Privately (and now publicly, ha ha) I wasn't sure G.I. Joe, Transformers 2, Terminator: Salvation or Avatar counted as geek films. But as one commenter astutely pointed out, "geek" isn't exactly an official genre, so who is to say what is a geek film and what isn't? Well, what better place to debate this than The Geek Beat – and what better time to define it than in the first installment of 2009?
To me, a geek film is something that mainstream audiences don't necessarily embrace, something they may even snigger at. That's why I restricted "geek films" to be movies based on (or accompanied by) graphic novels and comic books. (I also had to loosen the definition in order to pad it out a bit with selections like Sherlock Holmes and GI Joe because hey, there's not that many comic/superhero films this year.) But it's also why I included Star Trek, which falls out of comic territory, but invented geekdom. Trekkers/Trekkies flew the flag when no one else did. So did Star Wars fans and if there had been some kind of Star Wars film on the 2009 slate, I would have included it too.
But the definition is really problematic these days. One of my earliest columns was on the idea of "geek chic" or "fan glam," the belief that it was so cool to be a geek that the lines were blurring or vanishing completely. I dismissed it at the time based on my own personal experiences of wearing Wolverine hoodies at Heathrow, and not being able to find XS comic t-shirts. That was before Iron Man and The Dark Knight hit theaters, before I found an XS Jayne Cobb shirt at ComicCon, and before friends and family started ransacking my comic shelf, and e-mails from strangers poured in demanding my Queen Gorgo dress. It does seem like prior to summer 2008, comics and conventions were for geeks, and only a maladjusted adult would be into seeing The Avengers. Now, everyone wants to know who the heck is playing Catwoman. Casting and continuity debates once reserved for my comic book shop are now heard everywhere, and the trailer to X-Men Origins: Wolverine is one of the most viewed as per IMDB. Maybe this stuff isn't that weird anymore – maybe geek is chic.
Of course, I'm focusing mainly on comic movies as an example. There's plenty of other movies that I consider to be 100% geeky, like Star Trek, and Star Wars. If a Doctor Who movie came out tomorrow, I'd slap the nerd label on it. Yet, I'm not convinced that anything sci-fi or futuristic can be labeled as "geeky." I don't consider most of James Cameron's filmography to be "geeky" even if it is science fiction, it's all too slickly mainstream. (That's not a bad thing.) Nor do I consider Terminator: Salvation to be particularly nerdy -- I'd put the entire Terminator saga firmly into the mainstream action category. Same with Transformers, which appeals not to geeks, but to childhood nostalgia. Many people who flock to see those movies will sniff at Star Trek, no matter how glamorous J.J. Abrams makes it.
I think the lines blur not because of the new popularity of superheroes and sci-fi, but because of the Internet. The first three Terminator films didn't inspire a lot of pre-release obsession, whereas Terminator: Salvation has been discussed down to the fine points since the day it was announced. Film fandom is becoming synonymous with geekdom because of the intense discussion inspired by a single poster, photograph, or trailer. Fandom itself has taken on a dimension that cinema has never before experienced – if The Man with No Name trilogy was released today, Jack Sparrow costumers would be competing with squinting boys in serapes. NECA would have an 18 inch tall talking Blondie action figure. And we'd be debating whether The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was a geek film for 2009.
I realize now that I'm making it sound like that's a bad thing, and that I'm feeling defensive over a label, or desperately clinging to social ostracism. I'm not at all. I've always firmly believed that you can be a geek about anything – from Sergio Leone, to U2, to football stats. Geekdom isn't confined to Dungeons and Dragons, Star Trek conventions, or comic books. And I'm loving every moment "geekdom" has in the sun because people like talking about it, and movies and television in general.
So, I'll put the question to you – is there such a thing as the geek genre? How would you define it? Is it now an obsolete label thanks to people's enthusiasm everything once confined to conventions, dingy comic shops, and secret clubs? I'm honestly leaning towards "obsolete" myself ... except that I still can't buy a Wolverine t-shirt in a girl size, and until I can (and at someplace like Target instead of convention stalls), I won't be convinced that the lines of geekdom have vanished.