The co-opting of the Nerds
The Great Nerd Summit (also known as San Diego Comic-Con International, or SDCC) of 2013 has just happened.
I have only attended once, back in the mid-80s when attendance was a mere 6000 people. Yes, I said “mere.” Last year’s attendance was more than 130,000 people. I don’t believe that official figures are out, yet, for this year. While the convention (called the Golden State Comic Book Convention when it was founded in 1970) originally was about Comics, and the word “comic” is still in its name, it had expanded far beyond that realm to embrace sci fi/fantasy books, movies with any sci fi or superhero connection what-so-ever, and gaming back when I was there.
Of course, comics is a style or medium of storytelling. I grew up reading both Donald Duck/Uncle Scrooge comics and X-men and the like, so even I knew that as a child. Yes, I said grew up. My mom was an X-men fan in the mid-sixties. I have mentioned before that I’m a second generation fan, right? My point being that you can conceivably tell any kind of story in comic form. And there have been the extremely interesting and well done examples of memoirs, biographies, and other kinds of story that don’t fit the comic book stereotype.
That said, SDCC has gotten to the point where it is the trade show for just about the entire entertainment industry. I understand why there are events highlighting upcoming movies such as sequels to The Avengers, Captain America, and Thor, as they’re all based on comics. And I understand why there are events rolling out teasers for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s a cartoon, not a graphic story (there are comics, but those are spin-offs, and the official MLP events were all about the cartoon), but animated cartoons are an allied artform of comics. I even understand all the video game stuff that happens at the con.
But, much as I love Benedict Cumberbatch and the current BBC Sherlock series, I think that Sherlock events at SDCC is stretching the definition a bit. Whereas the fact that there were events for How I Met Your Mother, Veronica Mars, and Community is just insane.
The official SDCC award (as opposed to Awards sponsored by other organization which are simply presented at SDCC), the Inkpot, is given out for “outstanding achievement in the Popular Arts industry.” Which makes me think the event should more properly be called the San Diego Popular Arts Con.
I’ve gotten into arguments with fellow nerds about why Sherlock Holmes, as in the original character and stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, has often been included in science fiction events. I have defended the inclusion because Holmes could be argued to be an archetype of a particular kind of nerd: hyper observant, possessed of encyclopedic knowledge of a vast range of topics, an uncanny ability to find relationships between the most minute details, and infamously incapable of relating to people empathically. Serious articles have been published in psychological journals debating (pro and con) whether the fictional Holmes had Aspergers syndrome, for goodness sake! The Holmes stories may not be sci fi, but both the character and the methodology by which he solves his mysteries are highly identifiable to a significant portion of the fan community.
While I have made that argument, and will continue to do so, I’m also the first to admit that all it provides is a reasonable rationale for stretching the envelope to include Holmes as an allied creation. It’s a stretch, and I admit it.
A sort of similar argument can be made for the specific television show, Community, because its ensemble includes some nerds. But it’s a much more tenuous connection to make based on a couple of supporting characters, as opposed to the main character and his primary activity.
I can think of even more tenuous (and ludicrous) arguments that might be made for shows such as How I Met Your Mother, but all of them would be a smoke screen. The truth is that, as I mentioned, SDCC is a trade show, not a fan convention. Its purpose is to advertise, generate buzz, and fan the flames of enthusiasm for any popular art property that can shoehorn itself into the convention. That isn’t a bad thing, per se. Certainly no one is forcing fans to get online at a particular time on the final day of the convention so that the entirety of the next year’s memberships can be sold out in less than two hours. No one is forcing people such as myself to track down stories and videos of the events to get some ideas of what movies and shows I should be looking for in the future.
If you want to fan the flames of enthusiasm, there is no better place than the heart or mind of a nerd or geek. We’re more politely called fans, which is short for fanatic. The one trait that most distinguishes us from the mundanes is how incredibly, obsessively enthusiastic we get about the things we like. So even though some of us are primarily enthusiastic about science and science fiction, if you can get us interested in your show— even one that doesn’t have any discernible science-y aspects—we’ll talk about it. We’ll set our DVRs to catch your premiere. We’ll mention that it’s coming out to our less nerdy friends. We’ll make and post fan art or create and share silly memes based on photos from your show.
We will be your viral marketing campaign. And because tens of thousands of us are willing to buy memberships at SDCC each year, that means some of us are paying for the privilege.
Apart from other branding considerations, I think that’s why for the foreseeable future they won’t be replacing the “Comic” part of the name.