A Question of Secret Identity

“Nerd.  Nerd.  Nerd,” Dasad muttered, pointing at the sundry collection of costumed moviegoers, the vast majority sporting Marvel-themed t-shirts.  “God, we’ve landed in some antisocial geek convention. Again.”

“It’s just a movie, dude,” I sigh.  “Try to enjoy the energy from the crowd.  Everyone’s been waiting years for this moment.”

Dasad and I had decided see the Avengers a few Saturdays ago, a day after Disney had released it here stateside to glowing reviews both from fans and reviewers alike.  Many of us, myself include, were simply happy the film was so well received as it guaranteed the superhero genre had not yet jumped the shark.   However, not everyone was enjoying the growing anticipation — not vocally at any rate.

“You do realize that you’re a computer science major, right?” I argue.  “You work all day long building databases and designing web sites.  You’re not just a geek, man.  You’re a prince.”

“Ha! And what does that make you?” he laughed.  “You dabble in every nerd world there is: super-heroes, hobbits, anime, manga, and semi-clad bishoujo figurines.  All tucked away in your parents’ basement.  What does that make you?”

“A king.  But don’t tell anyone,” I whisper.  “I’m traveling incognito.”

The crowd increases.  The fervor mounts as the line begins to shift and move; excited shouts ring from the hallway.  A large guy in a Iron Man mask lifts a plastic hammer high above his head, screaming ‘Assemble . . . to the theater!’   Everyone laughs.  The two guys ahead of us stop talking about Diablo.  The couple behind us halt their discussion of pre-schools.  Only the theater vendors and ticket-takers appear distressed, herding hundreds of excited people into corners and lines in a futile attempt to maintain a passage through the hallways.

“People please!” a young attendant shouts over the din.  “Don’t block the bathrooms!  There are people inside who want to leave . . .”

“Okay, but job aside,” Dasad mutters after some contemplation.  “I own a townhouse.  I drive a motorcycle.  I run marathons!  Ten miles marathons!  For most of the people here, just mentioning the word ‘mile’ causes an asthmatic fit.”

“Most people here probably read the Flash,” I muse.  “And the scientist-types probably work better with kilometers.”

“You get my point.  I’m not like these guys.”

Dasad sneered at a passing moviegoer, stuffed from head to toe in red spandex; duct-taped katana blades hung from sheaths strapped to his back like alien antennae.  A cloud of dried sweat and BO followed the guy like Pig Pen’s fleas, and we escaped up the theater steps just as the 30-min montage of commercials began to roll.

Even amid this geek-friendly day and age, where at least one summer blockbuster documents the life and city-destroying Saturday’s of super-heroes; where computer mastery equates to gainful employment and admiration among friends and strangers; where the latest video games are discussed among all cliques at school cafeterias . . . geeks still garner little respect even among our own community.

Personally, I blame ‘Saved by the Bell.’  Curse you, Screech . . .

My brother once explained to me that the ‘cool’ things like football, cars, and swimsuit models are ‘real;’ that is, not make-believe like aliens, people that fight crime, and magic wands, to which I responded that he clearly has messed up priorities.  Who wouldn’t choose an alien spaceship over a Prius anyway?  Why throw a football when you can levitate it, set it on fire, and launch it at government satellites?  Hell, most of Maxim’s cover models are so air-brushed they’re considered modern art.

By his definition, geeks adore, collect, and basically obsess over the mined eluvia of the imagination: impractical worlds and impractical people.    Thus, by eschewing activities that reward you with money and sex (e.g. showering, shaving, running), you’re an outcast.  In other words, why study superheroes if you can never be one?

Ouch!  Way to shove a handful of kryptonite into a man’s dreams, Kevin.

Nonetheless, most of us walk the line between practicality and obsession.  Like superheroes we have our secret identities: lawyers, doctors, librarians and English teachers.  We must pay bills, impress clients, and (hopefully) eat dinner with pretty girls.  Yet in conversation, beneath the mask, I risk breaking this veneer of respectability and practicality when mentioning Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-men or Jeff Smith’s Bone or why Batman equips shark repellant in his utility belt.  The abnormal is what I know and love.

Of course, there are those that make a career out of their hobbies: writers, artists, directors and designers.  There’s those that give it up altogether, like the 60’s hippies that become 80’s Wall Street moguls.  And then – sadly enough – there’s the sociopaths.

Neitzche once advised “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”  Some have obsessed for too long without break, abandoning society and its . . . real people, locking their minds away in the world of their own choosing.  These individuals are the stereotypes, long mocked and mistaken for the majority: the gelatinous blobs of cheese curls and carry-out pizza, sporting their Thundercats T-shirts ingrained with month-old BO and year-long sweat stains, ever ready to spout an endless barrage of minutia, stats, and criticisms to online fan boards.

And that, dear friends, is what Dasad fears most of all.  Most modern geeks shy away from these creatures with the same propensity that modern Germans avoid discussing the Third Reich.  Dasad’s problem is that he sees these human cheese-puffs in anyone with a Thor-shirt.

Still, despite his concerns, his loathing, he’s here to see the movie with me, reveling in his bizarre obsessions for one night.  Next week, all will return to normal, car pools and Thursday happy hours, sans thunder-gods and tights.  After the movie, as we hurried outside to clean air and an empty parking lot, I ask my good friend what he thought.  He responded with some rather unexpected criticism:

“I don’t know man.  I mean, I guess I was expecting more.  Individually, in their own comics, Marvel heroes are incredible.   But as a team . . . They don’t really bounce off one another well.  Team-wise, the JLA is the best, in the way they challenge and compliment one another. Individually, DC heroes kinda suck . . .”

“If you include Batman in that criticism,” I note, “I break your legs.”

“Exception noted.  The Avengers are the Super Smash Bros of the comic world: cool to see together but not a really exceptional group, y’know?  The X-men are different, versatile in their powers and personalities, created as a team right from the start.  I mean, as a film, the visuals were good, the characters were well-developed, and we got to see some awesome action from well . . . everybody.  I’m just not impressed.”

God, I thought, if that doesn’t impress you, what does?

“And the Mad Titan as the brain behind it all?  Kiiinda cheap . . . ”

I let the non-nerd rant about the thematic issues concerning the Avengers as compared to the Justice League of America a little bit more.  Then we speculate on the next Batman film and a JLA movie.  Away from the crowds, Dasad talks freely, releasing weeks (months perhaps) of pent-up opinions as we drive back home and our normal lives.

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