I dunno about the rest of you, but that year felt like it lasted a decade. We emerge from the south orifice of 2020 as a far wiser nation, but at the price of everybody having that creepy traumatized shell shock that war orphans get after they’ve seen some seriously messed-up things go down. As always, a geek culture site like ours seeks to celebrate that media which helps us escape the blood and thunder in the headlines.
We changed a lot, in the media we consume, how we consume it, and our attitude towards it. Here’s all the pivots we experienced in 2020, which speak to how rocky the year was:
Tiger King to Queen’s Gambit
From low-brow to high-brow! At the beginning of the year, the whole world seemed infatuated with a trash reality show about exotic cats and the people who own them. By year’s end, nothing less than a historic period drama about a chess master would do. Why did this happen? We seem to have developed a cultural taste for deeper, more demanding escapism. We haven’t seen a reality show make headlines for the rest of the year, while actual fiction has made a huge comeback.
The Rise of Skywalker to the rise of the Mandalorian
From the dud ending of the Star Wars movies to the launch of the most surprising salvation of a franchise ever with The Mandalorian. Fans are treating this series as if it were the entire point of the Star Wars universe the whole time. Death stars, rebels vs. empire, midichlorians – bah! That was just backstory. Star Wars is actually just a space western about a hired gunsel adventuring around the Outer Rim with his sidekick green baby alien. At this rate, the day may come when a Star Wars fan asks “George who?”
Black Panther to Harley Quinn
Old and tired: Actual heroes who resonate with the audience’s need for justice. Now hotness: Psychopathic woman-child villains. Harley Quinn’s fame is unstoppable at this point. The trailer trash queen of comic fandom she may be, but there’s obviously something in this character that connects with fans. Birds of Prey (and the obnoxiously long subtitle) turned out to be a surprise hit for the extended DC universe, doubling its budget at the box office and guaranteeing that we haven’t seen the last of this psychologically scrambled character.
Magic : The Distancing
Magic : The Gathering is dying or dead already at this point. It is now a clumsy copycat of Hearthstone, and God what an embarrassing end to the worst-managed game in all of gaming history. Along with all the other economic hardships of 2020, MTG paper is slowly choking off. I change my previous forecast to: SELL! Sell ’em if you got ’em, because there is no reason for paper prices to go up and many reasons for them to drop.
Hallmarks of the Year
The year 2020 warped our pop culture no matter how much we tried to hide from it. With that in mind, these are the definitive media, personalities, and trends that will stick with us as the geek culture hallmarks of the year:
Anime Series of the Year: One Piece
Calm down and hear me out: Anime and manga have had a banner year all around, with streaming services making anime more accessible than ever. We could fill many more posts with lists of anime series worth checking out. Honorable mentions go to My Hero Academia, Food Wars, Attack on Titan, Beastars, and The Promised Neverland. But by golly, there is no sinking the buoyant enduring popularity of One Piece, mostly because quarantined fans finally had a chance to sit down and binge the episodes.
Game of the Year : Among Us
Yeah, you can launch all the blockbuster AAA game titles you want. Cyberpunk 2077, rocky though its release was, certainly has its merits. But never mind multi-million-dollar console launches, the real stars of 2020 were the little color-coded spacesuit guys running around a spaceship trying to solve a whodunit. Or, more often, participating in a witch hunt. Among Us perfectly captured the spirit of 2020: paranoid, deadly, blindsiding, and a frank demonstration of just what’s wrong with people and why we can’t have nice things. Thanks a lot.
Entertainer of the Year : Keanu Reeves
It was a busy year for Neo. With the summer release of Bill & Ted Face the Music, and his work in the fore-mentioned Cyberpunk game, Reeves kept his paychecks coming when he could have easily retired by now. But even in his public appearances, when Reeves takes the stage and tells the whole audience “You’re breathtaking,” he just shows how doggone adorable he is. We all knew we could survive 2020 as long as we had him watching over us.
Game Platform of the Year : Nintendo Switch
The PS5 is nice and all, definitely the current game platform event. But through thick and thin, the Nintendo Switch defined 2020 gaming, being a hot in-demand item that repeatedly sold out of stores. Not only that, but it made Animal Crossing the must-play game of 2020, along with bringing us the old favorites we all love, including durable entries in the Zelda, Pokemon, and Mario franchises.
