When I grew up in the 1970s I had to work hard to nurture my love for the fantastic, my ever-present “inner geek,” if you will. In those days I was too young early on to be able to see the few films of the fantastic in the theaters, and like everyone else my family only had a few television channels at their disposal. But even with these slim television pickin’s it was a major source of sustenance. I remember grabbing the TV Guide when it was delivered and working my way through page by page and circling every horror, science fiction, and fantasy film listed. I hoped that our antenna would provide the signal reception so I could see the films, and that they would be on when I wasn’t in school. Sometimes feeding this fetish required drastic measures. Thankfully my mom doesn’t read my blog, so I can confess now that on at least one occasion I faked illness so as to watch an afternoon showing of a Ray Harryhausen film during the school week.
During this time period it was also tough to find printed materials that nurtured my inner geek. My brother and I would pick up the occasional issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, and Cinefantastique from a bookstore within a few miles biking distance from our house. Our paper routes provided just enough income to pick up these windows into the wonderful that fed our overactive imaginations.
Thankfully, times have changed dramatically in this area. Now we have the fantastic in film and television available on DVD, and we can record them in any number of ways, from the soon to be extinct VHS, to DVD, to Tivo. We can also watch clips from them, sometimes even entire films and television programs on YouTube, Hulu, Google or other places on the Internet. The number of magazines that focus on the fantastic have also grown in response to a larger reading audience, and bookstores like Barnes & Noble often feature several rows of books, magazines, manga, and graphic novels.
In the twenty-first century the fantastic has moved from the fringes of pop culture to its mainstream. I was reminded of this shift this morning in two ways. First, on my outing to Barnes & Noble I noted a special section of science fiction and fantasy up front near the coffee cafe that was filled with a variety of graphic novels each connected to a popular series of characters from film and television. The literature of the fantastic is no longer relegated solely to specialty stores, or found only in special sections near the back of the bookstore. It is now featured prominently for readers hungry to consume the latest fantastic pop cultural phenomenon.
There was a second way in which I was reminded of the increasing popularly of the fantastic, and that was through several magazines featuring the upcoming Star Trek film on their covers. I have been a huge fan of Star Trek from my earliest years (primarily of the original series, and I proudly acknowledge my previous ownership of a blue science officer’s uniform modeled after Mr. Spock’s that my mom carefully crafted according to Starfleet specifications for her geeky son). In consideration of the attention now devoted to the upcoming film it is not surprising that sci fi magazines would promote it, but the cover story for the May 4, 2009 issue of NEWSEEK is something of a surprise. In a story titled “We’re All Trekkies Now,” author Steve Daly talks about how a short-lived television series in the late 1960s has gone on to become a pop culture phenomenon, so much so that in Daly’s view as stated in the story’s byline, “‘Star Trek’ is way cool. How’d that happen? Because the geeks have inherited the earth, and the White House.”
Daly’s sentiments may be a stretch. Just as in a previous issue the magazine mistakenly generalized that all Americans are now socialists in light of President Obama’s “stimulus package” and various corporate bailouts, so too it is a stretch to state that Americans in general are Trekkers. I also take exception to the magazine’s comparison of Obama to Spock (based upon outrageous ears and an emphasis on logic), but I understand and accept the main thrust of the article: The upcoming Star Trek film is but the latest expression of a pop cultural phenomenon that once inhabited the margins of pop culture among a small group of sci fi geeks, but is now mainstream, hip, and cool. Or at least that’s what Paramount Pictures hopes is the sentiment as it prepares to release the latest incarnation of the Star Trek franchise with an eye toward its revitalization for a new, younger generation of viewers.
The cover is NEWSWEEK is on to something when it states that “ Star Trek taught us to dream big.” Indeed, it did, as has much of the fantastic, whether science fiction, fantasy or horror. I’m proud to have been a Star Trek geek, and beyond that, a geek of the broader fantastic for most of my life. It’s about time others joined the party. While we geeks may not inherit the earth, it’s good to see that at least we take the lead in stimulating the imagination in pop culture.