Put Your Fandom All Over My Body

21 December, 2015 at 12:36 pm (film)

I haven’t seen Star Wars.

Pew! Pew! from ThinkGeek

And not in the new, hipster way that young people haven’t seen Star Wars, because they’ve been told all their lives that it’s amazing, and it’s a small act of rebellion (against, amusingly, the Rebellion) to avoid the things their parents loved and fixated upon. Much in the way it took me almost thirty-five years to watch Citizen Kane, because I didn’t trust the mores and scales of those before me, and I both didn’t want to be disappointed that something might have aged badly and didn’t want to begrudgingly admit that maybe it really was the greatest thing ever.

(It’s not, by the way. Kane nor Star Wars. Neither is the greatest thing evs, let alone since sliced bread. But that’s another column.)

A L O N G T I M E A G O I N A G A L A X Y F A R F A R A W A YAnd neither have I not seen Star Wars in the BBC Radio, it’s-just-one-of-those-things-that-passed-me-by sense. No, I’ve seen Star Wars, I just haven’t seen Episode Seven. Not yet.

The first film to make over one hundred million dollars on opening day (although that number may include preview screenings from Thursday), and I am not one of the many Bothans that saw it. I usually pride myself on being able to be part of the cultural conversation in a timely manner, but I’m sitting this one out for a week or two. Which means that if I want to be spoiler wary, I have to keep much of cultural conversation in a sealed container. Next week, upon finally having been forced to awaken, I can go back to the internet and pry open that box and see what everyone has been saying about it a little too late. I’m a little sad about this, but if there’s anything that Twitter has taught me is to be used to getting to the interesting conversation far too late to chime in.

And it will be interesting to be slightly on the opposite side of a cultural phenomenon. Because since the Fake Geek spats of the last few years, I’ve been thinking about how it does and doesn’t bug me how much nerd culture has swept commonplace marketeering. Some of my nerd community tell me that it should bother us. We were here first. In terms of loving Star Wars and other hallmarks and watchwords of nerd fan culture, we were far, far away ahead of the curve. On the one hand, I think it’s marvelous that I could walk into J.C. Penney and buy a Wolverine t-shirt. I would have loved to be able to do that when I was twelve. On the other hand, I do find it odd to be riding the subway and see a guy all glitzed out in Superman gear, because I have a hard time unpacking exactly what it signifies to have a Big Red S shirt, watch, baseball cap, AND hoodie, and what that means to the person wearing them. It’s a little denim-on-denim to be sporting that much of a single image, and also odd, mercenary, and slightly devalued that the trademark is so widely available in every conceivable accessory, from grilles to boxers to cell phone charms.

SL4VE TWO by Mardalorian VehiclesAnd, let’s be honest, a lot of my hesitation or disdain is rooted in snobbery. Not in Fake Geek Test snobbery, but the snobbery of aesthetics. I love José Luis García-López’s DC Comic stylebook as much as the next guy, but I’m not sure I want it and its Super Powers-era iconography all over my chest. I’m a wee bit picky. Even in the bat-splotion of 1989, when classic sixties Batmania returned (with such a vengeance that for years afterward, you couldn’t see a photograph of children in Africa without seeing some kid draped in an American-sized surplus Bat symbol) and I had the dream pick of Bat Iconography, I wouldn’t sport just any shirt. It had to be the right artist, the right concept, the right design. Yonks ago, Nick put forward the challenge on The V: what shirt could he wear to a club that was secretly a superhero shirt, but that no one would know it unless they were deeply nerdy themselves? My modest suggestion: the lightning bolt of Jay Garrick’s classic Flash. Because really, the shirt doesn’t need to have the Flash’s symbol AND a picture of the hero himself, let alone have the symbol and the hero and the title logo. One wants to be classy Jay Garrick and not awkward Jay Garish. And most of the department store selection of nerd wear isn’t interested in clean design as much as ostentatious branding. Those shirts or jackets or pajamas won’t just have the Captain American shield on them. They will have the circular star-and-stripes and also have Chris Evans’ serious patriot face and then gild the lily with the Avengers logo. Because they want you to be completely unambiguous about displaying your tastes to the world. If you’re going to pay to be a human billboard, the maxim is that More is More.

Old Ben's Sabers: The Deals You're Looking For

So when my co-worker decided that she was going to wear a Star Wars shirt every day this week in anticipation of the Thursday sneak preview of The Force Awakens she would be attending and bringing her sons to, I was surprised by both the fact that she had five Star Wars shirts to wear, and — that with a dresser full of a whole summer’s worth of T-shirts — I didn’t. This was a neat idea that she’d had, and a clever way to get our administration to allow her to skirt the dress code for a week. Wanting to join in, I plumbed the depths of my wardrobe for anything Star Wars-y and found that what I didn’t have was any branded Star Wars shirts. On a treasured shelf of mild antiquities, I find I have a copy of the 1978 Star Wars Iron-On Transfer Book, with sixteen T-shirt designs (still intact!) that tend to say the name of either the film or the character (“SEE-THREEPIO”! Is that a name, a phonetic translation, or a command?) in a garish, appropriately retro way. I had nothing like that, nothing that spelled out what I was wearing. Instead I also had a full five Star Wars shirts, but only disguised, unofficial homages, mash-ups and oblique references intended either to pass without notice or to engender curious comment.


