I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture
by A. D. Jameson
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018
A week after its theatrical release, Avengers: Infinity War had already grossed half of a billion dollars. Even in 2018, that's an astronomical figure, a bucking firehose of cash, an amount that will double or even triple by the end of the year. And even the most jaded onlookers, people who haven't the first idea what difference there might be between Captain Marvel and Mar-Vell, are no longer surprised by such staggering box office numbers, nor are they bewildered when they see teens in elaborate cosplay outfits whenever a big anime convention is in their town, nor do they look twice at “Magneto Was Right” T-shirts or endless new Star Wars movies, or any of a hundred other manifestations of what's now casually referred to as “geek culture.”
It's referred to that way also in the subtitle of A. D. Jameson's thrillingly good new book, I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing: Star Wars and the Triumph of Geek Culture. The title is a Darth Vader quote from the original Star Wars movie by George Lucas: when a disdainful Empire admiral sneers at the old Jedi ways, Vader intones “I find your lack of faith disturbing” and proceeds to use the Force to strangle the man from across the room.
Like virtually all aspects of geek culture, the moment makes no actual sense, not just in terms of later elaborations (the Jedi aren't a religious order) but also in terms of the script of the moment (the victim is easily old enough to remember the Jedi, and besides, somebody could rise to the rank of admiral without knowing not to taunt Darth Vader?). And as Jameson makes clear over and over in his book, this couldn't be less important. The moment is name-checked in his title – and enshrined in the meme database – because from the geek point of view, it's just about the coolest thing in the world. Cool like “thwipp.” Cool like “snikt.”
Jameson writes that these things are now common parlance, that the geek has gone mainstream. Like many of the claims in his book, this is debatable – it's entirely possible that the true mainstream, embattled and much diminished but still to be found grilling on the back patio every weekend, might even in 2018 be stubbornly unaware of Pym particles, adamantium, or trilithium. It's possible that geekdom hasn't so much gone mainstream as it's gone slip-stream, forming a Wakanda-style independent kingdom alongside the powers of the world.
But in either case, geekdom has brushed off the Doritos crumbs from its too-tight black T-shirt (with a silk-screen that says, of course “I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing”), ascended the staircase from its parents' basement, and walked boldly into the sunlight. In 1958, if a young man had suggested to his date that they go see a movie adaptation of a comic book, he'd quickly have found himself back home playing parcheesi with his parents; in 2018, the date is likely to make the suggestion first. And with this widespread acceptance has come a degree of ease that briefly angers Jameson's not-too-inner hipster:
Before the Internet, when information was less free, if you wanted to be a geek, if you wanted admission into that guild, you had to do a lot of legwork and research yourself. Nobody else would do it for you. To this day, I still pride myself on my ability to recall the title of any episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, although that knowledge is now slipping. And it's slipping because of the Internet. When I want to remember a title, I can just look it up – on my cell phone! Where I can watch the episode, too! Anytime I want!
And it's not only The Next Generation (to which Jameson shows a fervent though misguided loyalty) nor even Star Wars, of course – the book explores a broad range of geekish enthusiasms, from comic books to the inescapable comic book movie adaptations to SFF movies of all types, and it's all deeply refreshing for two main reasons: Jameson always respects the intelligence of his readers, and he always keeps the geekdom phenomenon firmly in its broader social context. Books on this subject almost always display a maddening combination of condescension and inaccuracy – “kids sure seem to like Batman's vampire powers,” that sort of thing – and Jameson avoids it so completely that he defuses even the anxiety of waiting for it; you follow him into a discussion of TV superheroes or Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns eagerly wanting to know what he thinks rather than nervously waiting for him to make some basic mistake.
Jameson's portrait of that broader social context is uniformly fascinating. He talks in part, for instance, about the great unwitting commercial engine that geekdom represents for the money-managers of major corporations:
Geeks are also of special interest to marketers because in addition to being loyal, lifelong customers, they tend to serve as brand ambassadors. Not only do they spend their time devouring the brand, consuming it and seeking out news about where it's headed, they enthuse about the brand on social media, making blog posts, podcasts, fan videos – gladly and for free. They also labor to convert friends and family members into fans.
It's unclear to me how far I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing will convert any holdout members of that embattled remnant of the mainstream – but oh, how it will delight the faithful!
Steve Donoghue was a founding editor of Open Letters Monthly. His book criticism has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, and the American Conservative. He writes regularly for the National, the Washington Post, the Vineyard Gazette, and the Christian Science Monitor. His website is http://www.stevedonoghue.com.