Geek Fatigue in the Age of Ultron
Today’s media landscape is quite a bit different than it was 10 years ago. Roller coasters were replaced by movies. Movies have been replaced by TV. TV has been replaced by streaming services like Netflix and internet video channels like YouTube and Twitch. And sometime while the water cooler was being replaced by the madness of social media, it looks like the jocks, stoners, loners, greasers, socs, and every other clique were replaced by geeks. Each and every one of these mediums is chock so full of geek pandering and programming that after watching Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was suffering from too much geek fatigue to do anything other than watch basketball and drink beer… two things I pretty much never do.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy Avengers AoU. It was perfectly compelling. Much like the first Avengers film, and most of today’s blockbuster fare, it is a brilliantly crafted Spectacle (with a capital “S.”) There’s enough “CRASH BOOM BAM” to keep even the most disinterested 9-year-old awake for 2 and a half hours. Still, after leaving the theatre this time, I was just… tired. The sense of wonderment wasn’t there. I didn’t feel glad I saw what I saw in the same way I left Captain America: Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3. It seems that sentiment has been echoed a bit with this film. While many are putting the blame on the Avengers film itself and all of the corporate meddling that seemingly corrupted writer/director Joss Whedon’s vision, I think there is something more insidious and culturally difficult to accept at work here. Rather than being geeked out, I feel many of us may be over geeked, suffering from mild to severe geek fatigue.
I’ve been reading superhero comics since I could read. Classic Marvel comic anthologies were the first books I checked out of my elementary school library. My first exposure to Ultron was in West Coast Avengers (a B-team Avengers book) in 1993 when tried to make himself a robot wife named “War Toy” because in comic books even murderous AI are programmed to be sexist. Even at 12 years old, I thought Ultron was pretty silly. Surely an AI consciousness would have better ideas to KILL ALL HUMANS than building a metal body and getting in punching contests with Thor and The Hulk. I never felt that Ultron did. He talked like he was better than humans while being just as petty and stupid. He thinks like a meat popsicle and loses every time. Of course, as an adult I see how dark and deep this is, but I was still shocked when I heard he was the villain in the second ever Avengers film.
Despite my lifetime of fan support and generally high level of optimism, even I never believed I’d see a $150 million Cinematic Extravaganza in which Iron Man’s flawed superhero mad science creates a murderous artificial intelligence who can only thwarted by another artificial intelligence he co-created that is somehow “worthy” enough to pick up Thor’s hammer. Never in my life did I think I could go that geek deep and everyone in the world would know what I was talking about, as well as legitimately value my expertise in the subject of comic book based media. I mean… I can talk about the Avengers while out on a date… like IRL. Women ask me about it unprompted. That never happened in high school. If I meet younger self during a time travel adventure, I’m definitely telling him to read more comics.
THE BURDEN OF CONTENT
There is so much content based on or created around comic books in today’s media landscape. Between movies, TV, animation, podcasts, reality shows, actual comic books, and The Walking Dead which is practically its own medium at this point, everybody is into something that would have been too geek to exist in 1995. I feel so immensely fortunate to live in an era when so many of my favorite things are brought to life with a level of care befitting their status as modern mythology. I can recommend a show about a crimefighter that shoots arrows at guys with guns and people watch it, come back, and thank me. I get to watch a show every week on network television that takes place in the same Marvel Cinematic Universe the movies inhabit. Star Wars feels as fresh as it did when I was in 1988, and even the cartoons are good! It feels so amazing to have been so invested in geek culture for so long and to finally have so much be so great.
On the flipside, there is such a glut of things to keep up with I had to pretty much stop watching any non-geek media to have a prayer of keeping up. I personally cut out the dramas; even the geekier ones had to go. Sorry True Detective, I’ll be getting my crime fix from Daredevil. Sorry Game of Thrones; maybe if you had more Black people I’d keep you around. That new Luke Cage will have Black people. Sorry Fargo, The Blacklist, Mad Men; I’d promised I’d come back and watch you, but did you hear I Zombie got a 2nd season, there’s a Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. spin off coming, and I still haven’t watched Constantine yet? Maybe if you guys had more super powers in your shows I’d give you a shot. Speaking of which, I still haven’t watched Powers on Playstation Network.
The geek fatigue is palpable, but in this moment it still feels a good problem to have. Unfortunately, it seems that Avengers AoU is the first blockbuster indicator that it geek fatigue may become an actual problem – creatively anyway. Marvel and DC alone have 29 films announced by 2020. There’s a slew of even better looking upcoming content from other comic book publishers as well. This isn’t a fad, it’s a cultural phenomenon that’s completely enveloped both corporate and independent entertainment.
WITH GREAT GEEKDOM COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY
The geeks have won. Inventing an app is the best way to get rich. HBO comedies are set in Silicon Valley. Even baseball movies are more about calculators than home runs. (Moneyball). In the future, all of the things kids got beat up for liking openly generations ago are now considered zeitgeist. Avengers: Age of Ultron announced its coming with media penetration more akin to reaper indoctrination than advertising. If you don’t know what “reaper indoctrination” is then you better bone up on your geek lingo. It could literally be costing you money. The suits have hedged bets so heavily on comic book superheroes and shared universes that they’re quickly making the films and TV continuity as complicated as 80 years comic book history.
To the non-geeks out there that have not yet converted, my words likely sound like the ramblings of a mad man excited for a rebooted Mad Max, but there can be too much of a good thing. It happens every time corporate interests start dictating to the art rather than the other way around. There is a sweet spot that allows for the highest quality products to retain a semblance of a soul. When the money controls too much, however, we get every rap song on the radio sounding like Fancy; every video game is breaking its budget to be Candy Crush, Clash of Clans, or Call of Duty; and a shared Transformers movie universe that will most likely be populated with nothing but racist robots. This plethora of upcoming comic book based projects aren’t being greenlit because passionate creators have ideas for something amazing. It’s the easiest way Hollywood can make money… until it isn’t.
5 years ago, we’d have killed for a movie as good as Avengers: Age of Ultron, but in 2015 it made people mad enough to try and run Joss Whedon off twitter. Some geeks have shown a tendency to be badly behaved that has only increased as geek money has become important and poor digital behavior has become actual news even when it shouldn’t. Either way, this is a wildly splintered group that is now being courted on a scale never imagined. I know that despite my geek fatigue, I’m still going to keep watching and following all of it. I’m going to do this because these fantastical stories are home to me. This era is the fulfilled desire of fans who always wanted their hobby legitimized and treated with the respect we felt those characters and stories deserved. Well we got our wish, as well as a part time job’s worth of related media to watch each week and a powerful platform we have no collective idea how to wield responsibly. I’m extremely excited. I’m so excited I could just pass out.