I hope that I’m on the right side of the Real Geek wars in this, and that my choices are ones of aesthetic snobbery and not some sort of test. I don’t know what Nick intended with his nerd club-wear. Maybe he falls on the wrong side of the Geek Wars debate, and he wanted his obscure nerd designs to be some sort of true-nerd shibboleth, a coded challenge to find the like-minded people in the room. Or maybe this was just an equivalent of casual cosplay, the pleasure of wearing something that represents the things you love, but without having to be defensive about it: a geeky shirt without outing oneself as untouchable when in a high-desirability environment. To a degree, this relates to how I decided to define the differences between nerd and fan culture about a year ago: fans also believe the marketing adage that More is More. They buy something with the TARDIS on it if they like Doctor Who. And they want you to know they like Doctor Who, and they want to talk to you about how they like Doctor Who. I dislike that apparently lack of discernment. I don’t care what kind of X-Men fan you are, whether you like the films or the ’90s cartoon or the X-Men: Evolution cartoon or the Claremont/Byrne era or the Morrison/Quitely era. Each is an arguable touchstone. But I’m interested in what you got out of that material, and why you like it and debating the relative merits, and to do that I will put you through a little Nerd Quiz to establish, not bona fides, but context.

And I think I prefer my coded Star Wars shirts so that I don’t have to have those conversations and have them be read as challenges. I grew up with Star Wars. I played Princess Leia in the back yard. I read Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter in the Mind’s Eye and Brian Daley’s Han Solo at Star’s End. I bought lots of toys that recreated the Kenner toys from my childhood as part of the marketing blitz that lead up to the 1997 re-release. I got excited by the teaser trailer for Episode I and was disappointed with the results. I am not atypical of my age group. But when people say to me, “Well, you like Star Wars…” I tend to demur. I have a Star Tours hat from Disneyland that I bought in 1988, I have a toy lightsaber in my file cabinet, and the only version of Trivial Pursuit that I own is the pre-prequel Star Wars edition, and the most money I’ve spent on a single issue of a comic book was on Cynthia Martin’s Star Wars issue #107, before it was available in a collected edition. But I tell people that I don’t like Star Wars. I like most of Star Wars and I love The Empire Strikes Back, but I don’t like Star Wars. Star Wars without italics, that is. The whole big ball of wax. I like lived-in universes and laser swords that mysteriously stop three feet out and the inefficiency of robots with personalities, but I don’t want or like or need the whole extra stuff that comes with the words “Star Wars”. And so I much prefer a shirt with an energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightsaber than I do one with those words and that logo on it.

But don’t let me fool you: I’m definitely leveling-up my avatar in Star Wars: Uprising, and I’m going to try and make my phone into a the virtual equivalent of three feet of neon fury and interact with Chrome. I’m the proud owner of the number one oddest object in Vultures’s 30 Most Bizarre Star Wars Items You Can Buy on Etsy.  And I bought it well before that article came out.  And in a week or so, I’m going to open up Episode Se7en and find out what’s in that box.


Related Links:
+ Pew Pew at ThinkGeek
+ This Is Not The Eye Chart You’re Looking For by David Schwen
+ Slave Two by John Tibbott
+ Old Ben’s Sabers at ThinkGeek (Out of Stock)
+ LightSaver by Matthijs Smit


  1. Benjamin Russell said,

    Ohmigoodness, I totally forgot two, perhaps my favorite of the bunch. From the vaunted (but expensive) Last Exit to Nowhere comes two shirts featuring the targeting systems of the X-Wing and Millennium Falcon, respectively.

    + https://www.lastexittonowhere.com/shop/product/stay-on-target/
    + https://www.lastexittonowhere.com/shop/product/millennium-falcon-target-regular-t-shirt/

    Last Exit normally features the logos of fictional companies found in genre films, so this is a small detour from their normal operations, but I think it’s a spiffing result.

  2. Benjamin Russell said,

    Months later, the days have gotten warmer and some T-shirts have come out of storage (read: deep, abandoned laundry), and I discovered one more shirt that I’ve owned for slightly more than a decade. Originally purchased with a vague idea of some future casual cosplay, this was an early Glarkware offering called Moment of Triumph:

    + http://glarkware.com/products/moment-of-triumph-shirt?variant=11358713284

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