The Reign of the Geek Gods: How Game of Thrones and Avengers Helped Nerds Take Over the World

Pop Culture

The Reign of the Geek Gods: How Game of Thrones and Avengers Helped Nerds Take Over the World

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

“Y

ou can’t always get what you want,” sang The Rolling Stones, and I found myself humming along with Mick Jagger several times over the past weekend, as I scoured the internet trying to pick up tickets for Avengers: Endgame. If my choice of music wasn’t enough of a giveaway, let me break the news to you: I failed. Not that it bothered me too much. After all, even without tickets to see the Avengers, I still had the knowledge that Monday would bring with it “The Long Night”, the third episode of Game of Thrones’ final season, which promised to be equally epic.

I’m going to remember April 2019 for a long, long time. Narendra Modi is seeking to be re-elected, and accompanying it are questions over the future direction of the country. But apart from the momentous political implications, this month will also go down as a landmark in pop culture history. Both on TV and film, nerd culture planted its flag in the mainstream, with Avengers and GoT becoming the most discussed, tweeted about, recapped, and memed franchises ever. The general public today seems more fearful of spoilers than the PM did of unscripted interviews during his entire tenure. For someone who’s been labelled a “nerd” for most of his life, this entire month felt like validation for my lifelong obsessions.

Both GoT and Avengers unabashedly embrace their true nature, without pretence. There’s no mistaking them for anything other than a fantasy epic and a superhero blockbuster respectively. This is why the way in which they’ve come to dominate pop culture today is a source of pride for me. While growing up, these genres were considered niche interests – larger-than-life stories meant for distracting children, or childish individuals. Being a fan of comic books or fantasy novels came with the stigma of being typecast as a socially awkward weirdo more comfortable in a made-up universe than the real world.

Growing up, while most of my fellow students in my all-boys school were waiting on the next instalment in the Fast & Furious franchise, my nerd friends and I were waiting for the cinematic adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The most popular video games at the time were the FIFA and Need for Speed franchises, yet my favourites were Diablo and Baldur’s Gate. As time passed, the shaming only intensified. Fellow readers were graduating to “serious” authors like VS Naipaul, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Haruki Murakami, while I was immersing myself in Frank Miller’s graphic novels and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time novels. The older I got, the more my interest in sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book narratives was viewed as an oddity. Perhaps it’s because nerd culture back then simply wasn’t as universal as it is today, when everyone seems to have a favourite Avenger and breaks off contact with social media to avoid GoT spoilers.

The stories of dragons and knights, superheroes and supervillains, and magic and superpowers, once confined to rarely visited library shelves, have leapt off the pages and onto our screens.

After years and years of keeping my fandom hidden like an embarrassing secret, to be able to swap fan theories about my favourite characters with co-workers and acquaintances gives me more relief than what Jorah must have felt when Sam cured him of greyscale in the previous season. Ever since Endgame released, I’ve been dodging spoilers like Neo in The Matrix, but that feeling of dread is also accompanied by one of hidden joy because I never thought the day would come when I’d be the one playing catch-up to nerd culture.

Yet, here we are. Endgame is running sold-out in theatres across Mumbai, and has become the first movie to be screened on a 24-hour cycle. People organise hotly attended watch-parties for GoT episodes every Monday, as if it were an IPL final. That’s a fair comparison to make, because nerd culture has, in recent years, gained the same kind of appreciation from audiences as jock culture. Professional gamers compete for prizes as lucrative as the ones professional athletes compete for, fan conventions see as many footfalls as a sporting event or a music concert, and more people know the properties of made-up Marvel mineral vibranium than the actual periodic table. It’s no longer uncool to be a nerd.

The stories of dragons and knights, superheroes and supervillains, and magic and superpowers, once confined to rarely visited library shelves, have leapt off the pages and onto our screens. Avengers and Thrones marks the apogee of nerd culture; I highly doubt there will be another occasion in the foreseeable future when such explicitly niche franchises attain such monumental stature in the cultural landscape. The slow climb to legitimacy for these genres – which began for superhero films with Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and Peter Jackson’s LoTR films – reached the summit when Avengers and Thrones became the most-discussed stories on a weekend when PM Modi held a rally and the country went to the fourth phase of the polls.

So yes, I didn’t get my hands on tickets for Endgame, and had to find ways to console myself. But like the Stones sang, “You can’t always get what you want… but if you try sometime you find, you get what you need.” And for a nerd who just wanted to share his passion with the rest of the world, this week was exactly what I needed.

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