Star Wars Timeline looks at different geek culture perspectives and changing worlds

In this episode, we hear from Ben of the Star Wars Timeline YouTube channel and Facebook group.
We learn more about Ben’s loves within geek culture, not just star wars but gaming and the wider world of movies. We also take a look into how things changed for him, immigrating to the United States from a young age and experiencing geek culture in a completely new way. At a young age when geek culture is full of amazing things, travelling from a space where world culture trickles through in peculiar ways, to a world of comic cons and arcades.
We also take a dive into the history of culture, movies and geekdom in general. With a particular look at the experience of those growing up in the Soviet era and the former USSR. How did culture divide, and how were the outlooks and perceptions different.
Strap in as Ben takes us through a fascinating journey of geek culture history.

You can find Ben on youtube, https://youtube.com/starwarstimeline and his Facebook group full of likeminded individuals is https://facebook.com/groups/starwarstimeline

If you’d like to follow Ben on Twitter, you can do so at https://twitter.com/SWT_channel where he talks about all his geeky interests

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Transcript

Ben:
Hey, guys, how are you? First of all, Paul, thanks so much for having me. Please bear with me. My radio persona voice is still developing as I’m just starting on my podcast. So my name is Ben. I’m originally from the south of Russia. I came to New York when I was 14, and back in 1996. I finished a school of visual arts here in New York City with a degree in traditional animation back in 2007, the very same year that Disney shut down its traditional animation Studios. You can quite imagine where that direction went. So I took my degree in animation and pursued graphic design photography. Studio photography, model photography, sort of like that.
Currently working for 13 plus years managing a video game and comic book store, figures, all the geek culture and nerdiness stuff here. Also local in New York City. Pretty small Papa Mama shop called Bulletproof Comics. It used to be owned by this gentleman called Henry Lee and his brother in law. They had five stores around your city, so very small, very tightly knit community. So that’s pretty much my background. Also worth throwing in there a huge gamer. Unfortunately, we’re doing audio-only. You can’t see all my collection of Star Wars novels that I enjoy reading. And behind the screen, there’s like tons of video games all the way from Game Boy Advance to PlayStation Five. A huge gamer as well.
Obviously. Before immigrating to the US, geek culture was very limiting, especially I’ll encompassing my personal experience in Russia. I can’t speak with what nerd culture was like in bigger cities like St. Petersburg, and Moscow. I’m from a smaller town south of Russia. It was known as a tourist attraction, but relatively small. But things got to us late, right? I grew up during the last decade of Soviet Union. When things began to get laxing, we started getting VHS. Western cinema, obviously cheaply dubbed with like, Russian single voice translation. Video games weren’t even translated. No sorts of access to comic books. So all of that stuff, I was beginning to… it’s like the BC and AD, before immigration and after immigration after you come to New York City and you start just walking down the street and, like, checking out a local rental store or comic shop. What is this kind of, you do have a concept of it, but for me, it was just like a Pandora’s box out of nowhere into this whole world of video games, comic books, what is ComicCon? What is cosplay, right? Until quite recently, it was just like this very niche kind of thing that turned into this global phenomenon. So I was also kind of, like, blindfolded until I was 14/15 years old and then just went right into it.

Paul:
We will, of course, touch more on that. But also, you have your YouTube channel as well, right?
Yeah. Tell us a bit about that. How did that all start?

Ben:
So, unfortunately, we’re living in a very strange and different world overthis covid and Pandemic and stuff like this. And I left my job. They kind of had to shut down. They kind of, like, limited their resources. And I said, I can’t do this as a creative person. You got to channel your creativity somewhere. Otherwise, you’re going to start stagnating. And my brother and I, we kind of ventured forth into YouTube about four or five years ago trying to do our gaming channel. But because our taste in gaming and the way that we play are quite different, I’m a very Moody person. He’s very strict and empathetical. That doesn’t go far. So when the Pandemic started a year ago, a year and two months ago, I told myself, I want to do a YouTube channel. I want to channel all that creativity. What is the topic that I will never stop talking about? It’s part of my DNA daily there with me. And my younger brother goes like, Duh, Star Wars. Is that even a question?
Like, you have to think about this. You got to make a Star Wars channel. And the second part of it was, I’ll bring up the name just in a second. But the second aspect of it was living in this. I’m 40 years old, right? I was born in 1981, so I pretty much grew up with the Genesis of the Internet as we know it, the public access Internet. And seeing the evolution of just human behavior from face to face like, hey, Paul, how are you doing? You shake hands like you want to grab some beers, mate? Let’s go to a bar to this digital space where people don’t see a faceless form of communication.
There’s so much negativity running around in the Star Wars community, the so called fandom menace who tries to antagonize people and make these angry YouTube videos. And it just didn’t feel genuine to me. I’m not saying those places, channels don’t have the room to exist. Obviously, if there’s a slew of fans who want to support that kind of stuff, by all means, do what you got to do. I just don’t believe that. I think you create a real community by centering around things that you love. You can criticize things, you can say, Like, hey, I just like this here. I think the script could have been better here. I think George Lucas should have listened to a little bit of crazy, blah, blah, blah, blah, but you can do it constructively.
So Star Wars timeline, my YouTube channel. Boom, I push it there. The reason I call it Star Wars timeline is because I started reading Star Wars novels, the expanded universe which branches off from the films and kind of expands that universe during George Lucas’s time. Now, after Disney’s acquisition, it turned into something entirely else. But the idea was in late 90s. I wanted to find out. The biggest answer to your question is, what the heck happens to Luke, Han and Leia after Episode Six?
We didn’t know any more Star Wars at all was coming. Right? And the way I started reading them was the chronological order timeline. I started opening up those soft cover books and checking out what book precedes what. I want to know exactly what happens after Episode Six. Thus, that’s online. I created my YouTube channel to start doing exclusively book reviews and it sort of grew from there. And I said, okay, hold on a second. How do I branch out and make myself more noticeable? I go to YouTube from YouTube to Facebook and I see the same thing going on in the community. There are some Facebook groups which are wonderful, others just people like, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Just yapping about a non end and just being insulting. I said, that’s not the kind of environment I want to be a part of. I want to create a Facebook group where people come in and can speak openly without just being venomous. Same thing, Facebook.Com/groups/starwarstimeline. That’s what I created. Definitely appreciate you for self plugging my stuff in here, but honestly, that was the impulse. That was the push for. I didn’t even know if five or ten people would like, watch my videos, go to my Facebook group. I anticipated none of it. I just wanted to be a part of a community where real source fans have a mature tone conversation, whether we agree or disagree.

Paul:
Yeah, there’s not enough of that at the minute, especially now in the last year or two. It seems to have got particularly bad for whatever reason.

Ben:
Yeah, I feel partially people are expressing their frustration sometimes when people come and say the meanest thing on your YouTube video or your comment on Facebook group. If you don’t retaliate and react impulsively but try to talk down to people, talk them down out of this argument. Most people become more benevolent. They’re like, hey, look, I came off the wrong foot. I know nothing about you as a person. Let’s start this over. And there’s just a small group of people where just, I don’t know what it is I’m not there to judge, to psychically, like, analyze them. But people just are living in their own box and they are unwilling to come out of it. And if you disagree with me, I obviously know more than you do, Paul. And if you disagree with me, you’re just a bad person because you don’t understand or you’re ignorant or 15 other reasons. And that’s just not the common ground to come up. I see it everywhere in, like, Marvel, DC, comic books, like action movies, Netflix. If I have a favorite show, God forbid you disagree with me, man.

