In 2010 America, it seems there’s always some new word that some punk kid is throwing around. We’ve lived to see “google,” “twitter” and “facebook” become verbs, and people the world over understand what voip, texting, and even sexting mean.
In the world of movies, too, we’ve had a changing vocabulary. We talk about CGI and Real-D as well as mo-cap, DI and HD. Most of these vocabulary changes are technology based, but there’s another linguistic shift occurring, and this one stems from recent (meaning the last 20-30 years) changes in delivery systems. Movies are now classified not by quality but by the format in which they should be seen. We all know what an “opening day” film is, and how it differs from a “wait for video” movie. In between there’s the “matinee” film, and the dreaded “wait for cable” flick. More than that, we have started to define the quality of some films based on the format in which they should, in our opinion, be exhibited. “That was like a $150 million direct-to-video flick,” says the misanthropic and overweight teenager as he walks out of the midnight showing of Wolverine. Ouch, Hugh Jackman. That’s gotta hurt. Sick burn.
Of course, none of this really comes as a shock. Language is built to grow and change over the years. