Elmore Leonard had it all wrong. These days, it seems like everyone is going out of their way to do anything but Be Cool.
Think back to all of those generic college hijinks movies. The students were always divided up into two groups – the jocks and the nerds. The nerds were always shown hanging out in the basement of the science building, reading comics and playing roleplaying games. They were anything but cool.
And yet, it seems these days the nerds have taken over pop culture. Maybe it started with guys like Bill Gates and Al Gore bringing the internet to the masses, but it seems like the entertainment industry is marketing to the geeks. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the current pop culture landscape.
Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince. The latest book by J.K. Rowlings sold around 9 million copies in United States and England in the first 24 hours, which is a new record. The new books were heavily guarded to keep any of the secrets from getting out. It’s safe to say that Harry Potter is the hottest thing around today. And these books are anything but cool. This book, which is over 600 pages long, is all about a young wizard and it uses made up words like “Muggles” and “Quidditch.” If all you fans think this is anything but the modern incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons, you are just kidding yourself.
C.S.I. Cop shows have always been popular, but CSI isn’t really a cop show. It’s a show about forensic scientist who use complicated machines to collect evidence. This is exactly the kind of stuff nerds would do in the basement of the science building. Not to mention the fact that William Petersen is probably one of the uncoolest people on television. However, the show continues to get monster ratings and has spawned two spin-offs, C.S.I. Miami and C.S.I. New York.
The Da Vinci Code. Before everyone got caught up in the latest Harry Potter saga, everyone was talking about this novel. Dan Brown’s book sparked a lot of controversy for some of it’s more radical claims, but it became a best-seller and is even being turned into a movie starring Tom Hanks. But, the most interesting thing about this book is that, while it is a work of fiction, most of the story is based on historical events and clues the characters find are hidden in real paintings and artifacts. Instead of the usual mindless James Patterson-style thriller, this is a book that makes people think and gives them a different historical perspective on biblical events. And the novel’s protagonist, Robert Langdon, is a symbologist at Harvard. Studying history and reading about Harvard symbologist doesn’t seem very cool.
Comic Book movies. Movies based on comic books have been around for a while, but these new films are different. The new trend in Hollywood is to treat the comics as sacred text. The new Spider-man movies have done huge numbers in the box office by staying as true as possible to Stan Lee’s original vision. After being disappointed by previous Batman films, everyone was impressed by how true Batman Begins was to the original comics, the sentiment being “finally they got it right.” When Robert Rodriguez decided to adapt the Sin City comics into film, he not only tried to match the comics frame for frame, he actually brought in series creator Frank Miller to direct the film with him. With people caring this much about how true to the comics these movies are, it’s hard not to picture the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons on his computer writing things like, “Worst episode ever.” Taking comics that serious can’t be healthy, let alone cool.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Maybe it’s time our society as a whole stops trying so hard to be cool. Maybe it’s time the nerds get their time in the sun (lord knows after all that time in the basement, they could use a little sun). Coolness had a good run, but like everything else, it got played out. Coolness has officially jumped the shark and being nerdy is the new black.
I think it is the best move for everyone. Being nerdy is so much easier than being cool. Besides, most of us will never be as hip as Brad Pitt or George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven (and, to a lesser extent, Ocean’s Twelve). Probably the best we could hope for is being as cool as Fonzie on Happy Days, wearing leather jackets and saying things like, “Correct-a-mundo” and I don’t think anyone really wants that.
Joel Murphy is the creator of Hobo Trashcan, which is probably the reason why he has his own column. He also has some really hot friends. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org