Summer break is back with a vengeance, so the Shortcast run returns!
After a slight tangent discussing The Transformers and nostalgia, Dan and Andrew share their weeks in geek.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays Bioshock from the Bioshock: The Collection released to PC and consoles last year. Dan actually finishes a book before discussing it. This time, it’s the Kickstartered Wild Times: An Oral History of Wildstorm Studios by Joseph Hedges (now available for purchase).
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew learns about the seedy underbelly of LEGO knock-offs while Dan preps for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie by watching the 2009 animated film.
DOCTOR WHO KNEW?: Dan and Andrew discuss their skeptical praise for the current series of Doctor Who. Five episodes in and all episodes have been undeniably good so far. Should they be waiting with baited breath for the show to stumble as it has done for the last five series? Or should they let their freak flag fly once again?
WAKING LIFE: Remedy Entertainment’s 2010 sleeper hit, Alan Wake, was summarily pulled from all digital storefronts last weekend due to the lapsing of the licenses paid for music featured in the game. It’s a strange situation considering exactly how many games––even those released before Alan Wake––use licensed music and are still available for purchase.
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While not about a particular aspect of nerd culture, Frankenfield’s article finds a thread strung through most aspects of geekdom: a legitimate choice between independent and “mainstream” products. In most nerdy and geeky venues, these exist side-by-side––I think of the gaming scene (specifically video gaming; Andrew will have to answer for the tabletop angle) where venues as amalgamated as Steam as well as the more hierarchical PSN or XBox Live give independent products prime real estate in an effort to get both triple-A and the snarkily titled “triple-I” titles on players’ screens. For all the drama that has surrounded video games press in the last few years, it has acted to level the playing field, not through any particular agenda as much as finding good indie games and wanting to share. For all nerdy avenues, Kickstarter and other crowd-sourced funding platforms have been key in getting independent products more mainstream attention, even if it never officially achieves that status.
More than ever, the line between “independent” and “mainstream” is blurring, and I think it’s a good time to ask some simple, problem-posing questions: how and why? I think the second question is easier to answer than the first. The divide is closing because traditional “mainstream” products have become less satisfying over time. Perhaps that’s the wrong word; mainstream products have become predictable and staid even though they still rake in profit. But we see this most popularly, I think, with television (though an argument could be made for any nerd media right now). Even though the major networks are still the ratings kings and producing the most popular content, the revered content is made outside of those avenues, the top producers of which are probably HBO and AMC, currently. It was them, and networks like them, that pioneered the “new golden age of television” in which we now find ourselves. NBC, CBS, and ABC are not the trailblazers here, even if they are the “winners” using outdated metrics.
As for the “how”, that is an answer that produces the most consternation and danger as this movement progresses. The nice thing about the mainstream system is that it provides traditional and, for the most part, proven processes for bringing projects to life. The problem is that, over time, the process became corrupted by brown-nosing who-you-knows with impenetrable baselines for entry. The rise of the independents, as Frankenfield illustrates, took advantage of new media and presented new content on its own terms, letting the audience find it, even if that audience was niche. The problem with this is––and I saw this all the time in webcomics––that, arguably, the independent road to success can only be travelled once. Again, with webcomics, the success of strips like Penny Arcade or PvP or Axe Cop led to unwarranted (and unproven) codification of paths to success and many eager creators became wrapped in false righteousness when their duplication of Penny Arcade‘s arc didn’t provide the same results for them.
With new media––specifically, internet-based media––it seems that roads to success are made out of sand and are erased as soon as they are coursed. It makes “success” a much more malleable phrase for independents than a mainstream product ever could find. It’s why maintaining a self-sufficient comic through ads, Kickstarter campaigns, and regular Patreon contributions could be seen as more of a success than the new Ghostbusters, even though its gross revenue is approaching $220 million dollars (I’m this fully cognizant of the fact that those returns are less than the production budget and marketing budget combined, but there was also Zoolander 2; check those numbers). Whether it’s in the black or not, people still paid $220 million dollars to go see it, which is impressive from an indie standpoint, but to many it’s a mainstream failure, whereas in the context of self-sustaining webcomics we could mean an amount that simply covers hosting costs. If anything, its this relative definition of success that’s going to be making the biggest marks on pop culture in the future, and Frankenfield points to specific examples of this––Louis C.K. and Chance the Rapper––to get this point across.
