2008: The Year the Geeks Took Over

The Geek shall inherit the earth.

Is there any arguing it? You guys who are technology and gadget-obsessed, who have a huge capacity for memorizing bits of information and an infinite hunger for the Next Cool Thing... it's looking like the future will fit you like a glove. One that shoots lasers.

Wait, did we say "the future"? Because looking back on 2008, it seems like that geek-dominated future is already here. Consider...

#7. The Internet Subculture Oozed Into the Real World

How many of you had a secret club when you were in school? Maybe you didn't have an actual tree house to meet in or a secret handshake, but at the very least you had a series of inside jokes and references that absolutely nobody else would get in a thousand years. But what if one day you heard the football team borrowing those jokes? Or worse, the teachers? What would that say about your club?

Now imagine what the first few message board friends who started "Rickrolling" each other a couple of years ago must have felt like when they saw Rick Astley interrupt the 2008 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with "Never Gonna Give You Up"...

... to universal laughter and applause by the crowd. "Ah, yes," said countless middle aged housewives and Armani-wearing stockbrokers, "I do believe we have been Rickrolled!"

It was just the latest in a long line of the Internet subculture's invasions into the mainstream. The guys who remember that thread on Something Awful a few years ago, where everybody chipped in wacky facts about Vin Diesel (and later, Chuck Norris) saw that inside forum joke get mentioned in the 2008 presidential campaign. Oh and you can buy the bound version of it in book stores. While you're there, pick up the LOLcats hardback.

Then we have the Anonymous protests against Scientology, where members of the 4chan boards and others formed the world's largest flash mob to take on the cult while wearing V for Vendetta masks, making international news in the process.

Many thought this would stand as their largest accomplishment, but it turned out to be a distant second. The first was when, after invading her message boards, they induced Oprah Winfrey to repeat about three different 4chan memes at once on national television, culminating with the phrase "over 9000 penises."

We guess you have to take the good with the bad from Anonymous. And to be honest we're not even sure which one that was.

#6. Your Grandma Became a Gamer

For the first 20 years or so of video gaming, it was a kid's pastime. Then, starting in the mid-90s, it branched into a geek pastime.

That was the perception, anyway. As recently as a few years ago, if you saw a grown-up in a movie playing video games, it was the filmmaker's way of signaling that he was an immature man-child (in The 40 Year Old Virgin they demonstrate Steve Carell's lack of a love life via his elaborate gaming setup; in The Break-Up Vince Vaughn's video game addiction proves to his girl he's not ready for an adult relationship).

It was either "video games" or "put him in a diaper."

But Nintendo had an idea. They'd make the control pad for their new machine look like something every non-gamer is familiar with: a TV remote. They'd build a nonthreatening, cheap little console that looked like a device almost every non-gamer owns: an iPod. They'd ship it with games that would be utterly familiar even to someone who had never seen a video game in their life: boxing, tennis, baseball.

In Wii Sports you find no aliens, no blood and guts, no bald-headed space marines, no cutscenes with androgynous heroes casting magic spells. Simple games, with tutorials that would walk you through the even simpler controls.

The result? In 2008, we found rooms full of elderly types playing video games. As we watched them flail around with their Wiimotes, we realized this was gaming doing what gaming does best: taking our minds off of the encroaching black maw of death.

On gaming message boards, the hardcore gamers screamed about how the Wii had ruined their hobby, as if the oldsters and soccer moms had crashed the video game party, clearing out the bongs to put down a shuffleboard court. But it was the opposite. Gaming had finally broken out of the niche, its sprawling roots finally invading every last demographic.

Yes, the Wii is a toy, but don't underestimate gaming's role in the future of the culture. Playing is the brain's way of training itself, and what you are seeing up there are the last non-geek holdouts learning to function in a digital, virtual world, in a way that will define how humans interact with computers in the future. First the Wii, then World of Warcraft, then the neural implants. Right on schedule.

#5. The Final Geekification of the Music Industry

The music industry has been clashing with Internet culture for about as long as the latter has existed. The feud started when the industry heads turned their backs on the geeks years ago by not capitalizing on file-sharing super site Napster.

Napster exploded onto the scene before any other major file-sharing source and said, "Look, this is how we're going to do things from now on." They even offered a piece of the action to all of the major labels (the way the TV networks now have deals with Hulu). They could have gotten on board with Napster, to at least keep all of the file-sharing in one place, before all of the imitators emerged and spread P2P filesharing like wildfire. Of course, that would require the music industry to look ahead instead of clinging for dear life to the old way that bought them those mountains of cocaine and bling.