Paul:
Yeah, your channel, I had a bit of a look for it, and there’s quite a good mix of stuff in there because as someone who, as I say, I’ve mostly watched the movies, but not really anything else. You haven’t targeted it at people who… I’m going to give a shout out here to Mike… it’s a bit of a running joke. If we say to Mike that something in Star Wars doesn’t make sense, he will come up with some sort of obscure comic somewhere to say, actually, it does. It made sense in this way. But to look at your channel, you don’t need to be Mike. I could look at it, and there’s a lot in there that I could learn. You’ve got it very well set up. The information is bite sized. It’s easy to understand, and you go in depth, but not so much that it’s overwhelming.

Ben:
Yeah. I didn’t want to be an encyclopedia. And I don’t propose that I know anything more than anyone else. I grew up with it since I was a kid back in Russia. My father bought the original trilogy on the vhs tapes since 1987. It’s just a part of me. And even though I’ve digested so many Star Wars Legends books and comic books, pretty much read most of the Legends era, these Dark Horse era comic books, there’s still so much I learned every single day. Don’t come to me for authoritative. Kind of like the final word on what’s what in Star Wars. And you know what? Honestly, I’m the sort of person I suspect many creative people are this way where most of the stuff that I enjoy in terms of information, in terms of cataloging that information, like dates, names, events, it all exists on this periphery.
And whenever I need to Zoom in, focus on something like a certain period, like Clone Wars era of the Jedi of old, what are their names then? I don’t keep it all in my head in my memory because it’s 20 years worth of content. Really. It’s huge, right? So when I need to converse with somebody on something, I would kind of like home and like, hey, I remember reading this particular trilogy in early 2000s, and it dealt with these kind of events. I remember the characters, let me refresh my memory, come back and pull it in from the periphery. Centralize on it. Focus on that particular point and say, I know what I’m talking about, but never sitting next to these guys. Like Star Wars theory and Star Wars explain. These guys are like encyclopedia. I’m sure there are aspects of it that I know better than them and vice versa. But it’s never the point of an adult conversation to have this measuring stick. I am the all knowing resource of Star Wars. Dude, I just want to talk to you. It’s a Russian guy who learned English and is speaking with someone from London on the internet and we’re talking about geek culture. That’s what it’s all about. Just having a fun chat.
And if I hear something of Mike saying, I kind of love prequels, like, really, let’s hear it. Let’s find out. It’s information sharing, but it’s just entertainment. It’s fun. Like, hey, I think this character is dope. Here’s a few cliff Notes. Why I think this character is dope. You should check them out. Why? Explain to me. I sort of you begin to pick up on this language that you hear on YouTube. Hey, if you like my content subscribe and follow, hit that Bell button or leave a comments down below. I sort of do that. But I’m realizing that what’s going to turn a person’s ear to you. It’s not this level of professional YouTube professionalism just being genuine, just kicking it. And when I say like, hey, I want to find out what you think. Drop a comment below. It’s that sense of global community, right. That pop culture brings us all together into the fold where let’s say you watched my video and there is no way for you to respond like we are having right now. You’re recording voice only these two people. I see your face. I have an idea what you look like. I get visual cues when a person is smiling or the person is like pissed off or something because viewers on YouTube don’t have that access to communication. At the very least, responding to a comment brings them a little bit closer to me.
Obviously, when I grow, when I get my 25 million followers, you won’t obviously be able to do it with people. But just being able to do it on any level lets you know that, hey, I know this amount of Star Wars. I’m pretty sure you do too. And your opinion values as much as mine. Let’s talk about it together. A sense of community. I’m the host. I’m the one who’s in front of the camera. I’m talking. But I want… it’s like a music concert. When you go to a music concert, a huge Iron Maiden fan here. Obviously the whole new wave British heavy metal, but grew up with it since Russia. But Iron Maiden is my team.
When you go to their concert with Bruce Dickinson, right. The frontman of the band, what he’s able to do is in music. They call and response. Right? You call out to the audience shout, scream, and sing a verse from the song. Or he wants you to rise. He wants you to clap. He controls every time. He’s in Madison Square Garden here in New York City, he controls the crowd like this was his fist. That’s the concept here. Call and response. You want to create a video like you said, Paul, very eloquently expressed that is just digestible enough amount of information and then you want reciprocity. You want people to answer back.

Paul:
Yeah, I think you’ve got a good balance because it’s bite size. As you say. You’re responsive enough that people can get in contact or they can just absorb the knowledge.
outside of that, I try and get an idea who people are outside of their sort of their geeky interests as well. So I’m curious if someone were to ask you to describe yourself outside of your geeky interests, how you would do so, or is there you outside of this sort of stuff

Ben:
For sure. There’s somewhere a part of me that’s outside of the nerd culture. When you manage a comic book store, like for 13 years, you are comics, you are figurines, and you are video games because you just got to know your stuff like this, right, to sell the product. But outside of it, very Moody, very eccentric, very opinionated, highly opinionated dude. And as you grow older, you become kind of more introspective and you learn to modulate with your thoughts and opinions. I don’t always succeed. I had this really crazy episode for 25 years where I fluently speak English, which I never thought I could. I never imagined I would live outside of my homeland if somebody said it to me when I was like 13 or twelve. But you grow older, you become more introspective. You try to begin to understand and rubble this little ball and like who you are as a person. I’m artistically inclined. I can’t call myself an artist because an artist is a state of mind where you constantly need to communicate and create. I’m not that, I’m too lazy. I’m a lazy person too, for sure. Very Moody, very lazy. I have these periods where I make excuses. I leave things for tomorrow for the next week. I’ll do it later.
But when I go into full gear into something like this YouTube channel, I do 100%. I go in. I’m very passionate about it. I’m very aggressive about it. And I think one of the qualities that I like to cultivate in myself is as you become more and more of a self assertive person, it’s always a work in progress. You will evolve and change and grow. If you let yourself until the day that you are gone, you’re no longer here. And it’s just that opportunity of looking back at yourself and allowing for more information to flow and to grow and being able to hear all perspectives is what makes up you. That’s who you are.
I don’t believe, like, for example, all these world events that are surrounding us this past two days and people see the little Russian flag on my Twitter account next to my American flag. And I expect there’ll be like a torrent of where do you stand on this side of the issue? On that side of the issue? Are you more of a conservative? Are you a Democrat? Like, neither of these things. I don’t box myself in any one of those. I don’t categorize myself. I have a Russian Jewish descent with my ancestors coming from Iran and Iraq 3000 years ago. All of human history is so checkered and layered, and that’s what we all are as people. Nuanced, right. That’s the way I would describe myself, not as part of these clearly identifiable cultural pillars. I’m on the left. I support this. That’s nonsense. Life is infinitely more complicated than that.

Paul:
But it’s true that you say you made a comment there about sort of fighting your way through the challenges and adapting and changing yourself. As you say, you kind of came over doing something that immediately died off. You kind of set yourself on a road of being this particular artistic person that you are going to follow this down, and then it kind of fizzled away in front of you.

