When recent news broke that super director Steven Spielberg had been slated to direct the film version of Ernest Cline’s nerd-opus, Ready Player One, the Internet (as it’s known to do on occasion, or like when the wind blows) collapsed inward upon itself from the sheer weight of one billion digital opinions.
Some of you squeed with joy, some of you not so much (just read the comments section on any article article announcing Steven Spielberg getting the gig for confirmation,) but everyone who’s anyone, passionately let it be known that expectations for Ready Player One are higher than anything we’ve seen in quite a long time.
But what nobody realized was that this is actually a unique watershed moment. A tipping point. It might even be a glitch in The Matrix.
There was once a time, within the last 100 years when the touchstone of culture was Classical Literature, Philosophy, and Religion. An author writing his book, or a screenwriter writing her screenplay was more likely to make a reference to Beowulf than to Batman. Beowulf was the epitomes tragic warrior that a writer could reference and be sure his audience would understand and connect to. Batman? Well. Pow! Bam! Zap!
For years geeks have striven for legitimacy in the things that we love. That which lit us up and sparked our imaginations, while imaginative and fun, were considered fringe and marginal. Culture with a lower case “c.” What child didn’t run home to watch G.I. Joe or She-ra or Power Rangers while playing Nintendo or Sega or PlayStation while sitting in front of a giant mountain of comic books for hours on end? Yet society at large had a casual dismissive relationship to the things that we held dear. Your grandparents cried when Lenny Small died in Of Mice & Men. Your parents cried when Tony died in West Side Story, but you cried when Buffy killed Angel and sent him to a hell dimension.
The Ready Player One news is a defining marker in the already shifting set point for popular culture that began the day Comic Con was no longer just for comic nerds a decade ago. We saw the first glimpses of this brave new world when Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Spaced debuted on British television. For the first time in our lives, the things we held close to our hearts felt legitimate. It began to be OK to wave your nerd flag high. Since then it’s only grown bigger and more pervasive as today’s largest movie franchises are based on comic books, and there doesn’t seem to be a sign that it’s going to slow down anytime soon.
And why not really? A lot of us are as versed in Hamlet as we are in the X-Men, and the tragedies and triumphs that transpired in either can generate pathos and pleasure on the same level at the best of times. The gift that generations of today have is that we can see that all of it is art and while some artists might be better than others, one art form is no less legitimate just because it appears in what happens to be a newer, less celebrated medium. We can see, and more importantly we can accept, that the same elements of tragedy found in Moby Dick can be found in Star Trek. Heck, Star Trek even figured that out for itself already. Brilliant.
And to boot, Steven Spielberg is probably the perfect person to realize this novel and bring it to the big screen because he did the very same thing to the touchstones of his youth when he directed the Indiana Jones series and to a lesser extent Jurassic Park.
Ready Player One is a book that is based on our youth. While it posits a future that has yet to happen from a historical sense, in every way it is about us and the experiences we collectively valued and shared. And while we’ve been making a slow and steady march toward legitimate inclusion of our formerly fringe passions for a long time, this moment finally says that geeks, and nerds, and the things that we love are here to stay and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Culture with a capital “C.”
Just don’t mess this up Steven, or there will be hell to pay. We love us some video game and comic book references like nobody’s business. See Community for further proof.