In December 2002, I knew one thing: the things I liked weren’t cool and almost no one wanted to hear about them. Star Trek, not cool. Batman, for babies. That’s why it was so terrifying for me personally when a girl – a normal girl with deliberately chosen clothes, hair, and makeup – stuck her head in the locker room after the gym and yelled in my direction, “HEY! That new Lord of the Rings movie coming out this week?
2021 marks the 20th anniversary of The Lord of the Rings films and we couldn’t imagine exploring the trilogy in just one story. So we go back and forth every Wednesday year-round, examining how and why the films have survived as modern classics. This is the year of the Ring of Polygon.
I must point out that she and I had never spoken to each other – my high school had a few thousand students – and we never spoke to each other again. She just looked at me and thought: “The Girl knows the release date of The two Towers out of my head. ”I stammered an affirmative answer and it disappeared around the lockers, leaving me alone and half-clothed in the wreckage of an instant, accurate, and devastating reading on mine entire business as a person.
I’ve never really gotten over it, but it’s a perfect summary of how deeply Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy penetrated mainstream consciousness and how quickly – despite what was going on in the world in late 2001, The $ Three Billion Gross of the films (in the early 2000s) served as a first and unnoticed warning that “niche” interests might dominate mass entertainment, a death knell for the nerd as a subculture rather than just “culture”.
The Lord of the Rings films were a decade too early to be the last nail in the coffin, not because there was something wrong with them, but because there was a lack of cultural infrastructure. Middle-earth was ready for the big time, but no one else was. No nerds and certainly no normies.
A time when the Lord of the Rings was indistinguishable from Pokémon
It can be difficult to remember how opaque JRR Tolkien is Lord of the Rings was before the Peter Jackson trilogy, but here’s an example.
On a November 1999 episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?Her candidate, Toby Moore, was asked for $ 500,000 to choose one of four options Not a Pokémon. After much deliberation and using his 50/50 lifeline, he chose “Jigglypuff” as the last answer and finished his run. The right choice was “B: Frodo”. Three years later, a complete stranger casually yelled at me about it The two Towers.
Even when it was first introduced in the early 2000s, when poor Toby’s Pokémon question would have been worth less than $ 2,000, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was shockingly inaccessible compared to today’s nerd blockbusters because the cultural infrastructure that underpins these blockbusters did not yet exist. If a movie buff wanted to know a little more about Gandalf – or even how many movies were out and when – they wouldn’t see the answer on Google News.
It was still in the age of the web ring when Google, Inc. launched its free, ad-supported search engine when the trilogy went into production in New Zealand. When The Companions of the Ring hit theaters, Wikipedia was less than a year old. YouTube didn’t exist; If you wanted to watch a trailer again, you would go to Apple.com/trailers/ and wait for a Flash-based Quicktime movie to be buffered.
In many ways, Mordor was not easy to walk into. It’s not that today’s mainstream nerd interests are more compelling than the Lord of the Rings trilogy – everything about them is more accessible. Jackson’s films were just as popular as the internet and mobile technology mobile beginning to make it more possible than ever to get into things. But it was still the era of panic when you accidentally pressed the button your flip phone used to open its – and I use the term loosely – “Internet browser”.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to escape the “nerd stuff” as the internet becomes a gateway to answer the girl’s questions in the locker room. Google bundles countless well-maintained fan wikis. Entertainment media play on this algorithm to strengthen your own audience. Fan communities are no longer closed pockets that you have to find, but social media trends that pop up, whether you are looking for them or not. The “niche” now dominates the mainstream so completely that it makes Netflix’s Geeked week in advance feel quaint and shudder.
And that’s better
When I first read Tolkien’s work, there were no wikis, no meme culture to get involved in, no communities that I wasn’t far too shy to get involved. As far as I knew, the things I liked weren’t cool and no one wanted to hear about them.
Fandom on social media has a lot of problems, but accessibility isn’t one of them. Easier access to fan communities has given a much wider variety of people a voice in fan discussions, enabled more people to discover art that really moves them, and normalized the love of genre fiction.
This accessibility has led to its own increase in gatekeeping; Allegations of “fake nerd girl” or “casual” to denigrate those who are perceived as if they just jumped on the bandwagon now that something is popular or had an easier route to their interests than those who did before came. Which of course is nonsense. People should be able to read The Silmarillion
If there is one cultural aspect that can be gleaned from the impact of storytelling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the past 10 years, it is that “nerd” stories are actually universal stories and their decline in niche entertainment is rooted in the format, not silly costumes in their fantastic focus. The story of Spider-Man is the story of Spider-Man is the story of Spider-Man, and as long as it is told well and seriously it will find an audience.
A decade before the MCU explosion, Jackson’s Rings trilogy took that assumption for granted. He and his staff have never winked, shrugged, or joked at the expense of their own theatrics. although her commitment to the spirit of Tolkien’s work nearly cost her the job. The saga just unfolded in front of an unprepared audience, and when executed, Jackson was confident that the operatic romance of JRR Tolkien’s series was exciting enough on its own. The production refused to hold the viewer’s hand, never explained what a wizard is or how elven immortality works, and left wide-open “plot holes”.
If you weren’t ready for this reality, the theater exit was right over there. But if it was you, there were very few options if you weren’t already in existing fan rooms. After all, when movie tickets are the easiest to buy, calling a robot on the phoneYelling at a nerdy looking kid across the room seems like a pretty efficient option.
When “niche” culture goes mainstream, you won’t have to find people to talk about it – the modern internet will find it you. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was ready for the new mainstream geek’s new accessible fandom. We just weren’t quite ready for it.
The nerd’s death was a long time coming, but it didn’t come fast enough for this girl in my high school locker room. I hope she saw it The two Towers in the opening week. I hope she still likes the Lord of the Rings movies. But I can be sure that cool girls don’t have to use my nerd ass as their very own Siri anymore. You can google it and find one of my articles instead.