Ben:
So the way that I got into a School of visual arts. Right? I’m 18 years old. I finished high school here in the States. I did eight grades in Russia. And then right then I traveled here. And we have no ties here, no support, no family members or friends to kind of like, try to help you navigate the culture or just your social environment. So I’m like, oh, I want to go to this art school. I want to go to that art school. I knew I wanted to do something art related. Obviously, the entire world has grown up on the Disney movies, animated films, the classics. And I saw this call and I said, I want to go and study animation. I don’t know why. And when I went for my interview, my parents were not around there with me. I went by myself and this lady, she saw my little notebook doodles there. And she laughed and she said, do you understand what school this is? School of Visual Arts is one of the most reputable East Coast schools in the United States. It’s not easy to get here. These are doodles. Like, she was politely letting me know, and she was kind of smirking and smiling. I got so pissed, I picked up my notebooks. And just on principle, I told her, lady, expect me in the school next year. I started community College. I had one of the professors who kind of taught in both schools. She helped me prepare my portfolio.
And I went to School of Visual Arts based on principle. Right. Because when you graduate, when you start, I’m still haunted by the question of what I want to do with my life. And when you’re a 20 year old, the question is compounded like loads of more questions, right? So I finished with animation, and I realized during my last year that my heart is not really in it. It’s literally manual labor. And if you don’t have love for that profession, you’re not going to succeed in it. I was a huge gamer all my life, and I took one year of my schooling. I took a class in Maya, modeling. I’m like, oh, snap it, man. I snap my fingers. That’s what I should have pursued. I could spend hours at the computer producing these three models, but it was not meant to be. I’m like, okay, just pick up a set of skills that you learned in your school. Understanding of composition, working with Photoshop, Adobe tools. I took a class in photography before this school of Visual Arts in my community College. They kind of like, piece together everything that you know. And you just started off with this as a freelancer, as competitive as New York workspace is for graphic designers. Just started from scratch. I’m still struggling there because career wise, I’m not nearly where I want to be, but it’s just that kind of space. And it partially also YouTube, like, hey, can you put your bets on that? Like creativity wise or career wise?
You see, people who don’t seem to have a full grasp of what they’re talking about have like hundreds of thousands of followers. Maybe it sounds a little bit arrogant, but you think to yourself, I think I could do a little bit better. Except the difference is they are already doing it. And here you are thinking and contemplating about it. How about you get off your butt and start doing it and see where it takes you? And honestly, time and again, you’re proven right that the people who cast all of their chips and gamble hard are the ones who win. People who don’t ask questions whether I will succeed or not, they just freaking do it, man. And after they do it, those are the people. Because every job that you go to, every resume that you submit, they don’t want the best. They don’t want the people with the most talented, the most intelligent. They want people who are competent. They want people who can be there and show up on time and just do the work, that is value. And we all, especially artists, I find like, my peer friends, is like, you’re so afraid of critique of that somebody’s not going to like your stuff. Or what if they don’t accept me? And you’re like, again, it compounds you. But once you experience failure time and time again, like, I have, you just do it, you go for it. It doesn’t have to be in your professional realm of skills that you were preparing for.
Again, we talked about life in general. Now we’re kind of like talking about more focused things, but your professional career sort of reflects your life. There’s not one single Avenue where you see yourself you want to go. Sometimes you just got to change lanes.

Paul:
Yeah. It’s interesting because you’ve picked up things that you have interested you, but it doesn’t seem like they’ve really grabbed you in the right way. Like, you enjoy them, but you couldn’t dedicate your mind to it. As you say, if you’re going to do something like that, you need to really throw yourself all into it.

Ben:
Yeah. Otherwise it’s going to break your back. If you’re not enjoying something, you become miserable. If you’re miserable and you’re trying to do the work, it’s going to seep through the pores of your work and show. Like, you could tell instantly when people are faking it like on YouTube in the Star Wars community, you know, where people who call themselves fans and post all these Star Wars banners on the YouTube channel and all they talk is just non stopped garbage or anger porn, or they just want to push your button to elicit a negative, explosive reaction out of you. Like, that’s not fantasy. That’s not what you’re doing. One day you will be miserable for what you’re doing. Personally, I can’t imagine anyone centered around all this negativity extract something positive for themselves out of it. It’s just got to hit you at one point. Like, you’re going to wake up and say, okay. I said for the last 20 years making this kind of content, and once the controversy is over, you exhaust yourself of any topics to talk about. And the big question comes like, so what belief was I doing with my life up to this point? I’ve supplied nothing to this community, nothing positive to talk about. Nobody will remember you or your opinion or something because all that you were practicing is clickbait.

Paul:
It’s funny. It’s a subject that has come up in the last few conversations I’ve had with people. So I think it is on people’s minds. Fandom, particularly in the geek culture, has reached this weird peak of there are so many people that are interested, which is good, but also it’s brought on so many negative aspects, like the people who just want the clickbait and they fuel all the arguments.

Ben:
Yeah, I totally agree with you. I’ve managed that comic book store and you have fans come in DC versus Marvel fans. The first culture shock to me was when I traveled to the US was the way that people perceived cinema. Cinema is a huge chunk of what we’re talking about, the geek culture, and I could never understand. Yeah. In Russia, old Russian kids grew up with Sly, with Schwarzenegger, with Stephen Segal, Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee. We all had our childhood role models. But what I didn’t understand when I came here was the actor worship, idolizing the actors, the red carpets, the Oscars. Granted, all Russians know what Oscars are, people are not ignorant. It wasn’t part of the culture to worship people and put them on the pedestal as these celebrities, these major contributors to the society. Just because they starred in the movie, just because they have a talent for acting, because Soviet cinema has evolved in a completely opposite direction than Hollywood cinema. I’m not comparing I’m not saying which one is better, just polar opposites. American cinema has always been historically a grand spectacle.
It’s something that people would do on the weekend and take their wives and take their families and children and go and enjoy this entertainment on the big screen and then have conversations about it with their peers, with their friends over the evening, over the radio.
Right. Soviet era filmmaking was entirely different because it was sponsored by the government, because it was partially censored. A had no difficulty getting the budget for your film, and B, it was much more of an exercise in artistic expression. Granted, coupled with propaganda, but still it’s an artistic form in an artistic expression. First, it didn’t concern itself with revenues. How popular is this actor? How popular is that? Granted, once again, of course, we did have our renowned actors during Soviet and post Soviet era, but the culture approaches from a whole different angle. It was very much because of World War II, because of the way that Nazi Germany was exploiting cinema as a propaganda tool, the way that Britain was using cinema, the way the Soviet Union was using cinema, it became part of, like, social consciousness. And it sits there right next to your culture as a form of expression, as an artistic form. It’s not about seeing a picture and then coming home in the 60s and gossiping. Oh, did you hear how much money the blockbuster that this movie made, or did you hear that this actor from this movie is going to be in that one? Are they going to be together? How are these two stars going to be on screen? Do you think they’re going to have issues? None of that. It’s a completely different approach. So for me, it was a huge culture shock. Being able to come to the States and then seeing the older films that I grew up with, like Predator, terminator, RoboCop, and then seeing it from a completely different perspective here, it’s like I don’t know even how to describe it. It’s like the altar of cinematic heroes.

Paul:
Yeah. Because my understanding of the Soviet area cinema is more how to pick up the nation and how to get the nation behind certain ideals. It’s not about putting a person first and foremost. The film isn’t so much about the people that you’re seeing. It’s about almost trying to reflect the world around you and trying to build everyone up along. Would that be accurate?

