The geeks have taken over

Maybe it’s just the ComicCon hype that’s in the news this week, but it seems increasingly evident to this writer that the geeks have taken over American culture.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although journalists probably fit in more with the “dork” or “nerd” subgroups than the geek demographic. But the announcement that “Spider-Man” and “Evil Dead” director Sam Raimi will direct a movie based on the “World of Warcraft” universe seems to confirm the geek ascendancy.

Geek culture has taken many forms in post-WWII America. “Star Trek.” “Star Wars.” Dungeons and Dragons. Comic books. Science fiction film and novels. What they all have in common is a fascination with the amazing and fantastical, whether the subjects of the stories are rooted in speculative science or the realms of myth.

Fans of geek culture, generally speaking, enjoy immersing themselves in the imaginary worlds created by writers as varied as J.R.R. Tolkien, Stan Lee and Alan Moore, and for several years, endured the scorn of cooler Americans.

But things have changed. Many of the biggest – and best – movies of the decade have been aimed at the geek demographic. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was the first fantasy film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture and the first two “Spider-Man” films, the most recent pair of Batman movies and “Iron Man” were all excellent.

Beyond the worlds of cinema, the Harry Potter books (rumor has it the film adaptations are also popular) and television series like “Lost” and “Heroes” have gained popularity. Video games are big business and even those who would never play “World of Warcraft” know what that the game exists.

Somewhere along the line, geek became cool.

It’s this writers view is that somewhere on the timeline was 1999, when “The Matrix” hit theaters. A lot of people didn’t like the sequels – I thought the second made no sense and didn’t bother to see the third – but the first edition of the trilogy featured a band of cool, black-clad rebels who had access to big guns, advanced technology and knew kung fu.

The movie offered nothing less than a new geek archetype. The geeks were no longer the men or women who understood computers and had a large collection of X-Men back issues, the geeks were mankind’s last hope, and they looked awesome in that role.

Compare “The Matrix” to another 1999 film, “Star Wars: Episode IV: The Phantom Menace.” On the surface, both are geek fare with mainstream appeal, but “The Phantom Menace” was old geek. Where “The Matrix” was slick, rebellious and forward-looking, “The Phantom Menace” was comparatively slow, silly (Jar Jar Binks) and chock full of stilted dialogue.

I liked “The Phantom Menace” more than “The Matrix” when they were released, but that’s because I grew up watching Star Wars movies and have never been a Keanu Reeves fan. But in retrospect, “The Phantom Menace” didn’t have much for people who were not young kids or already fans of the franchise. “The Matrix” was a cultural bridgehead that offered the red pill of geek culture to mainstream society.

Ten years later, a movie based on “World of Warcraft” is in the works. This very year has already seen such cinematic releases as “The Watchmen,” “Terminator Salvation” and “Transformers 2: Rise of the Fallen.” “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” is still waiting to be released.

The geeks have taken over.