My family and I were recently staying at a hotel. My dad, brother, and I were in the elevator, and I was talking to them about a certain question in the MCU I was wondering about when another guy boarded with us.
I was recalling with my family that the tesseract had been salvaged nearing the end of Captain America: The First Avenger. But fast forward a couple of decades, to the 1990s setting of Captain Marvel, and the tesseract is up in space. I wanted to know how it got there and why it was there.
When the guy who joined us overheard our conversation, he felt comfortable enough in the topic to throw in his two cents (he simply suggested it was a plot hole). While the question did remain unsolved, I still find it an amazing and subtly comforting meeting: a totally random but immediately relatable encounter, all because we shared geek culture.
Though it used to be relegated to the back alleys of the mainstream, geek culture has very much become an important force in our popular culture. Just look at the obsessions on display at Comic-Con or the heated debates over films and comic books. Avengers: Endgame, a comic book movie, has become the highest-grossing film of all time. The first space shuttle orbiter was dubbed Enterprise after the famed starship from Star Trek.
One of the amazing things about any culture is the way it recycles and regenerates what came before as it creates something new. Influences from the past come back to reshape modern entertainment and storytelling. It’s a fascinating cycle of revitalization. The old is made new; prophecies are fulfilled. Legend from antiquity becomes classical fantasy; folklore becomes science fiction.
People get geeky over just about anything. A movie, a game, a novel, a comic book, John Williams music — everything has a group of devoted fans who see the unique goodness in each artifact. So many people (I include myself in this generalization) are passionate about these parts of our culture.
For example, I’m a cinephile — that’s someone who’s really into movies — and there’s not much that is cooler to me than watching a great film with family or friends. Good films are inspirational. They quite easily engrave themselves upon our memory. We find ourselves repeating our favorite lines, even dressing up in goofy outfits like the characters we have come to know and love.
In the 21st century, many nations around the globe have achieved a level of prosperity, health, and peace that would have been undreamable 200 years ago. With longer lives and more time for recreational pleasure, we often turn to escapism. Much of our entertainment today takes that form — fantasies and other types of entertainment often flood our minds and conversations.
The same can be said of sports or food or music or other entertainments, but geek culture has one advantage over all of them: the hero. Look at the stories at the heart of geek culture and it is easy to see examples of heroic, virtuous lives.
Geek culture narratives don’t present heroism as an intangible allegory — they orient their whole dramatic plot around the triumph of the human spirit, vividly depicted. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Gandalf, Neo, Galadriel, Thor, Spock, Dr. Alan Grant, Wanda Maximoff — fictional characters such as these display acts of bravery and benevolence. They are exemplars of courage, of aspiring to purpose and perseverance.
These are captivating characters. They are memorable and often funny, but most importantly, they are human (accept Spock maybe, who frequently suppresses his emotions). People’s interest and admiration for these characters prompts them to open up and talk about them and the choices they make in their stories. It makes for some surprisingly long-winded and enjoyable discussions across the landscape of geekdom. I have a number of close friends with whom I enjoy watching movies. We’ll often have dinner somewhere before heading off to the movies. And in that time, it is almost guaranteed we will end up talking movies and comic book characters.
Geek culture allows us to connect with so many people with whom we’d otherwise have difficulty finding common ground. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, you can still appreciate John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack. The same goes for many video games. Whether you’re in India, Australia, or the U.S., you will be familiar with the Avengers just like everybody else. Two kids might never have met before, but that doesn’t stop them from picking up a couple of toy lightsabers and engaging in a duel of fates.
At the core of geek culture lies storytelling, engagement, and relationship. The words of a storyteller penetrate a person’s innermost being. Entertainment evokes emotion and serves as a call to action. It can lead to self-contemplation, pushing us forward to become a better version of ourselves, to be more courageous and authentic and resilient. And in changing ourselves for the better, we can begin to look around us and make a positive change in the real world.