Older Americans can fondly recall the 1984 movie "Revenge of the Nerds" when jocks still ruled college and upstart dweebs had to fight to make their mark on our culture.
No more. Geek chic dominates TV, movies and, of course, computer games. At the same time, smart techie types have risen to hold sway over the rest of our culture. Tech billionaires like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg fill the billionaires’ list and influence much of our daily lives from the operating systems that run our computers to the social media we use to keep tabs on friends and family.
Whether you are or aren’t expressing your inner geek, this is good news. Geek culture lionizes many traditional values that made this nation great – individualism, honor, loyalty and bravery. Hollywood rarely makes any Westerns any more. Our new heroes come mostly from geekdom – "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "Harry Potter," "The Lord of the Rings" and more.
Photo Credit: Rotten Tomatoes
They are everywhere. Nine of the top 15 movies of 2013 were live-action sci-fi triumphs from "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" to "World War Z." They are filled to the brim with our top stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Harrison Ford, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie. That’s a far cry from 20 years earlier, when only "Jurassic Park" made the top 10.
This year is shaping up to be just as strong or stronger. Six of the top seven films are live-action sci-fi. "Transformers: Age of Extinction," starring Mark Wahlberg is the current number one and took in $100 million its opening weekend. The July 4 edition of Entertainment Weekly is called “The Apocalypse Issue,” and focuses on a parade of sci-fi disaster pictures.
There are so many escapist good guy vs. bad guy flicks that you can almost excuse the propaganda Hollywood slips in some of its less-popular films.
Geeks rule TV, too. The weekly nerd triumph "The Big Bang Theory" leads all other shows in the crucial 18-49 demographic. It falls to second behind "NCIS" only when total ratings are considered. And even "NCIS" is filled with enough computer or medical tech to satisfy an MIT student.
"The Big Bang Theory" is regular up to date on current nerd culture from computer games and comic books to scientific theories. Despite its often sex-filled plotlines, it is an upbeat show that follows a group of brilliant misfits as they encounter and often overcome life’s challenges.
Photo Credit: CBS
"Once Upon a Time" and "Marvel: Agents of SHIELD" on broadcast join "Game of Thrones," "Walking Dead" and a host of vampire and occult shows on cable. "Game of Thrones" and "Walking Dead" are two of the biggest water cooler shows on TV. You would be hard-pressed to find a network that didn’t have a signature geek show or more – most depicting good vs. evil.
TNT’s new show "The Last Ship" portrays an American destroyer trying to make a vaccine to stop a deadly illness that has nearly wiped out mankind. Premiere ratings were huge for the summer show. It’s also paired with another TNT sci-fi program, the Steven Spielberg take on alien invasion "Falling Skies."
Both programs are all about holding on to values in face of adversity. "Falling Skies" is steeped in the Founders. Hero Noah Wylie plays a history professor who needs to take up arms so that mankind can be free. It’s like watching the Constitution come alive and kick alien butt.
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"Last Ship" features sci-fi veteran Adam Baldwin as the U.S.S. Nathan James’ executive officer. Fans recognize him from the beloved Joss Whedon cult favorite "Firefly" to sci-fi-ish spy drama "Chuck." He’s also appeared in a host of videogames.
Baldwin has a talent for tough-guy roles, depicted with a mixture of believability and panache.
“What I love about sci-fi,” he said in a recent interview, “is the opportunity to play in extraordinary circumstances and still be an ordinary guy.”
Baldwin isn’t the only tough guy of the geek universe. There’s Vin Diesel of “Fast and Furious” fame, but who many fans know better as Riddick. Diesel doesn’t just play a geek on film.
“I've spent decades playing Dungeons & Dragons, so I'm really fantasy-based and I always dig mythology," Diesel told USA Today.
Diesel plays Groot in the new Marvel film "Guardians of the Galaxy" coming out in August. It depicts a small group of criminals out to save the galaxy.
That is the essence of successful science fiction. It’s the land of heroes. And all of us benefit from seeing good overcome evil. Netscape billionaire Marc Andreessen summed it up better recently. Commenting on an NPR story about how popular kids “tend to fade by the time they're 22,” he added, “nerds win.”
They do indeed.
Dan Gainor is the Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. He writes frequently about media for TheBlaze. He can also be contacted on Facebook and Twitter @dangainor.
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