Scott Pilgrim vs. the Cultural Critique

For a movie that hasn’t made much of a splash in box office take, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World certainly seems to have people talking. The movie opened 5th in the box office last weekend. It was beaten out by two new movies, The Expendables and Eat Pray Love, and by two movies who’d fallen about 40-50% in sales (one being Inception, arguable another nerd-bait feature).

Cinema Blend offers “5 Reasons Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Failed to Find an Audience,” but its reasoning is somewhat suspect at times, and even the title seems like a misnomer to me. “Scott Pilgrim” is currently the top Trending Topic on Twitter. My friends have been talking about it for weeks; a bunch of us saw a free advance screening, and a bunch more saw it on opening weekend. The blogs I follow regularly have been generally gushing praise. The issue doesn’t really seem to be that it “failed to find an audience,” but that the audience it found wasn’t really big enough to promise the kind of box office take that you’d expect with a $60 million budget. The whole phenomenon feels strangely reminiscent of Snakes on a Plane: Everyone was expecting the hype to equal success, when in fact it might have been only enough to make sure the movie makes a modest profit in the long run.

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Reflecting on ICA 2008

I just got back from Montreal, where I was attending the International Communication Association 2008 conference. Due to cost and scheduling issues, I wasn’t able stay for as long as I might have liked, but even in the couple days I was there, I got to see some thought-provoking presentations and meet some interesting people. Here are a few things I wanted to make note of before I forget. Find out more information about these panels in the ICA conference program (PDF link).

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The Motivations and Problems Behind Geek-Media Activism

You might recall that I wrote a recent post about the oft-heard question of whether geeky media, like comics and video games, would ever “grow up.” In it, I suggested that video games and comics can be promoted as “adult” (or at least “not juvenile”) through concerted creative and marketing efforts. Matt S. has an interesting post up in response which asks a fair question: Why bother? Geek-friendly media clearly have relevance for geeks, and trying to make these products palatable to “high-culture” interests runs the risk of ruining what actually works about them. I started writing a comment for his blog, but it got so long that I figured I should just put it here as another post. (And I might be delayed in replying to comments, as I was delayed in posting this, due to traveling.)

Ultimately, I think we might agree more than we disagree. As I said in the original post, I don’t think all our media has to have high-brow pretensions, and I do think that adults are entitled to media that seek to do no more than to entertain (even in ways that seem juvenile to some). But it is still interesting to discuss whether the motivation to be seen as “legitimate” is even worth it.

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Will [insert geeky medium] ever grow up?

Kotaku recently compiled a bunch of articles and quotes from critics in a debate about whether games would ever “grow up.” To summarize, some arguments include:

  1. Comics and games are “infantilized” because artsy content is the exception, with most of these media targeted to teenage boys;
  2. But games “have more to achieve” as a medium, and some creators are pushing for that;
  3. Moreover, dominance of the low-brow “isn’t inherent” to these media, but actually is common across all entertainment media;
  4. And in the meantime, part of the problem is that consumers “expect too little” of games (as evidenced by Bioshock, which is not nearly as sophisticated as its reception might have suggested).

My response to this is sort of a follow-up to recent posts addressing the perceived immaturity or unmasculinity of geeky pursuits like games and comics. In short, I agree with just about all of these to some extent, but I’d contend that these stereotypes can be escaped through creative and marketing efforts. Just look at the “graphic novel.”

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Links: From Closet Geeks to Sexiest Geeks Alive

Christmas was typically geeky (for me) in the Tocci household this year, netting one Mario brothers t-shirt, two comics, four Xbox 360 games, one PS2 game, one DS game, and the new They Might Be Giants album. I also had the opportunity to introduce my girlfriend’s family to the Guitar Hero series, graciously lent by my brother Stephen. Now I am turning my attention back to papers, the dissertation, and taking stock of the links I’ve gathered to clutter up my browser lately.

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Time, Top Tens, and Tastes

On Joystiq‘s post covering Time’s top 10 games of 2007, the writer and commenters repeatedly lambaste the magazine for putting Halo 3 at the top of that list. They are working under the assumption that a “mainstream” magazine simply reverts to default selections—i.e., what made the most money—when reviewing games. I find this an interesting response because it suggests that what I’ve often thought of as a somewhat unified “geeky blogosphere” may actually be more fragmented. That is, nobody commenting on Time‘s list seems aware that the list was written (and, I assume, the results chosen by) Time‘s resident nerd, Lev Grossman, co-writer for an entire geek culture blog for the magazine. Lev comments on his top 10 lists for comics and games on that same blog.

Granted, the top 10 lists for comics and games were a little more mainstream-oriented than in some previous years. The games list only includes first-tier titles, not downloads (Pac-man CE, Space Giraffe, and flOw might have been contenders, for example). The graphic novel list features four titles by Marvel/DC (five if you count Wildstorm, distributed by DC). Andrew Arnold, who handled Time‘s graphic novels list in some previous years, focused more on indie titles, perhaps as part of his mission to introduce new audiences to comics they would be less likely to find out about otherwise. Perhaps such a mission seems less pressing now, in a time when the magazine has abandoned its artsy comics blog in favor of an overtly nerdy blog—or perhaps this is simply a reflection of one man’s tastes versus another’s.