In 1996, Austin-based movie geek, Harry Knowles, founded his blog, Ain’t it Cool News. The website drew upon what Knowles called a “worldwide geek network” of spies and informants and by 1997, AICN was notorious for supplying unauthorized, behind-the-scenes information and publishing early reviews of test screenings. Knowles became an object of public fascination, as the press profiled him in countless articles and television segments. He was blamed for negative buzz about Batman and Robin (1997), acclaimed for reassuring audiences that Titanic (1997) was well worth the studio’s massive investment, and even threatened with legal action for posting images from Starship Troopers (1997).
The accompanying clip from a 1998 episode of Inside Edition is representative of the discourse surrounding Knowles, which celebrated the idea that this stereotypical geek—unkempt, overweight, and living and working in his childhood bedroom, crammed with movies and memorabilia—could have such significant sway over his (and Hollywood's) audience. This clip also demonstrates how Knowles’ power and influence was routinely connected to his impact on Hollywood, tracing his move from geeky outsider to Hollywood insider. The resulting myth around Knowles unfolds somewhat paradoxically in the sense that his identity as an outsider and a geek, so pivotal to his newfound fame, was simultaneously neutralized by his invitation inside the exclusive Hollywood scene.
The seemingly symbiotic relationship between Knowles and Hollywood in the late nineties is even more complicated in retrospect and it is a story worth remembering and examining now, as Hollywood marketing increasingly invites audiences to feel like insiders and members of exclusive groups. This year, The Hollywood Reporter detailed Knowles’ attempts to keep AICN afloat in the midst of significant financial troubles. Formerly a middleman connecting Hollywood to a highly engaged audience of geeks, Knowles found himself less and less relevant as studios adjusted their practices in order to directly connect with this demographic online and through fan events like Comic-Con. Instead of Hollywood turning to Knowles for publicity, Knowles has become increasingly reliant on Hollywood. Even the success of his recent Kickstarter campaign seemed unlikely until the final 48 hours, when Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, and Eli Roth recorded messages of support. Though he was initially characterized as an unruly and influential tastemaker, the construction of Knowles' stardom in relation to Hollywood’s pre-existing hierarchies actually reinforced the industry’s hegemonic power: Knowles brought the geek, while Hollywood brought the chic.