This clip is a short excerpt from Public Broadcasting Atlanta’s Four Days at Dragon*Con, a one-hour documentary about Atlanta’s massive pop-culture convention (“Nerdi Gras” as one interviewee calls it).
As a fairly geeky individual myself, it occurred to me at the Con that the only real dividing line (and it is a wide and blurry one) between nerds and the mainstream any more is the level of enthusiasm for a given pop-culture property. What was once considered nerdy or geeky, let’s say fantasy or sci-fi, is now part of the mainstream. Comic book, sci-fi, and fantasy movies are hugely popular. Are you a geek for going to see the Dark Knight or the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Of course not. You and everyone else did. Are you a geek for getting really into the DC Comics source material or dressing up like a hobbit and doing some LARPing? You bet your stick-on pointy elf ears you are.
But so what? At Dragon*Con, 35,000 other people are doing it, too. As I’ve been wrapping up this flick, I’ve thought about how different it would have been to do it, say, 10 or 15 or 20 years ago: back when Cons really were a gathering place for outside-of-the-mainstream folks and LOTR was just a gateway drug to nerdier stuff like D&D.
So where does one actually cross over into geekdom today? This is something - level of enthusiasm as geekometer- that I wasn’t able to fully explore in the documentary. No one expressed it in those terms, and some people I interviewed disagreed with me when I postulated it; working without narration, I’m at the mercy of what my interview subjects say. This segment (or rather, segments, as this is two different parts of the documentary jammed together) is where Four Days at Dragon*Con briefly touches upon nerd self-identification and the sliding scale of geekiness.
Four Days at Dragon*Con will begin airing on PBS stations throughout the country in April of 2011.
I look forward to seeing your doc in its entirety.
Having beheld geekdom across the span of several decades now, I think you're hitting upon a truth here that "geekiness" is closer to mainstream than a lot of folks would like to admit. There certainly was a time when simply uttering the words "Bilbo Baggins" would instantly identify one as a hopeless geek (I speak from very personal experience). But yesterday's geek-talk is today's mainstream. Today, LOTR is a genuine mainstream cultural phenomenon. Geeks have been way ahead of the cultural curve on lots of topics. And often times it has been that dogged level of enthusiasm you speak of that has helped lift a work like LOTR up out of its niche into the mainstream cultural consciousness.
You want to know where the culture is heading next? Don't ask the guy with the cool shades who knows all of the current catch-phrases. Ask the geek . . .
geeks in the mainstream
One could do a whole documentary on the mainstreaming of geekdom, that is certain. I wish we'd had time to get into it further in our doc.
A pop-culture critic we interviewed for "Four Days" pretty much echoed your sentiments. If you want to see what Hollywood will glom onto next, look at the costumes at DragonCon.
"Four Days at Dragon*Con" excerpt
Many thanks (of course) to Jack for curating, for the truly excellent clip choice and thought-provoking accompanying text, and especially for his and Gordon Ray's really fine video production, which I cannot recommend highly enough.
I have watched FOUR DAYS AT DRAGON*CON about five times now in total, and as a "video guy," I can say that it holds up very well to repeated viewings--the chunk Jack picked for IMR is perfect for our purposes, but I hope you all get to see the rest very soon (see below for interesting point about that).
Ian and I attended a FOUR DAYS screening Sunday morning at this year's Dragon*Con (over Labor Day weekend--today is my first day back), and it was very well received by fans; huge laughs in all the right places, applause at the end, and positive feedback in the Q&A.
The adjective that I keep hearing from fans about FOUR DAYS is "respectful," and I agree. As academics studying fans, we have largely moved beyond the old pathologizing viewpoint, but the "look at the freaks" attitude does crop up all too often in traditional media depictions, so kudos to Jack and Gordon for "not going there."
As far as everyone seeing the piece soon, I hope I'm not talking out of school here: Jack was able to comment publicly on Sunday that the classic bugaboo of music licensing concerns (broadcast OK, vs reproduction, not OK) were going to prevent DVD sales, which is a darn shame; instead, the marketing effort will be put into trying to get national (PBS) distribution for the documentary--follow Facebook and similar for news on when to write in--I'm keeping all fingers and toes crossed for you.
I hope to check in again soon; the discussions this week are already just lovely.
PS to my last post
LOTR as gateway drug, rotfl
A Question of "Place"?
This is a fantastic post, Jack, and you raise some interesting points. With events like Comic-Con where fan activities are oftentimes incorporated into corporate advertising, the divide between mainstream and fandom is becoming harder to identify. Could the question then be one of "place" (i.e., where are these activities taking place) instead of "what" the practices actually are? Dressing up and going to Comic-Con is oftentimes portrayed in a more positive light than going to Dragon*Con (there were some stories on CNN this weekend that emphasized this).
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