python, Stars Wars and Trek, and maybe comics stuff and D&D, but it’s obviously blossomed so much, and even that was the “requirements” of a white middle class background for the most part.
And on that note of adding a completely different spin on the column to the mix, I’m wrapping up! Oh, wait, I like what Doctor Who stuff I’ve seen, so that’s different from some of the gang.
John: For me, it’s a lot of what’s been said above. Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings… Nope, not my bag. Fantasy stuff generally leaves me cold. I just can’t find much of anything in it to relate to. I watched the first movies of both the LOTR and The Hobbit trilogies, and even though I thought they were well-done, and I liked most of the people involved, I found the massive info-dumps overwhelming. My main thought on watching the Fellowship of the Ring movie was, “God, I would kill for a character named Ralph right now.” (Seriously, “Sauron” and “Saruman” sound way too much alike when you hear them spoken aloud.)
Likewise, I have an aversion to ultra-cosmic stuff in comic books. I know that Jim Starlin’s work on the Kree Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock has a lot of devoted fans, but I personally find both of those series a slog. Thanos in particular bores me to tears. He was okay when Josh Brolin played him in Infinity War and Endgame, but in the comics… Nope. Give me Kirby’s Fourth World any day. At least those guys aren’t so bloody serious.
I run hot and cold on Star Wars these days. The Phantom Menace was so bad that it killed off most of my interest in that franchise. To this day, I haven’t bothered with Attack of the Clones. Likewise, I skipped The Last Jedi after my disappointment with The Force Awakens. (I have it in my Netflix queue, but I still haven’t pulled the trigger on it. I’m usually just going to watch old episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series or Cheers instead.) I thought that both Rogue One and Solo were a lot of fun, but I just can’t get into any of the new Star Wars characters the way I did Luke, Han, and Leia. And that’s fine.
Harry Potter, I’ve seen the first movie, but I’ve never felt much urge to watch the sequels or do a deep dive into the books. (I’m a tough sell on magic, I guess.) I gave the modern Doctor Who a try when it was on Netflix streaming, but it left before I even finished off Christopher Eccleston’s season. I watched the 50th Anniversary Special at a friend’s house, though, and that was fun.
My best friend Frank desperately tried to get me into Lost when it was on. Frank was positively obsessed with that show, to the point of dressing up as Lost characters for at least two Halloweens. (He was Jack going “We have to go back!” one year, and the next…? He was some bearded guy in a Dharma jumpsuit, I honestly forget.) I could appreciate that he enjoyed it so much, but I have a really tough time getting into heavily-serialized TV shows if I’m not sure they’re going to have a decent payoff. (I blame the fifth season of Babylon 5 and the last few years of The X-Files for this. And I still have hard feelings about the finale of How I Met Your Mother, which I’ll probably write about here one day.)
And Lost was one of those shows that got so huge that it became rather obnoxious. Honestly, not watching it felt like an act of defiance at a certain point. But just through sheer cultural osmosis, I could probably fake my way through a conversation on it.
And ironically, despite my well-documented love of Richard Belzer as John Munch, I’ve never been able to get into Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on more than a occasional basis. Dick Wolf’s shows tend to be much more plot-driven than character-driven, and when it comes to the Law & Order shows, those plots are often batshit insane. There’s always an ultra-absurd twist halfway through an episode that lurches the story into a new, unbelievable direction, and it just destroys the reality of the show for me. And it doesn’t help that the show rarely, if ever, focuses on Munch, and I find all of the other characters pretty bland by comparison. So I’ll watch SVU if it has a lot of the Belz in it, but otherwise… Nah.
I don’t plan it this way, but it seems like most of the shows and movies that I really fall in love with are the ones that the general public is either utterly indifferent to or totally ignorant of. The ones that struggle to find an audience. The ones that tend to be either swiftly canceled or just barely renewed. Homicide: Life on the Street, News Radio, Sports Night, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, The Venture Bros., Undateable, Timeless, Whisky Cavalier… Hell, back when CSI became a surprise runaway hit on CBS, I was the guy really digging the Tim Daly revival of The Fugitive, the one that ended on a cliffhanger after only one season.
…I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t pick many winners, people.
Jim: Chalk up another one with the “Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, gaming” blindspot. And now I’ll justify that:
I did watch the Tom Baker version of the Doctor back in the late ’70s or early ’80s, whenever it was; it was fun, mostly as a community ritual with my fellow residents of MUGG Manor II (MUGGs = MisUnderstood Good Guys); I was never particularly invested in it, and the ultra-low-budget cheesy effects were never more than amusing. Later, my son tried like hell to get me into the reboot, but I really didn’t like Eccleston, and I am stuck trying to determine just how many of his episodes I have to wade through to get to “the good stuff.” David Tennant’s performance on season 1 of Jessica Jones almost convinced me to make the slog, and his turn in Good Omens is providing further motivation. But I’m not there yet.
