Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Prehistory of Geekdom, Part 1

Where do all us nerds come from? Well, it turns out that all of history has conspired together to produce us. We comic book/SF geeks and nerds—those of us who can discuss painfully obscure aspects of Star Trek and cite comic book events by issue number, writer and artist--are the veritable culmination of everything. We are, by golly, the very pinnacle of civilization.

It’s true. Think about it. Elements that make up the plots, themes and characters of modern comics, as well as science fiction and fantasy novels/films/TV shows, go back to pretty much the beginning of civilization.

The various myths of many different cultures all contribute towards modern storytelling. For Western culture, we look most often to the Greeks. What is Hercules (or Perseus or Theseus) if not one of the original superheroes? Heck, the Jason and the Argonauts cycle is pretty much the original superhero team-up. Without the Argo, would we have the Justice League or the Avengers? Without Hercules, would we have Superman? (We certainly wouldn’t have the Marvel Comics version of Hercules, which in of itself would be a loss.)

Take a look at the Trojan War and the events of the Iliad. Aside from it kind of being yet another superhero team-up, the story deals with themes like loyalty, envy, bitterness, courage and honor. All themes that run rampant through comic books and adventure fiction of various genres.

Stories from religious history also contribute to geekiness. The story of Moses, for instance, teaches us a myriad of things about God’s nature and His plans for us even today. But it also once again provides us with both plot elements and themes that run through geeky fiction to this day. Without Moses (sent on a journey by his parents to save his life—adopted into another culture—returns to lead his people to freedom and bring us all laws that strengthen truth and justice), we almost certainly wouldn’t have Superman (sent on a journey by his parents to save his life—adopted into another culture—grows up to become a force for truth and justice).

As civilization progressed, storytellers and troubadours continued to toss elements into the mix that helped create the comic book nerd. Medieval tale-spinners took vague historical figures and used them to build the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood (two more examples of superhero teams). Even more so than in ancient Greece—due mostly to the influence of Judeo-Christian ethics--these characters came to represent fighting for what is right, protecting the innocent and promoting justice.

These tales gave us not just the basis for comic book superheroes, but the elements needed to create characters such as Captain Nemo, Long John Silver, Hopalong Cassidy, Indiana Jones, Han Solo, and James Bond. Heck, you can argue that SF novels such as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy owe a debt to King Arthur’s Round Table. Hari Seldon assembles an organization of scientists to save civilization, just as Arthur brought together an organization of warriors to do pretty much the same thing.

So--clearly--all of human history has been working towards the creation of the comic book/SF nerd. It actually is all about us.

That’s it for now. This series will be intermittent rather than weekly, but when we return to it, I think we’ll jump forward to the 19th Century. This was a century that bred the elements of geekiness right and left—the creation of detective fiction, gothic horror, dime novels and pirate novels all come from the 1800s. Alexander Dumas had a few plots and characters to add to the mix as well.

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