Features and Columns

Culture Warrior: The Modern Movie Geek is Alive and Well

By  · Published on June 8th, 2010

Since our resident Phd candidate in Film Studies, Landon Palmer, is busy ironing his tweed jackets, I’m taking the opportunity to dumb the column down a bit and make it lose all credibility. Landon will return next week with more insights.

By modern movie geek, of course I mean Chester Blathington of Portsmouth, Mass. Word is that he’s got Uromycitisis poisoning or stomach spiders or something. It doesn’t look good.

It also might not look good for the rest of us who claim to be movie geeks, according to Devin Faraci over at American Idol fan website CHUD.

In his latest editorial, he ponders the situation of the modern movie geek in terms of a seeming unwillingness to enjoy films that “dark, edgy, odd and downright bizarre.” All of this comes about because of a backlash he’s encountered regarding his enjoyment of Splice. It also comes about because, supposedly, movie geeks of his era all worship at the feet of Cronenberg and Raimi.

Where has all the enthusiasm for the weird gone?

Of course Devin’s mistake is framing the argument around the idea of a “movie geek.” Or, at least, defining the term so narrowly.

Perhaps there are certain levels, and anyone who could name 8 movies Louise Fletcher was in (without using IMDB) is geekier than I am, but the idea that “movie geeks” would have to love the bizarre in the first place is a stretch and a poor assumption.

Because everyone loves David Cronenberg and his chest vaginas. Just ask your mother. Chest vaginas are mainstream now.

The real question seems to be: Has the average purveyor of internet movie websites changed in the past decade?

Of course the answer is yes. Audiences have grown, and film websites have become go-to sources where they used to be underground names whispered between people who enjoyed Salo. Many were a bastion for other kinds of geeks hoping for an adaptation of their particular obsession. Many others still were a place where, like Devin, one could celebrate the absolute challenge of seeing a movie featuring a tree raping a woman.

I realize this intimately because I’ve grown up during the change. In college, I discovered sites like CHUD and Aint It Cool through friends who knew better, and they became the key sources for information about upcoming projects – most of which were flicks deemed cool enough by Harry Knowles and Devin. For example, the ups and downs of Disney’s John Carter of Mars production wouldn’t be nearly as well known without Knowles.

What I’ve described, as you can tell, is a cult.

It’s a small group (or as small as you can pretend it to be) of people who know the same movies, agree on which ones are good or bad or challenging, and speak a common language. They recognize each other from their badges and scars – like bikers or gang members or public school teachers – the signs of common experience that acted like secret passwords into tucked away corners where discussions, where the inside jokes, where all the real stuff was happening.

This was the first internet stage of the movie geek. There were only a few places for the geek to find good grazing lands in his search for satiating film discussion. Sadly, or happily, this wouldn’t last. The new flesh was still evolving.

With the proliferation of the internet, not only did more film websites crop up, but access to the ancient passwords and inside jokes was made widely available. This created two situations.

One, even more people who loved movies were able to dig into the conversation, they were able to find the meeting halls to learn even more and share their knowledge. This included a younger generation of movie fans who loved Spielberg but maybe hadn’t heard of Fulci. But they would. And they’d learn about a lot more. And this would be good for everyone (except elitists who truly did not want to share their joy with others).

The second situation was that more people could fake it.

Like the guy in the Thriller jacket singing Journey’s “Open Arms” at karaoke, more people could act as if they had seen just as many movies without, you know, ever seeing many movies. Even for those not faking it, the access to information was made so easy that filmic experiences became more commonplace. Gone were the days where your friend’s older brother mentioned a movie, and you had to wait 4 months until you could get a dirty VHS copy of it to see if the woman really did give birth to a swarm of yellow jackets (she did). Gone were the battle scars and the involved stories of the experience behind the experience.

Those stories were replaced with tales of the two-day wait for Netflix to get the disc to the door. And those stories are boring. So, in a way, no new badges of honor were being made, and another way to connect was being lost.

The third situation out of the two that I mentioned earlier is that the type of people who visited film websites evolved to include a wider berth. First Generation Film Geeks could still head over to the Talkbacks and blather on in their secret language, but most websites also saw an influx of casual movie-goers simply looking for information or interviews or editorial. Some were, shockingly, looking for reviews and opinion. Some felt challenged to anonymously comment on everything, regardless of context, with special attention to the number of “douches” they could throw into a single sentence.

So now the once-pure pool of film geeks of a certain brand were joined by young movie fans who were either eager to learn or eager to mouth off in comment threads, and crowds who see fewer than a half dozen movies a year but who wanted some information on what was best to hit up at the box office. Oddly enough, that box office began catering to geeks more after finding out that there was a huge pool of material with built-in audiences left to mine.

The websites also encountered different brands of movie geeks. Part of the trepidation Devin is most likely feeling is that the beginning of the internet was marked by a specific type of movie geek – this type was magnetized by the likes and dislikes of Harry Knowles, Garth from Dark Horizons, and Devin himself.

For some time, a very small group of people and the things they chose to write about were the natural catalyst drawing in audiences with similar experiences (or audiences so compelled to disagree that they spoke up and became loyal readers). With different types of movie geeks – geeks that love only noir, geeks that love Hammer films more than life, geeks that lose their mind for Godard and Godzilla in equal measure, geeks who only dig on war films from before 1950, geeks who may not necessarily want the challenge of Splice or chest vaginas – comes a different environment on the internet.

In summation, the internet has thoroughly helped the movie geek, but it’s also killed the exclusivity, opened the doors to anonymous gadflies, and created an opportunity for the studio system to co-opt a culture they had previously not understood.

My response, as someone who takes most of this with a grain of salt and earnestly celebrates the fact that I get emails from fans in India finding beauty in a shared love of a film and from kids in high school who read my Old Ass Movies column, is a simple one.

To all of you old school geeks wringing your hands and shaking your cane at a new generation, I say Don’t Despair! Making new friends can be tough, especially because sometimes they have different opinions or like different things. I know it’s hard to see your small group infiltrated by what you believe are outsiders, but give them a shot. I’d be willing to bet they know more about movies than you give them credit for, and, hey, you might even learn something from them. Plus, you’re in an incredible position to become a mentor for the next generation who will fall in love with what you love.

It’ll be hard for you to throw away your leather movie geek jacket, to stop worrying about whether you should champion a certain film because it will give you geek credibility, but I’m confident that you can do it. The point is that the modern movie geek is alive and well – because you’re still around and because there’s an entirely new crop of people that have just discovered the meeting place. Times are still a’changing, there will be a ton of comments to ignore, but the good outweighs the bad.

Besides, I want to get back to celebrating a love of movies. Who’s with me?

Culture Warrior is normally our weekly walk on the wild side with actual film school graduate Landon Palmer. Check out the archives for an actually intelligent discussion.

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Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.