This week I beat up a giant squid and stole its lunch. Later I visited a tropical beach on another world where the sand was candy and watched an orc play volleyball with his friends. And then I saw a British woman take up the mantle from a wounded hero and become a hero herself, hurling a motorcycle at Nazis and smashing their plans for world domination with her fists.
When I was a girl, being a geek was a bad thing, but since then nerd culture has grown, maturing and expanding so much that now it’s just… well… culture. Dominant culture, even! Are movie theaters now required by law to have a superhero flick available for viewing at all times? Can there be too much Star Wars?
Answer: No, and also no.
As COVID-19 initially took hold many of us took whatever escape we could find, whether it was from being cooped up in our homes, sweating behind a cloth face mask or working in ever more difficult circumstances. Nerd culture was there for us, and streaming services allowed us to binge watch Tiger King, Loki, The Mandalorian and all the classic Disney movies we could stand. And all the Disney movies we couldn’t stand, if the kids got the controls!
Marvel gave us some great shows too. My heart ached for the Scarlet Witch as I watched WandaVision’s crazy sitcom devolve into painful realities, and in Loki we saw the villainous title character change, learning to care about others and himself… and herself, too (long story). The Falcon and the Winter Soldier sought to grapple with America’s painful legacy of racism and indifference.
And now we have the What If..? show, which has given us escapism from escapism. What if a woman was given Captain America’s powers and had to beat the Nazis and 1940s-era sexism? Apparently she would use her giant muscles to flip tanks and throw motorcycles at bad guys, and now I know who I want to be when I grow up.
I started a podcast about Doctor Who, because I’d never seen Doctor Who before and a couple of my friends wanted to subject me to it. All of it. All 862 episodes, some of which don’t even exist (long story).
At least now I know what to watch on TV for the next 30 or 40 years, right?
My friends and I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons in the past year and a half, because it’s fun to be the hero and save the world! Or sometimes it’s fun just to stop your friend from being eaten by an infuriated giant squid.
When we couldn’t go to a restaurant, our characters could dine on sugar sand; when we couldn’t fly on an airplane, our characters could take a magic carpet; when we couldn’t help the sick our characters could cure with a touch.
It wasn’t the same, but it was something, and that little bit of escapism our geeky hobbies provided did help us face the real problems and real difficulties of the real world, fighting COVID-19 as best we could and trying to help others along the way.
Now COVID cases are on the rise again, and that will likely mean making some more real-world changes. Maybe I’ll stock up a bit more when I go to the grocery store so that I can make fewer trips. Maybe I’ll be more mindful of the physical distance between myself and others.
Since I can’t throw a punch at COVID, maybe I should get a face mask like the Wasp’s so that I can at least imagine it, and dream.