You’ve no doubt noticed that a lot of historically geek-type interests have gained popularity, and the nature of geekdom has changed. Ten years ago, I watched what I believe was the first television show broadcast from within San Diego Comic Con; a special two-hour edition of Attack of the Show, most of which was shown live. Previously, you may have caught a local news anchor from San Diego doing a 5-minute segment or something, but staging an entire show from the convention floor hadn’t been done.
Because there wasn’t deemed enough interest.
Within a year or two, there were any number of shows being hosted from convention itself, some have rolling coverage over the course of several days. That was very visible effect of the shifting perceptions of geekdom.
The question, though, is which begat which. Did those shifting opinions prompt television executives to take notice and cater more to that audience, or did the increased attention help grant permission to audiences to geek out about their favorite topics?
Conventional wisdom posits that it comes from a generation of executives who grew up loving comics and sci-fi movies, and are indulging their own long-held interests. You can see this with directors like J.J. Abrams, who’s been very vocal about his love of Star Wars as a child, and is now in the position to work with those very same characters.
However, it must be said that not every executive or person in authority has that same background, so that can’t be the entirety of the argument.
Frank Zappa once noted that some of the great music that came out of the 1960s was heralded by music executives that didn’t know what they were listening to. By contrast, the banality of music that devolved into was the direct result of current music executives were claimed to be hip and allegedly understood what audiences wanted. One could make the same arguments about comics. Or science fiction. Or film in general.
Because what executives are doing, as a general rule, is trying to be the arbiters of what’s cool and popular. They encourage interest with huge marketing campaigns that often dwarf the actual cost of producing the story. Batman v Superman has gotten some headlines simply by being one of the most expensive movie ever made; however, the $410m figure being tossed around includes $150m just in marketing. But regardless of what executives may have thought of Batman and/or Superman as kids, they collectively spent a couple thousand times what I earn in a year to tell everyone how great a movie it is.
(Here’s a fun game: take $150,000,000 and divide that by how much you make in a year!)
Regardless of how much they spend on marketing, though, they’re only doing that because they think they can earn that money back. Regardless of how much you care about Batman, or Star Wars, or Doctor Who, or Frozen, or whatever… these are companies whose primary goal is to make money. They wouldn’t be selling you on their stories if they didn’t think there was some latent interest there.
Which, unfortunately, means we’re somehow back to the chicken and egg question on how everything so many of us were ridiculed for liking in our childhoods are now socially acceptable.