I assume we’ve all experienced a version of this encounter, so here goes mine. A student (I work at a university) comes into my office. At some point in the process of addressing the business at hand, I catch their eyes scanning the black denim jacket draped over the back of my chair. I’ve sewn several patches on it, as well as pinning a button or two on the lapels, in loose relation to those on a us military garment. Seriously, I used a ruler and looked up the regulations. Essentially, I did it because I like the aesthetic. Inadvertently, it serves as a billboard advertising some of my geekier interests.
This moment is familiar. I’m already going through my internal interaction-management protocols, doing counter-surveillance, weighing which image on my jacket they’re locking-in on against how much I really want to talk to this person right now. What gets people’s attention most frequently is the big blue circle around the big blue “X” with the words “Xavier’s Institute for Gifted Youngsters” embroidered around the outside. I’ve prepared an answer before they’ve gathered the breath required to ask the question aloud because I know how this is gonna go. I’ve been asked my favorite X-Man enough times to learn that not only is the question imminent in this scenario, but I’ll need more than just a gun-to-the-head definitive answer on deck to efficiently navigate this exchange. How I respond will dictate the next few moments I spend with this person, so options are necessary.
Iceman is typically my reflex response. Until Brian Michael Bendis recently brought Bobby Drake out as a gay man (a move I support, btw) and complicated the conversation; it was the quick,clean answer. It’s uncommon enough to be interesting but typically requires no further discussion. Everybody loves Iceman. We’re good. Enjoy the rest of your day.
Should I feel froggy enough to go big and have the energy to defend a character co-created by Rob Liefield not named Deadpool, then I go Cable. That’s legit, too. I feel like he’s the baddest one out of all of them and will stand by it ‘till you’re bored of hearing me argue for him and desperately try to change the subject before getting so mad at me that we stop being friends. Who would win in a fight? Cable. Who would I pick first to be on my X-team? Cable. Who probably has the dopest recipe for dystopian forage stew? Cable. Don’t test me. I was team X-force when they were still New Mutants.
I’ve also got a third option, possibly more accurate to my true feeling, but it requires some additional assurance that I’m not just trying to dodge the question. I honestly believe what makes the x-story work so well is the ensemble cast. It does no justice to the complex character dynamics to say one dude is the the most important. Trying to sell me on the idea that one of them stands above the rest is fruitless. Unless of course your choice is Jean Grey and you can make a solid case without using the words “phoenix”, “summers”, or “girlfriend”.Then we would probably stop the conversation altogether and kiss because you’ve now become my new favorite person and maybe you can be my girlfriend or something maybe if you’re free or whatever?
Having a complex answer to what should be an easy question isn’t solely based on my personal inability to refrain from over-analyzing everything. It’s the result of having thought about these things for a long time. Like, 25+ years a long time. I’ve taken and lost interest in the X-men franchise enough times to recognize a roughly 24-36 month cycle ranging from “paying no attention” up to “questioning if buying all 27 x-titles a month is a responsible use of resources”. I’ve clocked enough repetitions of this cycle to probably get a reliable measure of statistical significance were I inclined to do the math. Inclination I do not have because I’m old and that task sounds exhausting and I have a headache and some of us have to work in the morning so if you could please cut out all that racket and get off my lawn…
Fine, so I’m still under 40, which isn’t exactly “old”. However, I’ve aged out of the classic 18-34 demographic that generally dictates pop culture. In nerd years, it would qualify as a reasonable retirement age and I think I’ve put together a solid body of work in my career. I managed to build a few unique collections of geek sundry, watched the Beatles vs.Stones debate shift to Star Wars vs. Star Trek, got into trouble on the internet when it still required wires, and maintain a streak of demolishing one of the controllers on nearly every generation of major home videogame console back to the Atari 2600 out of frustration. I’ve long denied the day would come when I would no longer be cool, but it’s happening regardless of my refusal to wear khaki pants.
Indeed, I expected to have lost interest in media based on the fiction of my childhood by this age and it’s admittedly become a more difficult task to get me on board with new takes. My body’s precious nostalgia chemicals aren’t so easily evoked by simply presenting me with just any pretty Hollywood person in whoever’s costume hasn’t been reimagined a 5th time and merchandised into ubiquity. If there’s anything my extended point of view has awarded me, it’s the ability to recognize when expectations have changed, and they have, and I have no idea what to expect from here, y’all, for real, seriously, I have questions and the first 5 of them are “Now what?!”…
Welcome to The New Half-Life. Geek Versus has made the incredibly poor decision of bringing you a special feature series over the next few weeks documenting my take on current media franchises while adjusting to an unexpected stage in the geek life-cycle; limbo between senior geek and not quite 40. I made it to the future. I can own and experience all the stuff I dreamt about as a child, but there’s all this adult I’m supposed to be adulting and I don’t even know what adults are supposed to be anymore.
So what do you think? When someone says “old” what age do you assume that to mean?
Bonus question: Who’s your favorite X-Person, and are you aware they’re not as dope as Cable?
Versus The New Half-life is a satirical feature series documenting the experience of modern geek life beyond the 18-34 demographic. Are we simply nostalgia driven super-consumers refusing to embrace adulthood by indulging childhood fantasy or have the expectations of being an adult changed? Writer J. Aaron Poole over-analyzes various geek fandoms to explore common themes and appropriate behavior from limbo as an indubitable grown-up under the age of 40.
J. Aaron Poole is a 21st century writer, musician, and geek culture advocate. He is a member of the American Sociological Association with an academic interest in the relationship between media, technology, and modern culture. Currently residing in Atlanta, Georgia, Aaron can be found making absurd comments on Twitter, PSN, and other social media platforms as @JAaronPoole.