Ben:
Yeah, it’s a little bit more complex, and I’m sure I’m not representing it 100% the way it is, I’m not a film critic, but it’s just to level the field a little bit. Yes, there was favorites, always there were actors which were more good looking than others. So Russian Soviet film directors would pick them or particular texture of the voice or particular characteristics. There’s one famous, famous Russian military film noir. It’s called 17 Moments of Spring, directed by this female Russian filmmaker based on the books. And she specifically chose this Russian actor because she said, I want a very specific look. I want a very specific way that the person expresses themselves and talks. I want that intelligent look. And she was so specific about it. And it’s also reflective of even people are generally when they hear a concept which they’re not familiar with, they tend to simplify. And it is not to say that people are simple. It’s just because lack of information.
So people would assume that because Soviet Union had a very clear Communist and social regime and current course, that the people just like just flatline all on the same level. Even when it comes to films, it wasn’t. It’s very, very intricate, very diverse. I would argue that the best Russian cinema was made during the Soviet era. Post Soviet era cinema just went down from an artistic standpoint and partially was because when you limit an artist with censorship, when you limit a game designer with a console, whether it’s like Nintendo 64 or something, they thrive in an environment because they know how to substitute the rest of the imagination with the genius. That was the case with Russian Soviet cinema, where these film directors knew how to circumnavigate the censorship and create some of the most brilliant, detailed, nuanced moments in dialogue and comedic things which satirized the very government that they live in that condemned the censorship that is allowing these movies to sit through because it was so deeply layered and you have to listen and look for it.
And my generation, where you grew up in the Eighties, when things got a little more relaxed, we would look at these movies and we would say, how in the heck were these movies passing Soviet censorship? I don’t understand. It is so clever. And it’s oh, man. My great uncle, who I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to meet. He was a Russian Soviet era actor, and he started mostly in the smaller roles. He had a couple of bigger roles, but he said, if you look at those movies, that was the golden gem. You would see an actor who performed a small role. But because his lines were written so powerfully and these people knew what they were doing, they’re timeless. They were able to escape that very box that they were put in. On the other hand, you would think that once again, it was limiting and we were only preoccupied with our borders and what happens within our borders. It was actually in reverse. I felt that Russian school gave me a very wide scope of the world history, including British history, European history, World War II history, ancient history, medieval history. And when you look at cinema, Soviet films, they have screen adapted so many world classics.
I was chatting with Mike the other day and I was telling him that the best Sherlock Holmes movies are made in Russia. The British Academy of Films has dominated that. It was like a whole forum of Sherlock Holmes films collected from around the world. Russian one stands as the Pedestal Top and another, Robinson Cruso, The Treasure Island, all of these English classics, English language classics that were so faithfully adapted to screen. I was hard pressed to look at America and fans are free to challenge me on that. Of course, I’ve seen the American films, I’ve seen the European films. I look at your guys, the British Sherlock Holmes, it just doesn’t feel, you know what it doesn’t feel right. It’s not because it’s what I remember. It’s not nostalgia. It’s just based on that Conan Doyle archetype that is created in the book. Like, I flipped through the book. I can’t claim that I read a lot of those stories, right. Short stories that were compiled into anthologies. But it’s just so much more. And I look at the British one, I believe, wasn’t Peter Cushing in one of them as Sherlock Holmes, right? Yeah. And maybe it’s my Star Wars glasses. I looked at him, I see Grand Moff Tarkin.

Paul:
maybe that is the problem. Maybe because the cinema over here is a lot more about putting up the actor. Then sometimes you look at them and you think you’re the wrong character, you’re playing the wrong character here and it jars you slightly. Whereas if you’re looking at it just for the focus is the cinema, the cinematography, the music, it’s not about the person. It isn’t as jarring.

Ben:
Well, if you don’t mind my asking, I do have a question for you, because growing up in Russia and also here in the States, we’re all huge fans of British cinema. The British TV shows. My parents love Downton Abbey. That’s like the Top show ‘is the next season out’. I’m like, dad, it’s over. But is it going to be another season? I’m like, no, it’s done. That’s how much they love it. I’m curious about you. How do you feel? How do you stack the British cinema in comparison to, obviously, the huge Japanese film space and, you know, the Hollywood how is it different? How would you like Categorize? It?

Paul:
It’s funny. We always look at ourselves as kind of the scrappy underdog where, I don’t know, maybe it’s just we always like to put ourselves down, but we look at our own TV and cinema and we kind of go, yeah, it’s good. But if only it had the budget of an American TV show, we’re always looking at it that way. We have really good storytelling. I think and maybe that is going back to part of it, that you have more limitations. An American TV show, if it’s popular, the budget just goes to ridiculous levels. Right. Things that you just can’t afford over here. So you have to tell the story in different ways. And maybe it’s along the similar lines. You can push it further that way. But I think we always kind of look at ourselves as trying to match American cinema and TV, but never quite reaching it. But that just could be the British way because we’re always trying to put ourselves down.

Ben:
I think that’s a symptom that pervades most of world cinema. Everybody looks at Hollywood, by the way, for some reason. Not many folks know that Bollywood and the Chinese cinema, the Hong Kong cinema, are just as influential as Hollywood in other parts of the world. When you look at Hollywood, most of fans that I talked to, like, they tried to compare the films that they love from their home places to Hollywood. It’s not as big. It doesn’t have the Matrix kind of like budget or the Avatar CGI effects and stuff like that. You’re right.

Paul:
Yeah. I guess they have the money, they have the marketing. It always feels like that’s what you should be sort of aiming for. Like the big, loud person in the room who’s like, really, you know, he’s got the people around him because he’s loud and obnoxious and big personality. And you kind of think, I want to be that guy. But then if you are sort of one on one in a room, people might actually gravitate towards you because you have more smarts, you have more this, that and the other. But, yeah, in that environment, you always want to be the loudest person in the room because they have the biggest crowd around them.

Ben:
Yeah. I think that’s a characteristic of the beautiful aspect of the heart of the American land is that larger than life persona, the height of post World War II, the boomers age, the golden age where people come and industrial America is just kicking ass. And we are the doers we can do. We stand behind these good, good principles and the goodness with us. Right. Just focusing on the good pillars, on the things, the ideals that we can all aspire to, no matter what language you speak or what country you come from, I think that is also reflective of how they would send them up. We want to be larger than life.

Paul:
Yeah, I think that’s very true. I’m curious then, because you say your dad had a copy of Star Wars on VHS, how is it reacted to in Russia when you look at the Soviet era cinema? And then you said after that it kind of got I don’t know how weird maybe as a way to describe it. And then this comes forward. How did people react in Russia?

