The Revenge of the Nerds: How the 80’s movie foretold the rise of Geek Culture

The Revenge of the Nerds: How the 80’s movie foretold the rise of Geek Culture (photo)

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“Revenge of the Nerds,” that significant 80s cultural artifact, was a genuinely prophetic film. At the time of its release in 1984 it was morning in America and a muscular foreign policy against the then-Soviet Union nudged popular culture to valorize brawn and social ease and raw good looks. Introspection and lusting in one’s heart was of the previous, melancholy Carter years. In “Revenge of the Nerds,” a lovable gallery of geeks challenged the primacy of the cool crowd to the rousing anthem “We are the Champions.”

Fast forward. Raw good looks and brawn, of course, will never go out of fashion entirely. There will always be sports stars; there will always be financiers; there will always be Vogue magazine and fashion week. But there is also now an information economy — one of the few remaining sectors of our economy still flourishing — and a new-found respect for people like Steve Jobs, who made it cool to be creative, and Bill Gates, who makes it cool to save the world. Even our President, a self-avowed Trekkie, has made it cool to be perpetually wonkish. And former band nerd and President Bill Clinton channels his inner Superman daily in dealing with global inequalities.

But it is Hollywood that is the ultimate proving ground for cool – on a global level. It is why even a global star like Jackie Chan wants to make it here. Hollywood’s A-List – the Depps, the Jolies, the Berrys – epitomize what it is that we all want to emulate. Hollywood exudes cool. Nowadays that cool, incredibly, seeks the approval of the geeks.

Look at who is Hollywood Royalty now. Steven Spielberg: geek; James Cameron: geek; JK Rowling: geek; Oprah Winfrey: geek; Anne Sweeney: geek. Further, the great myth-makers – George Lucas and Peter Jackson and John Lassetter – are so utterly geek that they are as interested in the technical side of film-making as they are in the storytelling.

Comic-Con’s triumph, perhaps more than any other single event, signals the rise of the nerds. Niche programming is the hallmark of this fragmented digital age, and geeks are a highly educated and valuable demographic. It not so long ago that at some imaginary Comic-Con like event geek icon William Shatner, in his infamous SNL parody, asked the citric question: “Have you ever kissed a girl?” Such a question, while perfect for 1986, would never be asked now because the lords of Hollywood are too busy trying to win the approval of those “avids” – the film-goers formerly known as nerds.

Chris Nolan, perhaps the most famous nerd made good, rescued the Batman franchise. Nolan made Batman cool and borderline psychotic again. Perhaps it takes an avid – an intensely interested fan – to understand the psychology of an obsessive personality like that of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character. George Clooney and Val Kilmer (both consummate Hollywood player Joel Schumacher’s choices), two of the most handsome men of the age, had run the damn thing into the ground. They made Batman look too freshly-fucked. It was the case of too much Bruce Wayne – the lie — and not enough Dark Knight.

Joel Schumacher’s solution was to focus more on the movie-star looks of the leads, sacrificing story for one-liners and tongue-in-cheek quips. It was like Schumacher thought of Batman through the outmoded lens of the swashbuckling swordsman of Hollywood yesteryear and not through the gritty prism of Frank Miller. I’m fairly sure neither Kilmer nor Clooney ever read a Detective comic previous to making the film, just as much as I’m fairly sure that Chris Nolan did. Thus the broody Christian Bale, another avid formerly known as a nerd, was the inspired choice to carry the franchise forward.

Comic book movies are Hollywood tent poles because they perfectly combine action and story. Their heroes fight against the odds and they are more at home when they are saving the world than in everyday social situations. Nerds, of course, have always known this. The Sam Raimi’s of the world were always wondering whether or not Mary Jane and Peter Parker would ever get together, whether Spider-man would ever balance the lives of both the spider and the man. And now they have the power to make it so.

Are you through being cool? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was written, produced, directed and narrated by Robert Evans. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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