Friday, 27 January 2012

Souvenirs of Geekdom: Mallrats

Souvenirs of Geekdom. Or nerddom. I like the word 'nerd' better, but 'nerddom' doesn't look right. So... 'Souvenirs of Geekdom'.

It's going to be a series of short essays on the detritus of our subculture that's barely even a subculture (or that is maybe really a whole cluster of subcultures) any more. A poke around what makes us nerds, what makes us beautiful and what makes us woefully lame. It's inspired by Douglas Coupland's superb Souvenirs of Canada, which offers up a fascinating meander through the flotsam of Canadian life, providing a sense of the country's identity by way of anecdote, history, consumer goods and pop culture reference. That's the sort of thing I'm gunning for here, but our lot's primary point of convergence isn't quite so straightforward as geography.

First up: Mallrats.

There are numerous cultural and social forces that pushed geek culture into the mainstream over the last couple of decades, and anyone who tries to give too much credit to any one film/book/comic/ANYTHING is clearly a maniac. That said, Mallrats surely helped. More significant than the film's impact on our acceptance into the society around us, however, is its impact on the nerd's self-image.

(Catch-up! Kevin Smith's Mallrats is basically the film John Hughes might have made if he was a great big comics nerd. It's about two guys wandering around a mall, chasing a couple of girls and talking about comics A LOT. It also had an early film cameo by Stan Lee.)

As a nerd growing up in a world that hated and feared you, Mallrats gave the feeling that maybe, just maybe, you could be a little bit cool. Yeah, Jason Lee and Jeremy London - the two nerd leads - might play a pair of slackers, but they play a pair of slackers who go out in the world, interact with society at large and, in their own way, are... if not cool, very likeable, kind of good-looking, a bit charming and generally the sorts of chaps people like to have around. More importantly, they play nerds who go out with girls played by Claire Forlani and Shannen Doherty.

While neither of these guys is exactly (Robert Downey Jr's) Tony Stark, in 1995 nerds in moving pictures were generally of the bestpectacled, pocket-protector-wearing, might-just-shoot-you-while-you-eat-your-cheese-strings variety. All of a sudden, here were nerds who fit in comfortably with the zeitgeisty, dumbed-down, slacker interpretation of Generation X. Here was a vision of the nerd that fit comfortably alongside the Pepsi ad version of what young people were. In the Mallrats interpretation of Geekdom, you didn't have to be an outsider to be a nerd. You could be in.

No, it's not as good as Clerks. No, it's probably not even all that good, full-stop (although it is interesting that the Metacritic critics' rating of Mallrats is a paltry 41/100, while the user rating is up at 7.5/10). Still, it made many of us feel - even as our balls were still in that awkward mid-drop (free-fall?) phase and our strongest claim to physical intimacy was linked to a Witchblade comic - that one day the opposite sex might one day look at us with something other than contempt or half-formed pity.

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