Ben:
Ok, so I’ll give you two versions. I’ll give you the localized version, right? What I’ve seen with my own two eyes and then kind of how I’m now living in America excavating the past a little bit and how what I’m slowly learning how it was viewed in Russia. So I was born in Moldova. It’s a former Russian Republic that was on the border with Romania, basically Russian Soviet Union, part of Romania. So when I immigrated to another part of Russia, to the south, my dad goes out and he buys the first VHS player, which was expensive. It was hard to get. You had to go to a salon to rent space, like sit down and watch Western film. We have one in the house. And my dad comes off work one day like, hey, boys, boys. He gathers me. My brother like, I brought something. It’s a trilogy of films. It’s like science fiction and like Greek fantasy because all Russian kids, because we’re very close borderline with Greek culture. The Greek mythology is pretty much like required reading in school. Like, every Russian kid knows Greek mythology.
So it’s like. It’s like science fiction. You got to watch this. He’s like a 20 plus year old. He’s a big nerd himself for, like, science fiction and everything. He read a lot when he was young. So we saw these three movies with this single voiced, over Russian dubbing. They’re not even like licensed tapes because we didn’t have access to licensed tape. They all pirated. They all signed by somebody’s hand, and you would go and buy them on the market. What tape is this? What movie is? If you go by hearsay, you go by what people say and that’s how you check out stuff. That’s how it’s ongoing. Indiana Jones, Back to the Future. All of these movies, right? Breakfast Club. That’s how you learn about American culture. Somebody tells you it’s a good movie, you pop it into your VHS player, and that’s what you learn.
All those closets, all those football team bullies they tried to beat on the good guy. That’s what you learned. And my dad goes like, I already watched it at work with my boys. I think you guys are going to like it. And the moment I only remember the first moment, I don’t remember my reaction to any different parts of it. I just remember this one thing as Star Wars was always one picture for me because we saw it in one swing, all three movies. I just remember this huge piece going through the screen, the opening shot of A New Hope episode four, and the next thing, I’m confused. There are a lot of details I couldn’t pick up because I was young. I was six or seven years old. But then this door jams open and it’s dark, menacing figure steps in. I’m like, what is this!? gazillion questions. I think to this day, this is what I think defines a good story, whether it’s cinema or it’s written text or short story when it ignites your imagination to a point where you want to understand the story outside of the confines of the screen or outside the confines of the pages, like the story is over, but you still want to learn more. Same here. That’s what Star Wars was to me. My world was never the same again. What is this?
It’s just the idea of trying to pick up everything that is happening and trying to figure out what is happening outside. Now the movie is over. Why are there episodes four, five and six? We had rumors at one point that there are 22 episodes and Russia only got three of them. Where’s the rest? Where’s the rest of the story? So that’s the localized experience, my experience. And then, of course, we invited all the kids from the block. We’re very multicultural, kind of like small town Armenians, Georgians, Russians, Jews, everybody door to door. People did not give a shit. And people just like one type in the community. We invited all of the kids from my school just to sit down and watch it in our living room together. That was the localized version.
Then I came to the States and I saw how it was a global phenomenon here. And I went back and I said, well, hold on a second. Then it was a global phenomenon in the States and Europe. How the generation before my father, when he was super young, how did they experience films? So don’t quote me on this, but two things I learned that George Lucas was on par with Akera Corasawa. He was actually inspired by Russian, Soviet era filmmakers, Eisenstein, a Russian director who during 30s, travels to Hollywood to pick up on the latest techniques of filmmaking because, right, if the French invented the camera, it was the Russians who invented the acting before screen in front of the screen, the style, method. And Eisenstein was the guy who traveled from Soviet, one of the few people who was allowed to travel to Hollywood to pick up on the latest techniques of filmmaking and bring that to Russia.
And he developed this visual language which is studied to this day. George Lucas was a fan of his. There’s a famous movie that he made in the 30s, which I saw as a kid in Russia, and I never connected to Star Wars. It’s called Alexander Nevsky, and it’s about this historical Russian night, this hero, the people that we call Bhagatir, who fights the Teutonic Knights, famous, famous battle. And George Lucas saw those Teutonic Knights in this black dark armor, and he saw a figure in Cape who looked like this. There’s extra articles you could Google. And George Lucas took some of these visual cues and put in his film. So that was one area where world cinema kind of like interacts with one another, just like music does globally. Same with cinema. And another aspect of it that I learned that the original 1977 film actually had a limited theatrical release in Soviet Union. It didn’t have a lot of it. It was very limited. But they were saying, like, just this Western cinema, don’t let it influence our kids too much. We don’t know what’s the whole jazz with that in space, fighting for freedom kind of stuff. Just a little bit short. A little.
But we had a whole underground culture of salons, first VHS players, makeshift rental spots where people would put together different television sets and different small little cabins. You would rent the place to go and put your favorite VHS, that experience, that cinema. And another part of culture was there were two or three different excellently English speaking Russians who would translate all of these Western illegal movies for Russian elite, for Russian politicians who would see them, like, in their closed little bunkers, they would sit in their rooms. Like, we don’t kind of allow it socially, but let’s check out this little sister Jonesburg. And it would sit and that translator would sit in the next booth and translate it synchronously seeing the movie for the very first time and translating on the go. sometimes they would put glasses like this to obscure their voice and put, like, something over their nose to sound a little bit different so people don’t recognize them in public.
So another part of your question is the answer to that is that Soviets always loved and embraced and experienced Star Wars but in a very different way. It was inescapable, like all art, it seeps through the pores of global consciousness. And regardless of what society you live in, if it’s great, people are going to accept it. People are resourceful. They want to be in on the new thing.

Paul:
Yeah, absolutely. So was that your sort of first experience into geek culture?

Ben:
I would say that and video games. So remember I discussed the makeshift rental spots? We did have Soviet era arcade machines, like the physical ones, like physical props where you push the buttons and lights light up, kind of like different ones. One of the most popular ones were the torpedo, where the warship goes by, like a small model. What do you call it? I’m sure it has, like, different names. Torpedo or war games or sink the ship, something like that. Regardless, whatever it was called, we had arcade machines like this. But once kids started experiencing electronic games, it was a whole different ball game. And the way that I was exposed, we had this spot in the center of the city that you used to go to every Saturday and Sunday to trade things. Like, my father used to take me there. Like, some people had postmarks that I collected. Other people had coins, other people had antique books. Right. Or we had gums in Russia where when you take the wrapper off before you chew on the gum, it had little pictures inside. Like the famous one was called Turbo, which had sport cars. So you buy gum, a piece of gum, right? You unwrap it a small little picture inside. Sometimes it would be ThunderCats or Ninja Turtles, and kids will go crazy trying to collect them all. So it was that collecting culture which you could categorize in the geek culture.
So my father took me to that spot once. I’m checking out the novelization of this new movie coming out Jurassic Park. Like, okay, I’ll grab that. All right, what else is here? We’re walking around this place and we’ll go inside of this little room. There’s four or five television set. One has Nintendo, one has Super Nintendo. One has Sega Genesis. So it’s already all of these eight bit and 16 bit generations are out. And I’ve seen video games before in the dark age, right? Like stupid stuff like Pacman or Big Duck. That’s okay. But then I see Mortal Kombat too, on Super Nintendo. And you don’t understand that it’s impossible to express that experience today because with graphics we have today. But back then, imagine going from Pacman to seeing a fully digitized actor. You don’t understand. They put an actor in the goddamn game looking at this game like, wait, what is this game called? And I start asking kids, ‘you don’t know? this is Mortal Kombat’. This guy looks like Van Damme. This guy looks like Bruce Lee. You pick up on it as a kid, your eyes sharp, right? What is this game? Because we didn’t have access to magazines. We didn’t have access to translated games. Everything was in English and Japanese. Kids who mastered those early fatalities in the game with the geek culture overlords that were gods that you worship. Because what you would do is you would sit next to those guys like, hey, man, hey, I want to do that subzero Fatality. You know how to do it? At first they would front. They were like, I know that Fatality. But then if you get cool with those kids, they would write down the Fatality on the piece of paper and give it to you. If you want to be friends with me, don’t tell anyone. You learn that Fatality and just keep it hush.
And once the kids started experiencing those 16 bit generation games in my small hometown and swapping cartridges in school, like, hey, I’ll give you my Castlevania, you give me your Teenage Ninja Turtles lost in time. Like, we’ll trade for a week. That was the beginning of the geek culture for me before I traveled to the US.

Paul:
It’s interesting that the geek culture there, it seems a lot more accepted because the stereotype of geek culture is that it’s kind of a bunch of sweaty nerds who are kind of not interacting with each other, but you’re describing something completely the opposite.

Ben:
It’s always been like that. That’s the stigma, which I never understood. We understood what the nerd was by the Western terms because we all grew up with weird science. These two geeky boys, they want the hot girl, but they can’t get the hot girl because they’re too smart and regular girls want the bad boys, and that’s not who they are. But when you come here. My first experience reading comic books was literally right outside my building across the street. There used to be a comic book shop owned by this Chinese guy, Steven Chang. Awesome guy. He introduced me to Magic the Gathering. He opened up a world of anime to me, And comic books. once, like, you walk inside of a store, the place feels like a home because of the owner, you have fewer examples. Where comic book shop owners, they’re not with the culture. They just sell the product so they don’t welcome you, there’s Like, buy and see you later. But those who are real comic book owners and fans, the place always feels like home because other kids are there.
You’re standing there and talking to them for hours. how to do that next level in Dragon Ball Z Ten Kaichi two, or how to go to Grand Theft Auto, When you pick up this particular car. it always brings people together. I never was able to parse that. Like, why people call it isolating when games always brought people together. Because counterargument is in terms of gaming culture, we’re sort of more divided than we were because with the advent of the internet, you don’t gather around the same television in the house and don’t talk smack to your boys anymore. When you play those three fighter games, it’s like, you suck. Are you going to pick that girl, Chun Lee? Oh, I got you, man. Part of the fun, right? Yeah. Now we claim that with this globalized culture and Sony and Xbox have their conferences every year, see how they impacted the world in a positive way. People don’t talk to each other anymore. You don’t see faces like, what happened? What happened?
Standing in front of the arcade machine, and you’re like, this tall. And I remember there was this guy who was, like, in his 20s. I’m like, 14 year old here. I live in a part of Manhattan, which was like, very Latino. Puerto Ricans. Dominicans. Cubans, right. Mostly Dominicans. I’m sitting there like, 20 year old Dominican guy. I’m like, we’re playing Tekken and arcades, and he’s like, sure, you want to play a kid? I’m looking at it. Yeah, I’ll kick your ass. What happened to that? That was the epitome of geek culture, because then you win, and then you get your Pat in the shoulder, you get your badge of honor. You’re accepted in the club, right?