Jay-Z lives here </[>

So the music industry plugged its fingers into its ears and said "Blah blah blah, I can't hear you, blah blah blah." Instead of figuring out how to make money off file sharing, they invested their time and money into suing Napster and, worse, the downloaders themselves. Did it stop illegal file trading? Ask pretty much all of the music on your iPod.

And now, we have Girl Talk (aka, Greg Gillis), the guy who symbolizes the Wild West that is copyright in the file sharing era. He released Feed the Animals, which is a 55-minute remix/mashup of over 300 pirated tracks that spans decades as well as genres. Listen to a track to hear Lil' Wayne, Cheap Trick, Eminem and Yail Naim all cleverly broken down and mashed together into a stew. Of all of the songs he's sampled, he hasn't asked for permission to use a single one and, somewhat miraculously, hasn't been sued yet.

Then, Gillis released Animals on his label's website on a pay-what-you-want basis, even if what you want to pay happens to be nothing. And it worked.

Sure, Radiohead pulled the same pay-what-you-want stunt last year, but they're Radiohead. They have contracts, the support of a label, a team of lawyers and a loyal fan base they've built over years and years. In Girl Talk we have a guy building a career with pirated music, free downloads and live shows that basically involve him on stage with a series of computers. Look up "geek music" on Wikipedia and it should redirect you to Girl Talk.

Seriously, look at the guy.

But it's the way he's burst out of the geek pigeonhole that earns him a spot in this article. Google "Top Albums of 2008," and no matter what article you find, Girl Talk's Animals will almost definitely be on there, whether it's Pitchfork, RollingStone, Stephen King, or Time Magazine.

Thanks to the spread of Internet and Geek culture, a barely-known artist like Gillis, on a small, obscure label like IllegalArt can explode onto the scene and reach every single top ten list of note, while Guns n' Roses' thirteen-year-in-the-making Chinese Democracy can come out and no one will give a shit.

That was always the true promise of Napster: Instead of being a method of stealing a product, it could circumvent the corporations that stand between the artists and the fans. Direct digital distribution, done in a way that the artist can still make a living off of. The geeks didn't kill the music industry in 2008. They just cut out the middleman.

#4. A Comic Movie Got Serious Oscar Consideration

To the untrained (read "non-geek") eye, comic books, and the movies based off of them, are loud, brightly-colored, fun bits of eye candy; a temporary distraction from real movies that are somber and serious, movies that talk about big issues and feature Meryl Streep.

The popular comic movies of the last decade or so have done very little to argue this idea: The Spider-man franchise was bright and exciting, Superman Returns was colorful and old fashioned, and Fantastic Four was childlike and retarded.

"I dare you to make the sequel even worse. I fucking dare you."

They all had respectable box offices, (Spider-man I and II each broke opening day records), but no notable critic ever included any of them in serious Oscar conversations because they were, after all, just superhero movies. It's the same stigma that keeps out even the most excellent of porn films.

Then along came The Dark Knight, a record-breaking, critically and commercially successful, bona fide phenomenon. If you didn't see it opening weekend, you were most likely in the minority of your office. If you didn't see it by the next weekend, everyone in your office hated you.

It was directed by a real director and written by a real writer (both had Academy Award nominations to their name). Gone were the bright colors and goofy villains, replaced by moral ambiguity and the startling death of a major character. We watched a tense interrogation between a guy in clown makeup and another guy in a bat-themed costume complete with cape, and it didn't come off as frivolous or childish.

For the first time, the creators acted like they weren't ashamed of the material. They didn't make it campy or self-referential, to let their cool friends know they were above it all. For once, they were treating the material as seriously as the fans did.

The result was a comic book movie that will get serious Oscar consideration, and we're not just talking about the geeks campaigning for it on the Internet. Already there are two Golden Globe nominations for Heath Ledger, to go with nominations for awards from the Screen Actors Guild, and both the Chicago and LA Film Critics.

As with video games, it wasn't five years ago that both comics and the movies based on them were aimed strictly at teenagers with the understanding that adult fans embodied the Simpsons Comic Book Guy stereotype and lived in their parents' basements. Now a comic book movie might be placed, rightfully so, among the year's best in motion picture achievement. Five years from now, could we wind up with a video game movie up there?

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