It’s hard to admit it, but in the worlds of science fiction, fantasy and related subjects, many of us are frequently making our opinions known on subjects we maybe just recently became familiar with. Sometimes we’re like the pseudo-intellectual man from Annie Hall talking too loudly about things we know nothing of, and other times we’re the Woody Allen figure, dying to produce a magical figure to authoritatively correct a factual injustice.
In any case, below are five things geeks are suddenly experts on. (Even if some of us really always were.)
Classic Doctor Who
I always wanted to get into old Who when I was a kid, but could never really figure it out. Sure, I loved the floppy hat and the scarf when I caught the Tom Baker episodes on PBS in the early 90s, but really, to be a Doctor Who fan post-1980s in America was pretty rare. But, ever since Russell T. Davies changed the show forever in 2005, everybody’s an expert on the machinations of the Time Lords, the Daleks and all the rest. Now, I’ll leave the Brits out of this, as Doctor Who has been a legitimate institution there for a long, long time, but in the States, the likelihood of a rabid pre-2005 Who fan is fairly unlikely. My bet is that the vast majority of American Who fans would like to say they can definitely pick a favorite Doctor from the pre-2005 era, but the likelihood they’ve actually sat through all of those episodes is fairly small. Did those same people sit through all of Buffy and contemporary Battlestar Galatica? You bet they did.
The point is, I don’t think most contemporary Who fans “remember” the old Doctor Who. Most of us are just now discovering it for the first time. Which is great, because some of it is fantastic, rich, original and charming. But I can honestly say my Doctor Who complete serial viewings prior to 2005 consisted of “City of Death” and “The Pyramids of Mars.” And this is coming from someone who watched all three seasons of SeaQuest not to mention Babylon 5 AND Crusade. Bottom-line: for those of us in the states, new Who is way more watchable, accessible and better. We can pretend to be old school fans all we want, but most understand the history of Torchwood way more than UNIT.
(Okay, maybe this guy is legit.)
This past January I had the privilege of attending a few events in New York City put on by the Baker Street Irregulars and various other scion Sherlock Holmes fan organizations, including ASH (The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes.) One thing I learned from my betters was that they are all far more tolerant than I with the recent popular interest in Sherlock Holmes. As Lyndsay Faye (BSI and ASH member) has pointed out, these super-fans LOVE Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch.
I wish I could always say I am as forgiving with newer fans on this score. Personally, when I tell people in bars or at parties how much I love Sherlock Holmes, I tend to get a little annoyed that all I end up being able to talk about is Cumberbatch or Downey Jr. The current hipness of Sherlock Holmes is great, but occasionally a little tiring for those of us who have been really into this stuff for ages. For example: if you criticize the Downey Jr. films for being too violent someone might say, “well he was a fighter in the books,” which is only partially true.
But the trouble with all the Holmes stuff is that it’s such an old fandom that any kind of new know-it-alls to the group sometimes won’t have all their facts. Luckily, Sherlock Holmes fandom is very, very friendly, and the stories are still very readable.
Joseph Campbell/Hero Arc
Blame this one on George Lucas for constantly citing Campbell’s work as an influence for Star Wars. We could maybe even chalk this up to putting Luke Skywalker’s face on the cover of latter editions. The point is, a common defense for a predictable storyline in a superhero movie or fantasy novel is often that something is adhering to a classic “hero’s journey in the tradition of Joseph Campbell.”
The thing that never quite sits right with me on this subject is that the supposed hero’s arc seems very western-centric and Star Wars appeals to a lot of people who are not from the west. Also, just because something contains a classic hero’s journey doesn’t mean it’s good. Usually it just means something is predictable. Simply knowing this kind of thing exists isn’t necessarily enough to rationalize certain things that do or don’t make sense about a narrative.
Most importantly though, I couldn’t get through the entirety of Hero With a Thousand Faces, so I probably don’t know what I’m talking about.
1960’s Star Trek
Way back when the J.J. Abrams movie was just being talked about in interviews and no one had been cast, the various people involved began saying that the 1960s characters were like “Shakespeare characters” so of course you could recast them with no problem. And while they ended up being right about recasting, I’m not sure it’s because the characters were super-well defined.
I feel like at least half of the people who REALLY LOVE the J.J. Abrams movie aren’t experts on the classic series. (The other half like it because they like things containing the words “Star” and “Trek.” I’m one of those.) But prior to the J.J. Abrams film, I’d bet that The Next Generation was considered to be the more famous Star Trek. I don’t mean to say people hadn’t heard of Spock, just simply that they hadn’t seen much of him outside of the movies. This, of course is changing because of the 2009 film, but just like many weren’t aware of Tony Stark and his machinations prior to the Iron Man movies, I’d venture to say the name “Gary Mitchell” doesn’t have the same association with hardcore Trekkies as it does with casual fans.
To put it another way: let’s say there was a feature film series about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine which featured the return of Gul Dukat in the second film. The post-credit sequence at the end of our hypothetical DS9 film which reveals Dukat would elicit crickets in theatre.
Here’s one I’m guilty of. Did I, a massive DC fan and big time geek really understand the mythology or backstory of Tony Stark prior to the 2008 film Iron Man? I did not. And my guess is that most moviegoers didn’t either. Even if the average fan knew that Iron Man was Tony Stark and his girlfriend was Pepper Potts, it’s not like the general public could name details from the Iron Man comics like who Jarvis actually. Black Widow and Nick Fury aren’t household names. Yes, among comic book geeks specifically, these things are known, but to the general populace; Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers aren’t nearly as famous as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. More specifically, most people’s mothers do not know who Thanos is, but they have heard of the Joker.
But the brilliant thing about how Marvel Avenger’s movies were made and marketed is that now almost everyone seems to think they have heard of Thanos. Nice work Marvel! (For further reading a long similar lines, Charlie Jane Anders at io9 points out why there aren’t very many “A” List superheroes)
What other topics have you recently learned a lot about in a short period of time? Or what’s something you love and know a lot about and now it seems everyone wants to play too? Let us know below!
Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com. His love for dinosaurs is disproportionate to his knowledge of them.