Sunday is June 23rd and you know what that means! For those of you that went on dates in high school here’s a hint:
That’s right! It’s the 30th anniversary of the release of Warner Brothers smash hit movie “BATMAN!” I don’t think it’s necessary to go into all of the stuff about the movie itself. You can making-of documentaries or read about it in any of the many articles you can read by Googling “remember Tim Burton’s ‘BATMAN.'” But I will highlight what it’s impact had on me.
From a purely cinematic level it introduced me to some people with whom I would become obsessed with throughout high school, namely Tim Burton and Danny Elfman. I had already seen “PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE” and “BETTLEJUICE” in the theater but it was this movie in particular that captured my attention. Had I not burdened myself with evangelical religiosity as a youth I probably would have embraced the aesthetic of Burton’s visuals and Elfman’s sounds and been labeled a goth. Instead I attempted this awkward and unsuccessful balancing act of being the person I wanted to be with the person I thought I should be. As they are both pretty important figures to geek culture I will probably discuss them both individually later on.
But “BATMAN” had an influence on me far greater than increasing my awareness of those artists. It was the movie that really solidified my love of superheroes and it really made me deep dive into comic books. I had read a handful of comics at that time and I already had a subscription to “Groo the Wanderer” coming in the mail but this was the experience that prompted me to go around the corner from the General Cinema theater that showed the movie and into Titan Games & Comics. It was there that I picked up my first Batman comic which was also my first trade paperback: the collected “Batman: A Death in the Family.” The die was cast, my fate was sealed. The summer of 1989 was the breakthrough year.
I did not get to see “BATMAN” on June 23rd, 1989. We were having dinner at a Mexican restaurant that night. But at that dinner my parents and I made plans to see the film the next night. So for me my day of celebration will be June 24th. Celebrating 30 years of “BATMAN” will probably be less of an endurance test than when I celebrated 30 years of “STAR WARS.” That was a rough one.
I really didn’t intend to talk about anything heavy this early in the game but my hand has been forced by current events.
In the past Max Landis has been able to skate passed any allegations about sexual and mental abuse for a number of reasons but it seems that now there is heavy weight to the accusations being made against him. In short 8 women have come out saying that he treated them terribly and he is an all around awful person to women. As this type of allegation almost always proves to be true, especially with multiple accusers, I’m going to presume the truth in this matter.
There are many reasons this matters to the geek community and no, it’s not because he’s attached to science fiction and horror movies that are scheduled to be produced. It’s because this is a reflection of our society at large and our place in it.
In effort to encourage and guide other people to being better geeks it is imperative that I be willing to show light on my own experiences. In the wake of the #metoo movement I shared on social media, Facebook and Twitter specifically, that I was myself guilty of awful behavior. I’m not going to equate my actions, like forcing a kiss or being a manipulative “nice guy” to the kinds of things that Landis is accused of because I think that is disrespectful to his alleged victims (and because I quickly experienced guilt and remorse for my deeds and vowed to be a better person). But I will say that my actions fell on a spectrum of disrespect for women and that if I want my voice to be valid I have to keep it real with you and myself.
One of the many things that motivates someone like Landis or anyone else who tries to take advantage of others, whether it’s as serious as rape or simply a dangerous traffic maneuver, is a sense of entitlement. If you think you deserve something because of who you are rather than as a reward for positive actions then you have a sense of entitlement. And frankly, geeks can be loaded with entitlement…
After my last post in which I talked about seeing Lou Ferrigno being made up as the Hulk on “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” I thought about that memory and wondered if I would be able to find the clip. Not surprisingly it took me about 90 seconds to find it online.
A quick Google search of “mr rogers hulk” took me to a website that catalogs all of the episodes of “MRN” and from there I was able to further search for that specific episode. And to my surprise it turned out to be an even better find than I could possibly imagine. As it turns out they did TWO episodes in which they visit the set of “The Incredible Hulk!” And further research shows that they set the visit up 2 episodes prior when Bill Bixby calls Mr Rogers!
The first part of the visit, episode 1468, has Fred and Mr. McFeely visiting the sound stage where they are greeted by Bill Bixby and later they watch a scene being filmed. And in the second part, episode 1469, they return to the studio and Mr. McFeely himself shoots the home movie of Lou being made up. It was astonishing. The home movie was just as I remembered it. But, truthfully, that wasn’t the part that resonated with the most as an adult.
Mr. Rogers and Bill Bixby spoke to each other in calm, pleasant tones about 2 important lessons that I think get lost on many fans of fantastical fiction like ourselves. One of them is that of anger. We don’t want to be defined by our anger because, like the Hulk, it can change us as people. And the other is to remember that movies, television, and everything like it is make believe. It can entertain us, it can inspire us. But we mustn’t let it interfere with our understanding of reality. Going forward I will refer back to these themes.
Another poignant moment came when Mr. Rogers and Mr McFeely spoke with Lou Ferrigno himself. Lou spoke of his hardships growing up and becoming deaf in his youth. It made me think of all of the times that Fred taught us about both empathy and determination. I don’t know if the lessons of anger management and empathy really sunk in while I was young. I certainly wasn’t graced with much natural empathy and try to develop it now. And as for anger? Well, I have had a transformation in that regard but I attribute the changes to therapy rather than gamma radiation.