Paul:
I’m going to sound like such an old man now, but it’s easy to forget how good it was.

Ben:
They felt magical. There’s 16 bit games where you had to supply your imagination to fill the gaps and make that double Dragon two little Pixel be a real character. have eyes, nose and ears, even though the pixels don’t clearly. Even in my circle of friends, my younger brother is a huge Metal Gear Solid fan, right. The popular, popular espionage game. And we all talk about how Hideo Kojima just never made the same game again. It’s like after that original Metal Gear, the limitations of PlayStation One took them to the place where creatively narratively as an artist, where we don’t see that anymore. Now, you could have all the beautiful graphics in the world, but it doesn’t have that punch.

Paul:
It’s funny. I’m very lucky that I’m going to speak to Tim Lapatino next week. And he wrote a book called The Art of Atari. And it’s very much about that. And it’s about the artwork and very much about the history as well, but the artwork that went into selling, not only selling the game on the shelf, but also selling the game in your mind, when you look at the pixels and as you say, it’s not just pixels when you look at it, it’s all the details that you saw in the artwork that was the magic and then filled the rest with your imagination that just wasn’t there.

Ben:
I used to be afraid of Castlevania. It frightened me like those flying little Medusa heads. You just didn’t understand what they are. They have to be frightening because they strike your character and your character dies and you can’t beat the level. You got to start over. You know, all that frustration compounds. It’s scary. And about five or six years ago, as I’m working in a comic video game store, I’m pretty much I know or have played every single game on the shelf, across every console, right? And as we’re talking, all these games are out there. Nintendo Switch was announced. And as Nintendo Switch was announced, handheld console. I tell all my customers, like, guys, pixels are not dead. It’s an art form. It looks primitive to you, to you now, but to us all, Zelda Super Nintendo games, all those wonderful, wonderfully animated characters, they were real Ninja Turtles, right? It’s an art form.
Don’t disregard it as something as archaic or part of the past or those first computer PC games in RPGs that didn’t have any animation like the Wizardry series. Right. Gorgeous, gorgeous arts because they recognize they’re all students of Gary Gaigex of Dungeons and Dragons and realize, okay, now we have the numbers in there, the DND rule sets. Now we need to supply the visual aspect to be more marketable, to attract more casual audience once those pixels kicked in. And to this day, oh, my God. When I look at these pixelated 2D games, Knights of around, for example, one of them. Or Magic sword or Golden axe, right? I used to argue with my customers. I told them, guys, everything comes back in circles. What was old will become new and cool again. And Mark my words, this whole archaic style will be excavated and become new again. And Lo and behold, the indie part of the gaming industry has picked up so much momentum and Nintendo Switch. I wish you saw my plus 100 physical collection games that I have here. I love. Mostly I concentrate on indie games. It’s new. Kids are digging it again. They’re rediscovering it. It’s magical. Now it’s fully recognized as an art form. It could not stay underground for too long. It had to resurface. Because now, on par, you could have your wonderful, wonderful Final Fantasy Seven remake. Amazing. Just staggering graphics and a game full of heart, full of beautiful music. And against that, there’s something that looks crazy. Find a little picture. And that’s art too.

Paul:
I’m going to try and do something podcasty and tie all this together and let’s see how that goes. Do you think it’s the same thing as those Soviet era cinema makers? It’s working within the limitations and using those limitations to make the rest of it so much better?

Ben:
Yeah, absolutely. I want to bring up specifically one comparison between the Soviet era filmmaking and Hollywood filmmaking. I just have to get this movie name here very quickly. It’s based on actually on the famous American novel. I always forget its name. And my father was responsible for introducing me to that movie. So the original novel of All the Kingsmen by Robert Pen Warren. In the 70s, Russia Soviet filmmaking experienced a boom of experimental cinema. We have this very established form of this epic, costume widescreen, beautiful historical films or what was canonized as Soviet film. People were now trying to think outside the box and said, how can we innovate and be experimental, be different. So Russians have made an adaptation of this American classic. So All the Kingsmen, it’s about this one politician Senator who wants to be like President. And all of the shenanigans of political games, of political theater in the United States, making the promises to the hard working men, building your team, becoming a part of the elite, negotiating your way to the throne, to the top, abandoning the same very people that you made promises, all of that juicy stuff that makes up American politics since day one. And my father was telling me, we’re here when living in America, he’s like, hey, Ben, you want to watch this film? I said, dad, it’s probably going to be comical. What are these filmmakers? What do these people know about the culture? You have to live in the culture and live and breathe in the culture. It’s just like when Hollywood was trying to make a couple of famous Russian stories like War and Peace and adapt them. It looks almost comical. You appreciate the effort, but come on. She said, can you please just sit down and watch it? And my pops, he knows cinema. Okay. All right, I’ll see it. Within 15 minutes, I was lost. I couldn’t understand why these actors are speaking Russian, because by all accounts, they shouldn’t. And honestly, again, you could blame it on Ben as being nostalgic. He’s trying to prompt the cinema that he loves and cherishes. I did not grow up with this movie. I didn’t even know its existence. At one point when I was like a teenager, I completely shunned the cinema that I grew up with. And it was like old Hollywood with the old Matrix, all these cool new stuff. Right? But then I had to look back and see what makes art, what makes the film memorable. Is it beautiful, expensive, like production values and cinematography? I don’t know. Or is it something historic, like you said, that you have to work with limitations like British cinema, and you keep coming back and back again because that backstabbing or that character revealed was so powerful in your mind, you just want to experience that again. So I was watching this movie, all the Kingsmen, and I could not believe how they were able to tackle the problem of shooting a movie about America which could not be filmed in America for obvious reasons and just the limitations around it. Now that I’ve spent 25 years here in the States, and mind you, I’m still scratching the surface of what America means to me personally and historically. Such a giant topic. It’s such a rich country, but you see, like, the locales you see the farmlands that they’re showing, the frontier America, where he tries to go around and talk to people, the way that the lead act is dressed in elegant costumes, the way that they show the White House, the senatorial place in the state that he is in. Man, I couldn’t believe it. I just could not believe it. Like it seeps into your pores. I’m like, yeah, this is America. I know, dude. How did you manage this? And I’m pretty sure they’re films not specifically on Russia, but events that concern Russia. Spielberg’s, Saving Private Ryan. I have not seen a finer World War II film in America. And it’s so like you feel like you’re there. It feels like it represents the times. It feel like it represents the culture. Again, we’re not specifically talking about Russian because I can’t bring up to mind something that would speak, but I’m sure there are films out there. I see maybe a small portion. There’s so much movies to watch, but this one went outside of the boundaries of limitation. All the Kingsmen, it’s just wonderful, wonderful stuff. So, yeah, to answer your question, it’s very representative. What happens in games reflects very much what happened in cinema. Limitations are good. I think there’s going to be a very interesting geek culture experiment that we’re about to experience with Amazon, The Lord of the Rings series they’re releasing. I think it will either make it or break it because it seems to have all the production values in the world. But I’m very cautious about it.

