Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Scott Pilgrim and the Continuing Rise of Geek Culture

There's a ton of movies out there that are based on, borrow heavily from, or reference existing properties that fly under the radar of the mainstream. Some are massively entertaining in their own right and people have a habit of enjoying these without fully realising just how much of these films reference other cult and pop culture properties. Some of these films gain more widespread recognition than all of the properties they borrow from combined. Tarantino films are a good example of these, I know people who watch a lot of movies, but you're going to be hard pressed to find a film geek educated enough to spot all the obscure stuff he's borrowing from. Edgar Wright's films are another example, although his references (i.e. every action film ever in Hot Fuzz) are a little easier to pick. Films have this habit of influencing society, popular films popularise clothing, accessories, activities and a bunch of other stuff. If Scott Pilgrim vs. the World does turn out to be the phenomenal crossover hit I think it will, things are going to happen.

With Edgar Wright's latest film, an adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's brilliant comic, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (see that other post I wrote), released later this year, I've got to wonder if this mash-up of geek culture is going to influence a new generation without them even knowing its origins. If it works, it's going to be unique. People aren't expecting what's going to go down this movie. The whole geek movement, the videogame playing, comic book reading demographic is becoming more and more acceptable. Gaming is a bigger industry now than film, and people are even tending to read the odd graphic novel now to achieve some degree of cultural cred (whether sincere or otherwise). As a character, Scott Pilgrim is the champion of a demographic of teens to twenty-somethings. He's a slacker, he's flaky, he's in a band, he mooches off his friends, he's not that smart, he says stupid stuff, but everybody loves him and he's the greatest fighter in the Province.

Scott's one of us.

Superficially, it's an awesome story about a bunch of cool young people. It's a romantic comedy with cartoon violence and nerd love. It's all going to be presented in the fast-paced, flashy style and visual mastery that Edgar Wright is continuously developing. Basically, it's got a good chance of appealing to teenage to twenty-somethings who aren't already members of the comic's target audience.

I defy you to find a person who doesn't like nerd love that is not a total asshole.

Successful films and TV shows, bands or other major popular culture properties that are big enough, or that at least develop a sizable cult following, have a certain tangible influence on culture and style. People copy. People emulate. I'm not just thinking about your sad costume parties where everyone dresses up like David Bowie in Labyrinth. I'm talking about influence in people's personalities, what they like, their personal style.

In terms of people taking cues from fiction, I'd say it's been happening pretty early on. Themes and descriptions that people read about appeal to them, they incorporate it into their own personalities. I bet rabid Jane Austen fans were taking cues from Mr. Darcy's and Elizabeth Bennett's dress sense way back in the 1800s. But lets stick to this and the last century. James Dean and Marlon Brando must have a big part in why we're all wearing jeans. They made it popular, and that endures. Leather jackets too, probably. How many people went out and got mop cuts when the Beatles were at the height of their fame? Audrey Hepburn? David Bowie? Saturday Night Fever? You could pretty much break it up into decades. What's cool at that point in time? The nineties? Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana? It's the grunge scene. It's flannel shirts and ripped jeans. One of the largest crossover successes? The Matrix taught us it was acceptable to wear big black coats and sunglasses. I don't even want to start on the ills Twilight might be doing.

So, if Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is successful, will we see the geek chic indie-scene intensify? If this movie makes the slacker-hipster scene attractive to the easily impressionable high school kids and early twenty-somethings, what can we expect? The Scott Pilgrim comic book series is pretty much a mash-up of the influences of one Bryan Lee O'Malley, it's this specific configuration of the indie style, music, video games and comic books. Through a potentially popular movie, one man's tastes going to influence a generation by being made tangible on the big screen? Geek culture has been gaining ground for well over a decade now. Comic book movies are getting made at an alarming rate. Even the independent and less mainstream (From Hell, A History of Violence, Road to Perdition). Video games are not just played by nerds with computers any more. X-Box and Play Stations are household names. Google is a verb to the people of the world.

Will Scott Pilgrim drag these references into the mainstream, to attain a new tier of Geek Chic that we've been slowly witnessing since the dawn of the comic book movie era? I think we're going to see an increase in unnaturally dyed hair colours, side bags, mallets, high school bands and basically the kind of clothes the hipsters and indie-kids thought they had a monopoly on. It's going to drag a cult favourite into the mainstream. We'll be getting some kind of meta-referential influence on the style of our youth. It'll be odd.

At the very least it'll have people pulling out their 8-bit console games from the early nineties.

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