Meme of the Year : The Coffin Dance
You can dance if you want to, you can leave your friends behind, cuz your friends don’t dance, they had their last chance, now they’re in a box of pine… Wait, where was I? Those performing Ghana dancing pallbearers became one of the definitive memes of 2020. That’s likely because 2020 was a year defined by lots of death and lots of stupidity. Put that all together and you have the dancing coffin guys of Ghana, whose mockery suggests death through one’s own stupidity. At this rate, they’re not running out of work anytime soon!
Loss of the Year : Ian Holm
Again, we had a lot of contenders for this spot. There are many we lost in 2020 that are dear to geeks’ hearts, from Jeopardy host Alex Trebek to Sean Connery. But Ian Holm’s passing left a deep hole in geek culture. From Alien to The Fifth Element to the Lord of the Rings films, he had major roles in the top sci-fi and fantasy franchises of modern times. We have lost our one true Bilbo Baggins, and we marked his passing by noting some of the other outstanding roles of his career.
The Road Ahead to 2021
The thing that 2020 turned out to be best at was making us all look like idiots. Every single time we tried to predict what would happen next, we got another pie in the face. The unexpected plot twists just kept coming! With that said, we’re going to try to predict cultural trends in 2021 and beyond. “Try,” we said…
The Old Disney Brand is Losing Stock
Look, we all love Disney classics and we all grew up with them, but we have to face some hard reality here: The classic Disney we knew might be gone forever. When is the last time you actually watched something with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and the gang? They have inhabited Disney parks as their primary domain, which has been exclusively responsible for keeping them in the public eye. Disney parks are indefinitely closed, which is tanking the Disney brand. Remember, parks revenue got them through a whole decade without a hit movie. Well, they have Marvel and Star Wars now, which is single-handedly keeping them afloat. For how long?
I’m still sticking to this one prophecy. It’s just a matter of history. Whenever we get through a turbulent time in history, that’s what gives us our next Mel Brooks, Zucker Abrams Zucker, or even a really dangerous loose cannon like John Waters. Self-awareness and postmodernism are primed for a huge comeback, as opposed to serious business which isn’t allowed to smile.
Tabletop Gaming May Not Ever Recover
We have done plenty of hand-wringing about the future of MTG, but let’s not forget Warhammer 40K, Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures, Dungeons & Dragons, 7 Wonders, King of Tokyo, or any of the dozens of other gaming franchises popular in your local game store, which is likely offering only curb-side delivery if they’re open at all. Even when the pandemic ends, these micro-gaming cultures require a lot of momentum to keep going locally. Reports have come in where even when infection rates are low and stores remain open, people are just getting used to not going to game stores now. Sure, you’ll still gather ’round grandma’s kitchen table for the occasional Uno hand, but deeper games require a city-wide following.
Cosplay Becomes A Kink
The Comic / Cosplay con industry has been firmly quashed post-pandemic, and yet cosplayers have just taken their act online in the role of influencers and video performers. Even our crippled celebration of Halloween this year didn’t seem to dampen things much. At this rate, when cosplay performances become something you enjoy in the privacy of your laptop, how far are we from cosplaying camgirls? Well, don’t Google it right now, but they’re a thing already.
Star Trek Is Dying
Hey, I’m a Trekkie from early childhood, which is longer than half of you readers have been alive. I mean no harm, but the writing is on the wall. We’re not getting blockbuster Star Trek movies anymore, and the current torch is in the hands of Patrick Stewart, who played the captain about five or so canceled series ago. Star Trek : Picard feels like an old folks’ retirement home for Generation Xers, who are just about ready for one. Even though we have two other shows based on the franchise running current – Star Trek : Discovery and the whimsically re-imagined cartoon Below Decks, they’re just not getting the buzz and following needed to keep the fandom going. In the fabled fandom rivalry between ST and SW, it looks like ol’ Star Wars is holding all the ace cards right now. Is there room left for the idealistic, structured, true-SF franchise in the rambling space western landscape?
Anyway, that’s your geek 2020 review. We should do something different to send this year off. A New Years’ Eve party doesn’t feel like enough. What 2020 needs is a global exorcism.