Another gap in my geek cred is anime. I know the old school first-gen stuff (Gigantor, Amazing 3, Tobor the 8th Man, Marine Boy, Speed Racer, Kimba the White Lion), but I never got interested in any of the ’80s shows except one. One day, the aforementioned MUGGs were clicking through the channels on the old black & white, when we landed on UHF channel 22, which was LA’s Japanese language station, and there was UFO Dai Apolon, a somewhat undistinguished entry in the crowded genre known as “giant robots kick the shit out of each other all over Tokyo and nobody notices.” We loved it, but nobody else does, at least not in the US; on YouTube, all the clips I can find are in Italian, because apparently it was a big hit there. Other than UFO Dai Apolon and the oldies, the only anime films I’ve ever seen are a handful of Miyazaki classics. Oh, and in 1999, I took my then-nine-year-old son and his entire Cub Scout Pack to see Pokemon: The First Movie (the title is a dire threat); my bride asked me how it was, and I said “I don’t know! It was two hours of creatures screaming their own names and slamming into each other. I fell asleep when MewTwo started monologuing his evil plan. I was rooting for him.”
My Tolkien knowledge extends as far as The Hobbit (the book, not the 18-part film marathon of absurd noses); I slept through most of Bakshi’s attempt at an animated Lord of the Rings, but it was painfully obvious which handful of scenes he really wanted to do, and which he felt he had to get through to get to the next cool bit. I think half his budget went on Gollum, while the entire rest of the film was a repeated loop of one scene; colorized hi-contrast film footage of a group of fat guys in orc costumes, one of whom keeps adjusting the fit of his mask. Then I tried to read the books, dutifully trudging past page after page of elvish poetry, until Tom Bombadil showed up. He enters while the crew is captured and facing certain death, and as he rescues them, he sings a happy song that basically says “I’m a great big Deus Ex Machina and I had nothing better to do, so I decided to stroll through and rescue you, and now I’ll go away.” I rolled my eyes and gave it up right there, and was thrilled to discover that Peter Jackson evidently hated that walking plot contrivance as much as I did.
Game of Thrones is simply a matter of time and money. When it premiered, we didn’t have HBO in our TV package; it wasn’t enough of an incentive for me to cough up the money. Now I’m not willing to invest the hours to catch up. And I’m not enough of a fantasy fan to bother with the books. My son keeps telling me to read the books, but I’ve got three-to-one that Martin never finishes the last one, so I’ll wait and see.
Which brings me to fantasy in general. Not my thing. Wizards and dragons and castles don’t interest me. I’d rather live in Tomorrowland than in some backwater bog where the plague runs rampant, thanks, and for as much fun as swinging a sword around might be, living in a world where you need to carry a sword and be ready to fight at any moment is just a little too close to my childhood. I prefer my imaginary worlds to be nicer than my real one, and indoor plumbing is a big part of that. I’m not even all that keen on the Renaissance Faire. About the only fantasy series I ever enjoyed was Robert Lynn Asprin’s Myth Adventures, until they became too self-referential. Once Jody Lynn Nye joined in as co-author, the series became fanfic of itself.
Gaming. Here’s the thing: I basically grew up in a pinball arcade. From about 7th through 10th grade, I was in residence at the long-gone Le Mans Speedway bumper car track and arcade in what was then the Del Amo Fashion Square in Torrance, CA. During my time there, video games started coming in; first Pong, then Asteroids, and eventually a whole bunch of others all at once, and I played them all. But then we moved. I never found another arcade that felt like home, and we never had any of the home gaming systems, so games just sort of went away for me. Years later, I played a few games on my ancient Mac IIci (particularly Lemmings and Astro Chase 3D), but I quickly realized that they were “digital crack” and I had to go cold turkey. I still have an unopened box containing the installation discs for the old online game City of Heroes. Somehow I never worked up enough interest to open it up, let alone install the damned thing.
D&D and other RPGs just never appealed to me, especially after two particularly miserable evenings getting roped into trying it. The first was with an OCD Dungeon Master who spent hours meticulously building each character in absurd detail. By the time I fell asleep on the board, I think he was rolling for eye colors. The second attempt featured a sadistic DM who tried to kill the entire party on every roll. We made it 10 feet down the first tunnel in 3 hours.