Ben:
Paul, if you do hear something crazy in the background, please do let me know.

Paul:
Sirens just to freak people out a little bit.

Ben:
They couldn’t leave us alone. Every time Mike and I sit down, it’s there, it’s like, Hi, we’re from New York.

Paul:
Well, yeah, that’s it. living in London, and I’m sure you’re the same. They get to a certain point where unless you’re consciously thinking about it, it’s just part of your background noise and you kind of ignore it.

Ben:
Enjoy it, guys. Relish in it as we continue our discussion. Actually, part of this noise is what is happening with Amazon’s Lord of the Rings. I don’t know if you follow the social media, YouTube. These people are picking it apart, man. We just got a 30second or 1 minute trailer, and people are like all this diversity for its own sake. All this wokeness, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. People have not experienced it yet. But I’ll tell you why I am very cautious about the show. What Peter Jackson has accomplished is a very rare feat. It’s a very rare occasion, which I don’t believe George Lucas was able to do with his own Star Wars series. And that is George Lucas, as Mark Hamill has put it, caught the lighting in the bottle with the original trilogy. And the same feat was never accomplished again. Not with prequels, not with sequels. Look, I adore and fancy all star wars fans who grew up with prequels, and it’s part of their childhood and they love it. There’s no reason you shouldn’t. If those movies mean the world to you, by all means. That’s not what we’re discussing here. What we’re discussing is most people that I talk to who have lived through all of star wars since its origins Will tell you that the originals are the shizznit. They are the Star Wars, and then everything else trickles from there. I don’t believe George was ever able to repeat that magic. Not in books that I’ve read, not in all the movies, not in other shows. It’s just nothing feels the same as the original trilogy. And the only other trilogy in geek culture, I should say three trilogies that have the same cultural impact on globally, not just in the United States was for 2000s. It was the Lord of the Rings. It’s undeniable. Star wars prequel trilogy is out of the conversation here. If anything, Star Wars prequels, where fans were occupying themselves with bickering over it and cutting each other’s throats of how good or how bad it is. Lord of the Rings were unanimously that. The only reaction was like that’s The only reaction that I don’t want to hear it. And then 2010, right? Like that ballpark that decade is Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Undeniable.
Yeah, you had your comic book minority; ‘It’s not like in the comic book’ ‘ Bruce Wayne never said that’. People who are splitting hairs, they want their comics to be word for word adapted to screen, which I never understood that sentiment. Then you have Chris Nolan and post Chris Nolan. I would say that maybe significantly less impact, but still impact nonetheless. Is the Planet of the Apes trilogy undeniable storytelling just hits you right there, stands above the competition in the Sci-Fi genre. You’re looking it’s like, yeah, this is just like uniformly awesome. We’re now once again on the precipice of something that is people have a lot of expectations of, especially the nerd culture, especially.
Look, we are always and will be the minority. All of these rating system websites like Rotten Tomatoes, all the social media combined, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok in comparison to average moviegoers and people who pay admission price for the tickets, we will always will be minority who are the loudest, who feel that we represent the major vote because we care the most. We’re not like those people. It’s people banding together, getting tribal. It’s like we care the most. And I understand all that passion that goes into The Lord of the Rings. But here is one thing with the Amazon show that can either make it or break it. And it’s the budget. And the argument is to be made is that Hollywood bravado circling back to what we said earlier, the larger life Hollywood persona of making films that look the most eye candy. Is it what draws geek culture or is it something that you pick apart in Game of Thrones and you just can’t get over what they did to your boy Viper? So it’s the visuals of Avatar versus this one Viper character and how Masterfully George Martin wrote him in, And what happens to that character? You start waiting.
I’m very curious to see where Amazon will take us with this series because after seeing the first two episodes of The Wheel of Time, I can’t understand how that was greenlighted as a show in general. It doesn’t look finished. Okay. It’s concept on screen. Like, who’s making this? Where’s the final film? Am I only going to see scraps of it? It just doesn’t feel like anything resembling storytelling. And that’s Amazon too. And then, of course, a big name. It could be entirely different set of creatives working on this. But Amazon is attached, right? Bezos himself said, I want my version of Lord of the Rings and I’m going to pay X amount of the entire show. I think the first season is like $400 million, something like it just upset the amount of money it will be, I think a very cool stress test for us, the geek culture to say, what are we paying attention to here? Are we paying attention to visuals that’s what sells storytelling to us? Are we paying attention be to all the controversy and drawing the line in the sand of real fans versus non real fans. Is that what geek culture is all about? Or is it going to be C and us saying, oh, man, look what they did with the drawers here. She’s not what you would expect. She’s from a different, diverse ethnicity, but they’re taking her here story wise. And by the way, she’s a brand new character and they’re being playful here. They’re experimenting with the source material by recognizing what the original is, but then putting their own creative voice on it. Yeah, I can accept that. What is it going to be out of these three? The visuals, the beakering, or people relishing in something that tries to push the boundaries of what is Lord of the Rings?

Paul:
Is this era we’re in? Is it the greatest era, possibly for geek culture or is it possibly kind of the untying of geek culture as we know it?

Ben:
It’s both. As old as I grow, I begin to look at literally everything that surrounds me as a continuous phenomenon, a stream. Nothing is static in life. Not geek culture, not Batman. Because when somebody walks inside of a comic book store and ‘I want real Batman story, none of this Chris Nolan crap’. My question always was which version of the real Batman? You have Jack Kirby version. You had the Mark Miller version. Frank Miller was it. I always confused the two, from Jim Lee. Which version are you talking about? Because the character evolves. He changes his character origin story was not there Daddy and Mommy being killed and he was just a Detective story. And it goes and travels. And so is everything with the geek culture. So to answer your question, is this the best or the worst time? My answer is it’s evolving. And it’s both. Because for somebody like me who embraces physical game collection, I don’t like buying digital games because I want a sense of ownership. I love the beautiful artwork. I want a little booklet inside. I want all the extra crap that comes with it just because I want to. There is nothing more than I want to. I want to put that wonderful Final Fantasy Eight disc in protective sleeve and just sit there on my shelf. There’s room for it today for me. So you can’t say that it’s unraveling, it’s bad. It’s going downhill. I have all the reasons in the world and all the possibilities in the world to get as many physical games as I can stomach. Well, I don’t like playing online games. I want to play by myself. Yeah, go load up like elder ring. They just came out and you could play both versions. The game literally came out yesterday. You want to play with friends, kick yourself and knock yourself out and go and do it. You want to play solo? We have more choices than ever to experience geek culture than we ever had before. Are you tired of live action shows? Go watch the arcane. You think that Disney is exploiting and milking stars. And now there’s too much of Star Wars. I’m like what back in 2007, six or seven. When the third episode three, Revenge of the System, we didn’t even think we’re going to get any more Star Wars. That was the biggest fear. Not having more of the stuff that we love, not that we have it. You still bitching. You know what’s the easiest thing to do? Push that button unplug. Go play soccer or something, go to a Museum. We have more choices and possibilities than ever to enjoy these things around us. With that comes the negative aspect of things being diluted. Quality coming down. Yes, there is an argument to be made that if these are the kind of movies that we’re willing to embrace and accept, which are not on par with what came before, then maybe we are part of dismantling the quality of this culture. But here’s the challenge. When we go back and we start studying games or cinema or heavy metal, I’m a metalhead that’s also underground culture. It’s also geek culture. And I say, well, in the 80s, they had the best Bay Area fresh metal. Now all these bands are garbage. They’re trying to just to repeat the same magic. Again, it’s not working. Well, hold on a second. They had albums coming out and striking gold, not one after the other, not Consequently, because greatness takes time. It takes the right special alchemical process and the right people coming at the right time, making the right impact, metallic and justice for all. It’s an album that is forever etched into the American culture because at the time it came out, because of the kind of caliber of talent that it brought the lyrical content to everything. It’s inseparable. Same with cinema. When you say, well, Golden Age, Hollywood 30s and 40s is where it’s at, man. After, you know, the Twilight Zone, America just don’t know how to make shows anymore. Well, hold on a second. It’s easy for me, a modern kid, to say that because now we have a library of great films, right. But they took time to develop. If you go back in time and you watch the American classic Ben Her 1959, right next to that. And to me, this movie stands the test of time because I believe if something is good, if something is well made, it’s timeless. There’s no such thing as archaic, aging, not good anymore. A powerful story. Take the Bible, for example. People still read it to this day. It’s not just their belief systems. It’s powerful storytelling. Right. So you ask the question then when the Ben Hurst movie came out, ask yourself a question. How many movies off that time? We’re circling around it like Sharks. We’re trying to replicate the same magic of that film, and were just plain Dookie, man. They were garbage. Look at so many costume Hollywood movies with all these women that are trying to portray characters from entirely different culture, not even on that front, just that the script suck, the action sequences like rubber swords doing this, I’m like, what is this crap? You know what I mean? It’s a great thing to save time to develop. Paul, I just want to ask you this question when you look at things which were great from a particular period of time, do you have the notion that, oh, man, those are just representatives of that particular time? That was the moment, but now it’s not here anymore? Or do you feel that like, hey, let me contextualize things and perhaps you were separated by ponds of mediocrity in between

