Welcome to Empirical Purple

A blog by Simon Brady to cover a surprisingly wide range of geekiness, in a combination that no-one else does quite the same way. Probably. Either that, or it'll just be Simon talking about the likes of Football (usually the Soccer variety), PC & Tabletop Gaming, WWE, Movies, Music and occasionally even my actual job of Graphic Design, depending on what I'm up to in the world.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Put the BAMF! down, you are surrounded

I've just had one of the myriad of bland, corporate, advert-filled voices of youth music channels (so, MTV, how's that alternative vibe working out for you now? Oh wait...) on in the background, and three music videos, in a row, caught my eye:

Alicia Key's 'Try sleeping with a broken heart', 'Ego' by The Saturdays and Ne-Yo's 'Beautiful Monster'. What links them all (other than me not particularly liking any of them) is simple: Superheroes.

Whether it's The Saturdays dressed-up and sparkling with a variety of stock superpowers, Ne-Yo with energy blasts from his hands, or Alicia healing a little black girl's dead dog in a single bound, they've all caught the popular culture wave - or rather latched onto - superheroes. Doubtless there are more of them around.

'Alternative' is weird, different and niche until it becomes trendy, a fad, and then eventually mainstream. Whether it was Elvis, Nirvana, Eminem, or whatever, the right sort of alternative eventually becomes mainstream. Some of us have been reading comics - or graphic novels, if you want to sound pretentious - for years and it is our mainstream. The geeks have enough spending power to make superhero films (of which there are now too many to list) a success, and the script writers and marketing people have the talent to make them appeal to the mainstream, too, giving them a momentum of their own.

To this there are two reactions for anyone who thinks their interests should be in the niche category, rather than mainstream. The first is to be glad, because there are now more fans of Green Lantern, Watchmen, X-Men, etc than there ever were, and that means more comics, stories, characters, etc. The second reaction is worse, as the original fan becomes a snob. They delve into the niche further, making more extreme types their niche all over again, complaining about all the noobs who have only heard of Deadpool since the Wolverine Origins movie.

That extends even within the niches themselves. For Warhammer 40k, the Ultramarines are currently the noob choice. The vanilla option, the mass-market posterboys who plaster the front of pretty much every boxed set, who have the most exemplary background written about them and are one of the most legendary Chapters in the entire Imperium.

But, play using Ultramarines and you're boring, you're mainstream. Particularly among geeks, within niches, there is a stigma with being associated with the lowest common denominator. Not geeky enough, not into it enough to choose beyond the obvious. This bad reputation, of course, is all utter crap.

Now superheroes themselves are mainstream, obvious, and easy to pick up. And, unfortunately, there's no real way of telling if the creative impulse behind the use of them is one born out of a genuine love for the original material, or just some video director googling Batman and seeing what images turn up that he can copy to make his latest video look cool.


  1. I think that conlanging in its media-fueled variety might also be a way to deepen the niche. Na'vi is the difference between people who watch Avatar and those who are obsessed by it. Same with Klingon and Star Trek. Or Dothraki where the hype already started before the film is out. But then, it IS created by an excellent conlanger (a celebrity in the scene even before Dothraki), just look at Kamakawi.

  2. It's certainly a way to one-up other people in your particular interest. You're taking what has become a mainstream piece of culture and throwing yourself into a whole new niche just so you can prove yourself to be a bigger, or better, fan of whatever it is.

    "I'm a bigger football fan than you because I go to watch matches in the stadium, rather than on TV..."

    "I'm bigger fan of Avatar/Trek/ASOIAF than you because I can speak Na'vi/Klingon/Dothraki.."

    It will be interesting to hear how pronunciation is handled in the HBO version of A Game of Thrones (which will surely be on Sky TV in the UK, w00t!). When I was at Uni, I loaned the first book to a Welsh girl, who promptly pronounced the surname 'Targaryen' quite brilliantly with her accent. It seemed very suited to Welsh speakers, rather than my mangled English attempt at it.