My other most notable geek blind spot has to be computers and technology. I don’t code, I don’t build computers; I sit in front of one and make pretty things. And yet, for a short while in the 1990s, I was enlisted as involuntary tech support for half the people at my then-church, apparently because (a) I owned one, and (b) I wasn’t afraid of it. I finally just started telling people I couldn’t help them, even if they offered me root beer and Ding Dongs.
On the flip side, and this may not be geeky, but I have an unhealthy knowledge and memory for terrible sitcoms of the ’60s and ’70s. Yes, Me and the Chimp was a real show.
True story: Today at lunch, the subject of Logan’s Run came up, and I was called upon to explain the premise. I warned the other person that she had dropped the nickel into the Nerd Machine and I couldn’t guarantee how quickly she’d regret that. So I tell those assembled about the movie, and how terrible Farrah Fawcett was in it, and the effect Jenny Agutter had on the adolescent psyche, until one of them asks “who’s Logan?” I say “Michael York.” Another co-worker follows up, saying “Manimal.” I correct him; “That was Simon MacCorkindale…. how the hell do I remember that???”
Greg B: I have a different, I think, relationship with nerddom than some of my fellow writers here at the blog. As some of you may know, I lived for a time in Germany during the 1970s, and television in Germany in the 1970s was not terribly good, so while I was young and might have missed them anyway, I missed many of the pop culture touchstones on television during the 1970s. I have never been a fan of Star Trek, for instance (yes, I know that was the 1960s, but work with me, people!), and I have never watched more than a few minutes of The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, The Incredible Hulk, Battlestar Galactica, Space 1999, or even Man From Atlantis.
I did see Star Wars in a theater in Switzerland, but I didn’t get swept up in the phenomenon and never did. When I got back to the U.S. in 1979, I was 8, and I immediately started watching more television, but I don’t know if what I watched was all that nerdy. I watched The Dukes of Hazzard and the many shows of Stephen J. Cannell – The A-Team, naturally, but also Riptide, The Greatest American Hero (probably nerdy!), Hunter, and Wiseguy, probably the best of the bunch. I watched The Fall Guy because of Heather Thomas, I watched Manimal because it’s goddamned fucking awesome, and I watched Buck Rogers, which is probably (along with GAH) the nerdiest thing I watched. During the 1980s, however, I’m not sure I was a nerd, or at least not a classic kind of nerd. I never got into video games, I wasn’t big into computers at all, and I didn’t read comics. I read some science fiction, but mostly Arthur C. Clarke and not too much else. I read some fantasy, but after The Lord of the Rings, not too much (dang, those Thomas Covenant novels were huge). I did read a lot of Orson Scott Card, because that dude can write, despite some … shall we say questionable personal views? I loved sports (still do), and so I became more of a sports nerd. I read obsessively about sports, from books about the early days of baseball and football to Sports Illustrated and other current stuff. I created my own seasons of sports teams (I began with the 2017 Phillies – I’m from Philadelphia, sue me – and created the entire season, and found it weird when we finally reached 2017 in “real life”) and my own players and my own statistics. So I was a nerd, but I still didn’t engage with nerd pop culture to the degree that you might expect.
That changed when I began reading comics. I didn’t start reading comics until I was 17, which I guess is kind of late to become a regular comics reader. I don’t know why I had never gotten into them before that – I read them intermittently throughout my childhood, so I wasn’t completely ignorant of them – and I don’t know why it stuck then. Reading comics made me more aware of nerd pop culture, and it made even more of a stereotypical nerd. But I still have huge gaps in my nerd knowledge. Like several people already, I’ve never watched Doctor Who and have no particular interest in it. I watched cartoons when I was a kid, of course, but I never got obsessive about G.I. Joe or Transformers, the two big cartoons of the 1980s. I don’t have any nostalgic attachment to any comic book characters, and I didn’t experience the 1960s or 1970s or 1980s first-hand, so I don’t have the visceral love of, say, Kirby that many comics readers do (although I love Kirby). I never played role-playing games, so that’s out. Even today, I don’t keep up with the Marvel movies as much as some, simply because I’ve read superhero comics for decades and kind of know what’s going to happen. I mean, I guess I’m far more of a nerd than most people I know, but like many people have noted, there’s so much out there that it’s hard to keep up. So yeah, I have some gaps.
Game of Thrones is pretty awesome, though (I never read the books and haven’t watched the final season yet, but I’m getting there!) and Fury Road is perhaps the best action movie of this millennium. Greg Hatcher should be ashamed!!!!
So there you have it. Feel free to yell at us about what we’re missing, or confess to your own areas of ignorance, in the comments below.