Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings heralded the tip of ‘nerd stuff’

In December of 2002, I knew one factor: The issues I preferred weren’t cool, and virtually no one wished to listen to about them. Star Trek, not cool. Batman, for infants. Which is why it was so personally terrifying when a lady — a, like, regular woman with intentionally chosen garments, hair, and make-up — caught her head across the altering room lockers after health club and yelled in my course “HEY! That new Lord of the Rings film popping out this week?”

2021 marks The Lord of the Rings films’ twentieth anniversary, and we could not think about exploring the trilogy in only one story. So every Wednesday all year long, we’ll go there and again once more, analyzing how and why the movies have endured as fashionable classics. That is Polygon’s Yr of the Ring.

I have to stress that she and I had by no means spoken earlier than — my highschool had a pair thousand college students in it — and we by no means spoke once more. She had merely checked out me and thought: “That woman is aware of the discharge date of The Two Towers off the highest of her head.” I stammered an affirmative response and she or he disappeared across the lockers, leaving me alone and half-clothed, within the wreckage of an instantaneous, exact, and devastating learn on my whole deal as an individual.

I’ve by no means actually gotten over it, but it surely serves as an ideal encapsulation of how deeply Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy penetrated the mainstream consciousness, and the way shortly — regardless of all the pieces else happening on the earth on the finish of 2001. The flicks’ $3 billion gross (in early 2000s cash) served as a primary and unheeded warning that “area of interest” pursuits may dominate mass leisure, a demise knell for the nerd as subculture somewhat than merely “tradition.”

The Lord of the Rings films have been a decade too early to be the ultimate nail within the coffin, not due to something mistaken with them, however with a scarcity of cultural infrastructure. Center-earth was prepared for the large time, however no one else was. Not nerds, and particularly not normies.

A time when the Lord of the Rings was indistinguishable from Pokémon

Jigglypuff singing in the Pokémon anime

Picture: The Pokémon Firm

It may be troublesome to recollect how obscure J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was earlier than the Peter Jackson trilogy, however right here’s an instance.

On a November 1999 episode of Who Desires to Be a Millionaire?, contestant Toby Moore was requested, for $500,000, to choose which of 4 selections was not a Pokémon. After a lot deliberation, and utilizing his 50/50 lifeline, he selected “Jigglypuff” as his remaining reply, ending his run. The right alternative was “B: Frodo.” Three years later, a whole stranger was casually yelling at me about The Two Towers.

Even throughout its early 2000s rollout, when poor Toby’s Pokémon query would have been value $2,000 at most, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was shockingly inaccessible in comparison with as we speak’s nerd blockbusters, as a result of the cultural infrastructure that underpins these blockbusters didn’t but exist. If a film fan wished to know a bit extra about Gandalf — and even what number of films have been on the way in which and when — it’s not like they’d see the reply pop up in Google Information.

It was nonetheless the age of the webring, with Google, Inc getting its free, ad-supported search engine off the bottom because the trilogy went into manufacturing in New Zealand. When The Fellowship of the Ring hit theaters, Wikipedia was lower than a 12 months outdated. YouTube didn’t exist; in case you wished to rewatch a trailer, you went to and waited for a Flash-based Quicktime film to buffer.

In additional methods than one, you would not merely stroll into Mordor. It’s not that as we speak’s mainstreamed nerd pursuits are extra partaking than the Lord of the Rings trilogy — it’s that all the pieces about them is extra accessible. Jackson’s movies arrived simply because the web and cellular tech was beginning to make it extra attainable than ever to get into stuff. Nevertheless it was nonetheless the period of panicking whenever you unintentionally pressed the button that made your flip cellphone open its — and I exploit this time period loosely — “web browser.”

Certainly, “nerd stuff” is now virtually unattainable to flee, because the web turns into a gateway to answering the questions of the woman within the locker room. Google aggregates numerous assiduously maintained fan wikis. Leisure media shops play to that algorithm to bolster their very own viewers. Fan communities are not insular pockets it’s a must to go discover, however social media developments which are surfaced to you whether or not you’re in search of them or not. The “area of interest” now dominates the mainstream so utterly that it makes Netflix’s Geeked Week upfronts really feel quaint and cringe.

And it’s higher this fashion

With Frodo, Sam takes his first steps out of the Shire in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Picture: New Line Cinema

Once I was studying Tolkien’s work for the primary time, there have been no wikis, no meme tradition to have interaction in, no communities that I wasn’t far too shy to have interaction with. So far as I used to be conscious, the issues I preferred weren’t cool, and no one wished to listen to about them.

Fandom through social media has a whole lot of issues, however accessibility isn’t certainly one of them. Simpler entry to fan communities has given a far larger range of individuals a voice in fan discussions, allowed extra folks to find artwork that actually strikes them, and normalized the love of style fiction.

That accessibility has result in its personal rise in gatekeeping; accusations of “pretend nerd woman” or “informal” as a method of denigrating those that are perceived as having solely jumped on the bandwagon now {that a} factor is well-liked, or have had a neater path to their pursuits than those that got here earlier than. Which is bullshit, in fact. Individuals ought to be capable of learn The Silmarillion after which instantly go on Tumblr and uncover the thriving group of fanartists who like to attract Morgoth and Sauron kissing. It’s a greater method.

If there’s any cultural level to glean from the affect of the final 10-plus years of Marvel Cinematic Universe storytelling, it’s that “nerd” tales are literally common tales, and their relegation to area of interest leisure is rooted in format, not their fantastical focus and foolish costumes. The story of Spider-Man is the story of Spider-Man is the story of Spider-Man, and as long as it’s instructed nicely and earnestly, it would discover an viewers.

A decade earlier than the MCU explosion, Jackson’s Rings trilogy took that assumption as given. He and his collaborators by no means winked, shrugged, or made jokes on the expense of their very own theatricality, regardless of their dedication to the spirit of Tolkien’s work almost costing them the job. The saga merely unfolded in entrance of an unready viewers, and within the execution, Jackson was assured that the operatic romance of J.R.R. Tolkien’s collection was enthralling sufficient by itself. The manufacturing refused to carry the viewer’s hand, by no means explaining what a wizard is, or how elven immortality works, and leaving broad open “plot holes.”

In case you weren’t up for that actuality, nicely, the theater exit was proper over there. However in case you have been, there have been only a few avenues out there if you weren’t already inside current fan areas. In any case, when the simplest method to purchase film tickets is to name a robotic on the cellphone, yelling at a nerdy-looking child throughout the room looks as if a fairly environment friendly choice.

When “area of interest” tradition goes mainstream, you don’t have to seek out folks to speak about it anymore — the trendy web will discover you. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was ready-made for the brand new accessible fandom of the brand new mainstreamed geek. We simply weren’t fairly prepared for it.

The demise of the “nerd” has been a very long time coming, but it surely didn’t come quick sufficient for that woman in my highschool locker room. I hope she bought to see The Two Towers on opening week. I hope she nonetheless likes the Lord of the Rings films. However I can relaxation assured that cool ladies not have to make use of my nerd ass as their very own private Siri. They’ll Google it and discover certainly one of my articles as an alternative.

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