It’s no secret that I hold Marvel’s persecuted mutants close to my heart, and to that extent, I cherish the filmic versions a bit more dear than many MCU properties if only because of my nostalgic tie to them (while wholly acknowledging that Marvel makes better movies, on the whole). That being said, I have long felt that it would be a mistake for the X-Men and their associated titles to move from Fox to Marvel Studios. To be frank, I was hoping to write an article about it, but Kyle Anderson at Nerdist hit that nail before I did.
I echo Anderson’s point wholeheartedly that the X-Men work best when mutants are the only super-powered people on the planet. I realize this only really exists in the context of the movies as they have been wholly integrated into the Marvel Comics universe since their inception, but as an easily digestible metaphor that can make the largest impact, it’s a context that is much more effective than if they had to interact with super-soldiers and aliens (though X-Men: Apocalypse got a bit close to that mark and, according to Bryan Singer, is a direction he wants to go in the future).
But, referring to what guest Elijah Kaine said during our Shortcast, there currently is room in popular culture for more than one continuity. Naturally, we all assumed it would be a stark line between Marvel and DC because that’s how it exists in the print world. However, we aren’t seeing an effort really coagulating on the DC/Warner Bros. side of things despite their best efforts and it’s also smart to think of things existing more broadly. We have the MCU, we have the Arrow-verse, and we have the X-Men continuity, among others. It’s a much more nuanced and multi-faceted world we live in than, perhaps, we want, but I think, overall, it is better for it.
NOTE: Kyle Anderson is the co-host of a podcast I’ve talked about before––Doctor Who: The Writer’s Room––in which he and Erik Stadnik talk about the writers from classic Doctor Who (1963-1989). They provide incredibly in-depth critical analysis of scripts and their writers that, I would argue, makes it essential listening if you are a fan. This may also make me a bit biased toward Kyle Anderson’s argument, though I didn’t realize he was the author until after I had read the piece.
and, in a slightly different interpretation of the column’s title, here is a video that is “Worth a Look”:
When I got new Transformers toys as a kid (and, perhaps, as an adult…maybe) I tended to throw away the packed-in weapons that the toys came with right away. Back in the ’80s, losing weapons was often a consequence of design; it was a problem that G.I. Joe toys had or M.A.S.K.toys had or He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (but not Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, their toys were perfect…not really, I’m sure they had the same problem)––the tiny blasters or swords fit nowhere except for in the hands of the characters. This was less of a problem for the other toys mentioned (since they could just permanently hold their weapons at the ready), but the point of The Transformers was that, at indeterminate intervals, you shouldn’t be able to see the characters’ hands because they were busy being some sort of vehicle (or electronic device or firearm or planet) and, in that case, there would be no place for the weapon to go. So, they got lost.
However, abandoning the weapons of Transformers toys was a choice on my part, not on behalf of any political agenda I held at the age of 5 and 6, but because I wasn’t buying the toys to recreate action scenes. When I spent time with my friends, the talk around playing with toys often came down to the simple binary of who would be the bad guys and who would be the good guys (the Decepticons and the Autobots, respectively, in this case) so that we could either ad-lib or reenact a decisive battle that would result in either global tyranny or peace on earth. I wasn’t particularly interested in these scenarios, possibly because I’m an only child and would often play with my toys alone, and big action set pieces weren’t fun nor particularly interesting.
The guys are back and push it to 11! Because Dan lives in Sacramento, and it is summer, you’ll hear his floor fan humming along throughout the episode––you’ve been warned! In a very energetic episode, Andrew and Dan discuss the following:
Week in Geek: Andrew continues to play X-Com, but not before also playing some 13th Age. Dan plays the demo for Valiant Hearts and nearly cries while doing so.
Andrew Objects: Breaking into our regularly scheduled Boasts of Bethel, Andrew addresses the idea that your role-playing game is better (or worse) than anybody elses…and why that might be a problem.
Nerd Debate: Dan sees Transformers: Age of Extinction which gets the guys to ponder the role of 80s nostalgia in popular culture. Then Dan tells Michael Bay how to make Transformers movies.
Games That Matter: Andrew and Dan discuss the importance and impact of Konami’s (more appropriately, Hideo Kojima’s) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
Last Call: After reviewing listener responses to last week’s question, Dan and Andrew get into a semantic debate, which must be resolved by you:
Which term is most appropriate to describe our culture: nerd or geek (other?)? Why?
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Until next week, for all intents and purposes, this is an episode breakdown.