So, it’s Geek Pride Day, which has been a thing since… 2006?
Why today, May 25th? Well, there are many events which have coalesced on today.
The first event, forty years ago today, is that a small movie, not well-supported by its studio, opened in 32 theaters. Fortunately, one of those theaters happened to be Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
That, alone, is worth celebrating today:
- Science fiction went mainstream. (Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey helped, but Star Wars made it popular and non-geeky.)
- Toys! Most movies didn’t have much merchandise, which meant that George Lucas was able to own the merchandising rights for his new movie.
- Special effects. Industrial Light and Magic created and/or perfected many techniques in the original trilogy, years before they killed of practical effects with CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park… (…and sold off their computer effects division for $5 Million.)
- Blockbuster movies. Star Wars wasn’t the first summer blockbuster, but it refined the formula, and rewrote a lot of marketing strategies. 20th Century Fox, expecting a flop, opened the film the Wednesday before Memorial Day, ahead of the typical summer movies which opened in June. That day became “George Lucas Day”, and until Spider-Man opened the first Friday in May in 2002, was the day that the Summer Blockbuster season began.
- Excitement. Did people wait in line for movies before then? I was 7 when the movie opened, so I don’t remember doing that before. I did afterwards, on those glorious summer Fridays when you stood in line to catch the first morning showing (no Midnight screenings until 1989 and Batman) with your fellow cinephiles, usually in 70mm (feature films didn’t hit IMAX until Fantasia 2000).
Or, as the New York Times stated in 1987:
The unprecedented success of a movie set in a galaxy long ago and far away turned Hollywood’s attitudes toward science fiction upside down, changed the industry’s definition of summer, re-established symphonic music in films, exploded the boundaries of special effects, helped unleash eight years of movies aimed at teen-agers, gave new importance to sound, created a pop mythology, and made merchandising the characters from a movie as important as the movie itself.
But that’s not all… since then, fandoms have grown, overlapped, intermarried, and grown older.
While I’m primarily a comics geek, my interests are quite varied. Growing up, before the World Wide Web, access to cool stuff was limited… you had to watch TV when an episode aired, or wait for the rerun months later. If you didn’t see the movie in the theater, you had to wait for the ABC Sunday Night Movie a year later, since few people had VCRs and/or cable television. Want to know about movies in development and production? You had to read Starlog (and Variety, if your local library carried it). So while you were waiting for one thing, you engaged in something else, because there might only be one comicbook movie a year (Popeye, Supergirl, Howard the Duck), or one science fiction series (Otherworld, ALF, Voyagers!).
So, while you’re at the science fiction shop which also sells comics, you might discover an LP containing episodes from a radio serial.
Later, your local PBS affiliate, having success with airing Doctor Who and Monty Python, will air the miniseries, which you’ll watch, because, it’s science fiction and humorous, and what else are you going to do on a Saturday night before SNL airs?
Then you find the books, which were inspired by the radio drama, and discover some very clever ideas hidden deep inside a funny story, and eventually find other people who enjoy the same thing, and pretty soon, you realize that maybe not everyone on Ark B was an idiot.
Of course, you look for other stuff that Douglas Adams creates, eager to read and know and enjoy as much as possible, which inevitably leads you to a guide to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by a young journalist who, like you, enjoys fantasy, science fiction, comics, and storytelling. But you don’t really care who the author is, so you don’t notice when he starts writing comics himself, which means you spend $50 buying back issues to catch up on what you thought (correctly, sort of) was a horror comic, but is actually much more.
Sadly, Douglas Adams died way too soon, so the first Towel Day was held on May 25, 2001, two weeks after his death, to commemorate his life. Why a towel?
Remember that reporter? Well, you start to read everything that he writes and publishes, even travelling to New Zealand to find old issues of 2000AD which contain his first comics work. You even read a novel about an Antichrist who grows up to be a normal kid, co-written with another funny and satirical British fantasy author, Terry Pratchett. You don’t know much about The Omen to get some of the jokes, but it’s still an enjoyable read.
Many years later, an advance reading copy of The Fifth Elephant arrives at work, and you discover the Discworld, a fantasy world populated with interesting characters, and spiced with just enough satire to make it worthwhile. Sadly, a few years later, Terry Pratchett is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so, using an event from the books, this day is chosen to remember him and his work, by wearing lilac.
And a few years later, you realize the May 25th was the day you became a comics geek, seduced by Spider-Man in a black costume. It doesn’t seem that long ago, until you remember the 20th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (on CD for the first time!), or thinking that October 21, 2015 was so far into the future.
Here are some more geeky historical events to celebrate today:
- John F. Kennedy addresses a joint session of Congress:
- 1953 – The first public television station in the United States officially begins broadcasting as KUHT from the campus of the University of Houston.
- 1968 – The Gateway Arch in Saint Louis is dedicated.
- 2008 – NASA‘s Phoenix lander lands in Green Valley region of Mars to search for environments suitable for water and microbial life.
- It’s also National Tap Dance Day! Why not learn the Shim Sham Shimmy?