Did you watch “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood?” I’m sure even if you didn’t you watched a documentary about it or have seen clips so you know who Fred Rogers was. But do you remember any of the other characters on the show? Do you remember the Speedy Deliveryman Mr. McFeely? He would bring props or letters to Fred and they could use it to teach some sort of lesson. Sometimes he would bring home movies.
In one of these home movies Mr. McFeely brought to Fred it was a trip to the set of the TV show “The Incredible Hulk.” It’s wild they even did this because I would think that “Hulk” was too adult for a lot of the kids watching but it was a huge show and even though I must have been 4 or 5 I remember watching it. There’s a lot for me to unpack about that show which I’ll get to another time but right now I want to talk about that home movie.
What I distinctly remember about this home movie was that it was silent and it was just Mr. Rogers and Mr. McFeely describing what they were watching. And what they were watching was the moment directed my future. They were showing Lou Ferrigno being made up as the Hulk. I vividly remember them gluing on his big forehead and his nose. I remember them painting him green and then applying powder to remove the shine. I remember them slipping on the green wig and Lou turning into the Hulk. I don’t remember anything else about that movie but I remember this: I just saw someone making a monster. I know that the technical term is “special make up effects” but for me it’s always going to be MONSTER MAKE UP. And it happened right there. From there on out I was hooked on the fantastic and I owe it all to “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.”
Flashback to me watching “Return of the Jedi.” As amazing as the story was to me, as compelling as the characters were to this 6-year-old boy, what latched onto my brain was that it was puppeteers and make up people making this fantasy a reality. In future posts I’ll talk about creators and creations. But I also want to talk about the world around them that we, the fans, created. And I want your input. I want you to engage with this site. Follow @better_geek on Twitter. Follow the “Be A Better Geek” Facebook page. And PLEASE tell other people about this site.
Even though Lawrenceville, Georgia was the county seat of Gwinnett County it was still a pretty small city in 1983. The population was about to grow rapidly but at that time Lawrenceville was small enough that it had one movie theater which was located in the same shopping center as Roses and a pharmacy that later sold discounted Atari cartridges. For years, before the mall arrived and with it multiple theaters, it was THE place for the Porterfields to go see movies. We went there in 1981 to see “E.T., the Extraterrestrial” which was my first memory of a movie. But even more powerful to me was in 1983 when my dad took me to see “Return of the Jedi.” I don’t need to tell you much about the movie itself because it’s likely one you’ve already seen, but as a 6-year-old kid who’s only connection with “STAR WARS” was playing with his older brother’s action figures, it was a mind altering experience. After watching that Luke Skywalker became my first hero of fiction. Darth Vader was the coolest character I ever saw. And the Emperor would, from that day forward, represent my measuring stick for an evil character. I was utterly captivated by the space battles, the swashbuckling, and the wild creatures. I can go on and on about what the content of the movie did to me. And given that “STAR WARS” became my favorite cultural artifact I likely will at some point. But perhaps even more important than the characters of the film was the introduction to me my first glimpse of the scope of special effects. Yes, even though I was only 6 I recognized that the creatures, space ships, and lightsabers were special effects. And in my next post, I’ll tell you what was likely the Big Bang of my geekdom.
Fair warning: I’m gonna reference “STAR WARS” a lot on this site. Heck, the very first post’s title was a “STAR WARS” reference. Beyond it’s status as a cinematic and cultural touchstone it’s had a profound impact on me my entire life and it threads it way into a lot of my experiences. Perhaps part of the reason could be, I don’t know, was that it was THE VERY FIRST MOVIE MY PARENTS TOOK ME TO SEE. Sure, I was an infant and wasn’t even a year old, but I was there. I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 months old and my parents took their youngling to a drive-in because they knew that it would grant them some freedom that a regular theater would. What my dad didn’t expect would be that I would cry for most of the movie and he would be pushing me around in a stroller while mom sat in the car with my brother enjoying the show. I legitimately think he held resentment for that one for the remainder of his life. Clearly I can’t say that being a baby at a movie genuinely affected who I was but in my next installment of BABG I’ll explain the first real impact “STAR WARS” had on me.
Welcome to my brand new blog “Be A Better Geek.” I’m so very new at this whole website building thing that if you’re here from the very beginning then you’re looking at a pretty bare bones site. Maybe as we become better geeks together I can have a better site to go along with it.
I have to be up front and say that I am still coming to terms with the word “geek.” When I was a kid I learned that geeks were sideshow performers that would bite the heads off of chickens or rats and though that was a thrilling concept for me as a youth I realized that it wasn’t going to be a career option growing up. But since the common vernacular has a very different meaning for geek now I’ll go with it and swallow my pride (instead of a chicken’s head).
So what am I trying to achieve with this blog? Well, I have a lot of ideas already about what I want to write about but it basically comes down to this: finding ways to make geeks and geek culture the best they can be. Individually I want to share what it has meant in my life to be a geek, how I got here, and where I want to go. I also want to look at geek culture itself and the way it fits into or rejects aspects of society. I also want to highlight and pay homage to some of the cultural milestones and individuals that help shape me and the geeky world.
Our world of geekdom is filled with both beauty and toxicity, nostalgia and forward thinking. And whether it is in the world of science fiction movies, superhero comic books, fantasy novels, and horror video games or the world at large I want to see a world where individuals can feel free to experience their best lives and where we as a community can make a better society.