COMIC CON 2K19: MAINSTREAM & SOCIALLY PROGRESSIVE
"Nerd culture has merged with and swallowed whole the rest of popular culture, and [Comic-Con] really is part of that." - Rob Salkowitz (author of ‘Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture: What the World's Wildest Trade Show Can Tell Us About the Future of Entertainment’)
Three hundred people packed into a hotel for the first comic con convention in 1970. Now it's one of the biggest conventions of the year, with over 130,000 fans in attendance. Celebrities Cara Delevingne and Orlando Bloom were among those at the 2019 Comic Con in San Diego, which took place this July, ahead of their new Amazon Original Victorian fantasy series ‘Carnival Row.’ Of course the massive success of superhero movies like ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Avengers: Endgame’ and ‘Deadpool’ is a testament to the transition of the world of comics (previously maybe considered niche, or for a certain group of people), becoming a mainstream obsession. Now, even watching anime or reading manga are more mainstream hobbies.
Creativity and fandom, of course, is at the heart of young people’s engagement with Comic Con. Not only is it about participating in cosplay - the rise of cosplay popularity, no doubt in part, thanks to Instagram culture - many fans also draw/animate their favourite characters.
“The beauty of Comic-Con is that it brings people together that share the same passions and fandoms regardless of who you are. Being a nerd is inclusive to all.” @pete_flat
The biggest takeaway from Comic Con 2019 seems to be that the industry is trending toward more socially progressive themes. Cara Delevingne was quoted widely talking about her character as a ‘pansexual faerie’ who doesn’t see gender. The show, she says is “really talking about immigration and refugees and classism and sexism, racism and elitism.” Speaking of Marvel Studios (who held a 90-minute panel at the convention where the entire Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was revealed to fans - watch out for Disney+! ), commenter Germain Lussier also noted that it is “finally taking its considerable box office weight and using it for progressive, socially-conscious decisions, which seems to be a theme for everything the company announced at Comic-Con. And we’re here for it.”
STRANGER THINGS: SEASON 3
“You can’t spell ‘America’ without Erica” -Erica, Stranger Things
It’s hard to believe that we’re now on season 3 of Netflix’s Stranger Things. While there’s not as much hype around the latest season of this now cult-classic, there’s no doubt that it’s still sending masses of young people into a Netflix-binge fuelled hibernation. If you’ve watched any of the show, you’ll know that the central protagonists all embrace their nerd status. They play fantasy-themed board games and LOVE science.
“I love how Stranger Things brings Sci-Fi culture into mainstream consciousness. It even brought in references to ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘The Goonies’! They used the Back To The Future soundtrack and everything. The B Movie-type Sci-Fi monsters that they have in it are brilliant. I play Dungeons and Dragons [video game], and it’s great to see how that underground Sci-Fi culture vibe (that previously a lot of my friends would have been prejudiced towards) has been embraced in a modern context.” Shane, 27
One of the big fan-favourite moments from the latest season touched on a character’s ‘nerd status’ - a moment where one of the younger characters, Erica, who previously had teased her older brother for being a nerd, came to the realisation that she, in fact, was a nerd too! (Her love of My Little Pony tipped another beloved protagonist, Dustin, off to her secret nerdiness). With business savvy, an acute understanding of capitalism and a sassy, sharp mouth, Erica earned the unofficial title of MVP of Stranger Things Season 3.
THE FORTNITE WORLD CUP & GOOGLE SCIENCE FAIR
We’ve spoken about gaming & Fortnite before. It’s a ‘battle royal’ game that young audiences can’t get enough of. Rarely is there a trend or force as dominant as Fortnite is in the world of gaming. The first ever Fortnight World Cup just took place this past week - offering 100 players a piece of a $30 million prize pool. More than 40 million players tried out. 40 MILLION!
“After 10 weeks of online qualifying competition, the pool of gamers was reduced to the 100 top players, according to the game’s website. More than 30 nations were represented, though the United States held the majority with 70 players. The finals were broadcast live on Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and within the game itself.” Dave Quinn.
16 year old Kyle Giersdof (@bugha on Twitter) from the US came out victorious, winning $3 million -the largest-ever payout for a single player in an esports tournament. “Everything I’ve done, the grind, it’s all paid off. It’s just insane,” the teen said. He’s reportedly hoping to buy a new desk with the money.
Elsewhere, there's strengthened in interest in youth-orientated science fairs - from ESB’s Science Blast to The Big Bang Competition. Most recently, kids around the world have been taking part in the 2019 Google Science Fair, an annual science competition open to students all around the world between the ages of 13 and 18. The winner? 18 year old Fionn Ferreira whose project aims to remove microplastics from the world’s oceans. According to the Journal:
“The teenager works as a curator at the Schull Planetarium, has won 12 science fair awards, speaks three languages fluently, plays the trumpet at orchestra level, and had a minor planet named after him by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory.”
In 1,000 tests, Ferreira was able to remove over 87% of microplastics from water samples. Of course, no subject demands an appreciation for the ‘alternative’ like the climate crisis does. Ferreira was awarded a $50,000 (€45,000) bursary, at an awards ceremony at the Google international headquarters in Mountain View, California on Monday and was quoted saying “for me the greatest part of this award is actually just being a finalist and just that recognition.”
Ultimately, recognition is what this ‘nerd power’ trend is largely all about. Young people recognise that humans come in all shapes and sizes, with unique ideas and talents. They recognise that we need people with various interests to make this world work. They want to be recognised and given credit for the brilliant ideas and things that they bring to the planet. No matter how weird or geeky their passions may be, they own it.
The definition of weird has shape-shifted over time, especially among young people. It’s no longer to be seen primarily as a bad thing, rather the opposite. Younger generations are, in this sense, understanding. Embrace the weird and the geeky. Own it.
It’s cool to achieve. Upskilling, hacks and creativity are all things highly valued by younger audiences. How could you help them expand their intellectual horizons or experiment in new ways?