Tuesday, March 10 2009

The Geek Canon: The Classics

A number of other geek blogs (including Chizumatic, Wonderduck, and Avatar) have weighed in on what, exactly, the geek canon consists of.  What books, movies, games, etc., should I assume that most geeks have heard of?  Different posters have, of course, tackled the problem from different directions.

Movies are great for quotes, as the way the quotes are said and the surrounding context are as much a part of the humor as the quotes themselves.  Book quotes don't have that added punch, so if you're trying to look for quotes as shared context, the amount that comes from books is necessarily going to be insignificant compared to the amount that comes from movies.

My take on the problem is confusing.  I'm not necesssarily interested in which quotes are important for geeks (aside from stating that everyone has forgotten Ghostbusters, which seems to be one of the top sources of random dialog quotation interruptions whenever I'm interacting socially friends).  What I am interested is which ideas and concepts are important for geeks to know.

I have, again, been talked into running a RPG for a circle of friends.  The setting requires some background knowledge of mythology.  How much mythology do I assume my players know?  I can assume that most players will know the major gods of the Greek pantheon, and their associated spheres.  That doesn't take much academic knowledge;  a couple of episodes of Xena should provide that much.  But how much Norse or Egyptian mythology should I assume?  The source doesn't really matter.  When watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail, everyone laughs at the Wooden Rabbit scene.  What's important is they don't need to remember the Illiad to get the fundamental joke.

I assume that most geeks will get the following 'classical' references:
1. The Greek pantheon and their associated spheres of influence, as well as prominent mythological characters.
2. Major members of the Norse and Egyptian pantheons, and a couple of major characters from the Babylonian, Hindu, and Japanese pantheons.
3. Basic Old Testament Biblical mythology: Adam and Eve, Noah, and Moses.
4. Basic New Testament mythology: Jesus, Christmas, the Apostles, Judas, basic Revelations.
5. Basic post-Biblical Christian mythology: Dante's Satan and Hell, Faust
6. The major players of Camelot: Arthur, Merlin, Excalibur (most likely in Monty Python form)
7. The basic Robin Hood legend, even if in Kevin Costner form
8. Recognize major characters and lines from Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and MacBeth (Shakespeare being a playwright, he writes better snappy memorable spoken dialog than most authors).
9. The basics of Stoker's Dracula, Shelley's Frankenstein, and Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

That's what came off the top of my head.  It's amazing what and where these things get referenced.

Anime fans should also know the basics of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Journey to the West.  It's odd, but I suspect that Biblical imagery shows up more often in anime than in modern Western geek culture.  From Evangelion to Xenosaga, it's hidden in a lot of places.

Posted by: Civilis at 08: 25 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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