The highest grossing film of all time is Avengers: Endgame, and the most nominated film at this year’s Academy Awards is Joker. Comic book culture — and by extension, nerd culture — has gone mainstream. Casting news about upcoming superhero movies has become full of unexpected stars (would you expect Rachel Weisz to star in one of these things?). It’s no longer a subculture; it is the main culture. You might assume that the disciples of that culture have recognized that and bask in their newfound cultural dominance. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all.
Comic book movie fans continue to act as if they’re the underdogs of society, bound by their honor to defend the movies that gross hundreds of millions of dollars and receive rave reviews. It’s usually harmless, but in the light of Joker’s critical acclaim and Oscar nominations, the situation turned incredibly ugly. The masks fell off, and a vicious brew of hatred (including racism and transphobia) spilled out from the message boards of 4chan and onto Twitter. It was a tidal wave of hate directed at people who didn’t like a movie. Instead of celebrating the way that the Academy decided to celebrate the genre by showering one of its first slow dramas with nominations unimaginable for a comic book movie ten years ago; instead they gloated, sneered, and attacked anyone who didn’t agree with them.
Comic book movies are now the establishment. They are the institution. Nerd culture is no longer a frowned upon subculture forced to hide in stores and on Saturday morning cartoon programming; it is the main culture. They won the culture war, but God bless them, the nerds haven’t realized this yet. They’re a bunch of sore winners, moaning and whining all day long about how they’re hated, about how no one understood the billion-dollar hit that’s up for Best Picture.
Nobody understood the film’s depiction of a man on the lower rungs of society with poor mental health who inadvertently sparked a class revolution against the ruling lords of Gotham City. Weep for Academy Award nominee Todd Phillips and soon-to-be Best Actor Joaquin Phoenix, who received praise from even the most severe of skeptics for his transformative performance. Cry for Hilda Guðnadóttir, who became the first solo woman to win the Golden Globe for Best Original Score. Weep, sob, pull out your hair and beat your chest for the poor talented artists.
No, I didn’t like Joker. There are, however, good things in it: Phoenix’s performance, the gloomy musical score, Lawrence Sher’s cinematography, and the now iconic costume design. Yet the film is not an underdog. If this was a dog park, Joker would be the German Shepherd running the whole damn place. It’s not a scared little chihuahua in need of protection, and neither are the people involved in its creation. It is perhaps the first comic book movie taken seriously for topics such as mental health, class warfare, and revolution (sloppy as it may present those topics). Yet the facts don’t change: the nerds are whining as if they lost. But they’ve won.
Nerd culture has won out. Disney bent over backwards to appease the angry Star Wars fans who were challenged by The Last Jedi, and it bit them in the ass. Ghostbusters is getting rebooted again, and relying on nostalgia to sell itself to modern audiences. Most people now only watch comic book movies or remakes of popular older films. Everything is becoming a part of a franchise. If it’s a box office hit, it must be franchised (I’m looking at you, Knives Out). Studios are competing about who can deliver the best superhero content, and wars are waged over the property rights to famous characters. It’s not a subculture anymore, and it’s time for those who proudly call themselves part of that community of nerdom to own that. Strut like you’re Naomi Campbell on the runway in a pair of Versace red bottoms. You’re not the underdog anymore, and it’s time to stop acting like that’s still the case. It’s going to get irritating quickly if they keep these shenanigans up.
Act like you own the place. Because you do. You won. Now dance like Arthur Fleck on that grungy staircase.
The 92nd Academy Awards air on February 9, 2020 at 8PM/EST