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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

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I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture

A. D. Jameson 
Farrar, Straus and Giroux 
ISBN 978-0374537364

Being a lifelong card-carrying Star Wars fans, this book was merely a fan pick to make sure that commentary on the film(s) was in line. What surprised me was that this book was more than just a book on Star Wars and its cultural effect, but a focused and insightful look into the culture of fandom and geeks. That isn't meant to put geeks down, in fact as Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back screenwriter) states that Jameson takes geek culture "seriously, respects their power and refuses to hide his deep affection). Being a geek means being a fan that cares. Jameson methodically considers the dynamic elements of being a fan and a geek and why it has carried some films to fame and also broken a few. 

If you're interested in any sci-fi/superhero culture, then you should just read this book. At some point, he will stop off at some of your favorite movies, books, comics, and other references. Beneath his discussion of Star Wars, Star Trek, Batman, comics, fan culture, Lord of the Rings, and hundreds of other references, Jamieson develops significant underlying ideas that bring substance to the discussion of these cultural art forms and why they are important to the world we consume. He begins by discussing the concept of world-building, a term that dates back a long time ago, but is brought into focus by Tolkien and his work in the 1930s. This concept of creating a world that people desire to immerse into is important to fans, writers, and popular culture purveyors. It isn't that people want a completely new reality, but they want a world that has as Tolkien called it, "the inner consistency of reality." While we want spaceships, creatures, and all those glorious moments, we also want to see ourselves and something that we can find of ourselves. Jameson goes on to explain that "Geeks differ from mystics, however, in knowing that their invented worlds aren't real, even as they want their fantasies to seem as real and as believable as possible."

The next important element is bringing realism into the mix. Like Star Wars and the concept of a "used world," viewers can see a gritty and complex world that looks real, and therefore closer to something else. "This is why geeks favor realism and world-building, which impart to fiction the look of nonfiction, and the weight of historical fiction." This is part of the immersion and the believability of the story. And this is exactly some of the elements that geeks fight over all the time. There is a great discussion based on expanded universes and how these franchises sell and direct their merchandise and concepts to the true fans. This can be a gamble that pays off or fall short (think Star Wars 1-3). 

While this book has some significant concepts and relevant vision of geek culture, it moves quickly and never gets bogged down. Even books and websites I didn't know didn't change the reading. I just kept going. Often, curious about a movie or book, I found myself searching for a few titles or more information to go back and explore later. 

If you are interested in Star Wars, geek fandom, popular culture, or you just like to watch movies, this book is very satisfying. Jameson makes an important point in the book when he says, "That's why learning to read an artwork, to interpret it and evaluate it, requires study and practice, learning how to untangle the web of allusions, of conventions and associations, through which artists encode and transmit meaning. Whatever else it happens to be, an artwork is also always a text, a representation of the world after a fashion, but never the world itself." He goes on to quote Alfred Korzybski when he famously said, "The map is not the territory."

Really good book for fans and pop culture enthusiasts. It clearly explains some of the implications of being a fan, a geek, and someone who does more than just watches but lies in bed wondering what great things might be coming for our favorite heroes and archetypes.