Paul:
you always look back with rose tinted glasses, don’t you? You look back and you see, you see the wonderful things like, you know, if I look back at what I did last week, I’d probably give you the main beat of the best and the worst because that’s what sticks in your mind and give it a month’s time and I look back and I’ll probably only remember the best and I think media is the same, we look back and we see the greatness because that’s what defined us and sometimes the greatness is greatness in its rubbishness, like how many films people say so rubbish, but it’s great and it defined my childhood but other people wouldn’t even remember it because arguably it was rubbish.

Ben:
Do you have a movie like that? Probably.

Paul:
I used to love a film called The Relic, it’s arguably rubbish but it’s great.

Ben:
The Relic,
I’m seeing one here vaguely, vaguely, like brings up memories, 1996

Paul:
yeah, so they bring back some relic into a Museum and it basically brings a monster with it. Arguably it’s enough film but I look back at it because I randomly had it on VHS and I watched it more times than I probably should have, especially because I was so young. So I look at it, back at it and say it’s a great film and I remember it, but many people wouldn’t because arguably it’s rubbish

Ben:
well, what I’ll say is my Russian friends and I: Commando, Schwarzenegger, bullets don’t touch that man, but it doesn’t matter, look at the mountain of muscles, look at the hot girl next to him, look at the beautiful Pacific, the Caribbean music playing in the background, the whole music stupid one liners like it’s greatness, how dare you say that movie is not great, right? That’s another huge element that we didn’t touch upon is so much of what is great exists outside of professional critic review because professional critic review is not an absolute, it’s not 100% informed, it may come from an informed perspective. A person may have pursued film studies or writing studies, he comes from an informed place where he may know a little bit more about methodology of storytelling and filmmaking, which is Arguably the most effective way of shooting. Simply because you could clearly tell the difference between the kid shooting his fanfic film versus what’s on screen. It takes skill. There’s a skill component to it. There is a mechanical aspect of it which I don’t think can be debated. If you have an action scene and the camera is shaking all over like this, nobody is going to like it because you want to follow what is happening on the screen. That’s objective, that has nothing to do with how we feel about it. But then so much of that very same film depends on what we love about it, what it brings into our family fondest, childhood memories, our family rituals, the stuff that we do.
And then when discourse comes to Star Wars. I’m not a big fan of Star Wars prequels. I just don’t think they’re very well made movies. They’re not horrible, but they’re not great. And I used to be in my early 20s, like this very jaded person, very protective and tribal over my original trilogy and disliking this trilogy over here. And of course, you grow, you learn retrospect, you learn that opinions and feelings and emotions, that people exist outside of your little small world. Grow up, look around you, appreciate what people, how they Revere this particular trilogy. And I just wanted to say there’s such a huge component of the mechanical aspect, the craft of filmmaking versus how it makes you feel. I’m pretty sure the kids growing up who are going to watch these Wheel of Time show, which I felt was incomprehensible to me. And perhaps it may serve as a trampoline to somebody to watch and get excited about fantasy genre and discover Lord of the Rings.
Same with music. Some teenage bands like Pod, all these like Total Request Live, MTV, which are nonexistent anymore, that nobody remembers for anything. But they had the environment where they served as a trampoline for younger 13 year olds, like heavy metal, your rock music, and they start there. And that music had the right to exist. It had the right to have its audience, and it pleased a lot of young people and they grew up. It’s like, now I know what Metallica is. Who’s to argue which one is greater? That was my childhood. I don’t care about Metallica. I hear about Pod. It’s also a huge part of being in the nerd culture and understanding that and being compassionate to people who don’t feel the same way you do.

Paul:
Basically, I think the summary of what you’re saying is to kind of try things. So to sum up, what is the benefit of geek culture? What has been the benefit to you and what do you think the benefit is to the world in general that geek culture brings to say to people, give these things a try.

Ben:
It means the world to me. It brings people together. It’s communication, it’s people sharing, and it’s something wonderful. I’m listening to a lot of podcasts where modern psychiatrists and people who study, like the social consciousness, they talk about how we have replaced our idols. We have replaced our biological need to worship something that is greater than ourselves. Right. The first cultures of the world have evolved to worship the sun. Why? Because it nourished them and gave them life. And now a lot of younger generations who are always throughout history, the new generation always becomes disillusioned with religious or authoritative voice or people who are telling them how to live their lives. And they say, well, I don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t want to be a part of this religion or this culture. That brings me away from my friends. I’m Muslim, you’re Jew. He is a Buddhist. We can all be friends. We can love one each other. And when your religion segregates you, you move away from it. Because I personally believe in the goodness of people. I believe that we’re all developed to grow together. We are communal creatures, and that’s what geek culture does. It brings us all together. It makes us sharing in a spiritual experience. Whether you believe in gods or not, as human soul or not, the experience is spiritual in a way that ties us all together. Who are Supermans and Batman’s and wonder woman? They’re Greek gods reincarnate. They are the Nordic mythology. They are the basic human necessity of sitting by the campfire and our elder, telling us a story to teach us how to be a responsible member of the society, how to pick up the spear and go out there and Hunt and bring back and participate. That’s what geek culture does. It makes us all participate. Let’s say I’m from somewhere from India And I heard an iron maiden song, the trooper. What is it about? What’s the content here? You’re from Russia. That’s how you see this song. But it was created by this band in Britain. Everything begins to make sense if you felt isolated and turned away from something and secluded and you were made to believe that this group of people is not like you. They’re different. You’re supposed to stay here with us. Don’t mind those people. Stay with us. I will always fight anyone who tries to portray geek culture as something that is isolationist or non social. Nothing can be far away from the truth. Geek culture is by definition a social phenomenon. We all celebrated Jewish actress from Israel portrays a Greek goddess speaking English and she comes out of Hollywood and somebody sees it in Sri Lanka. That’s beautiful. What is more beautiful than that? So that’s what geek culture is. It ties us altogether.

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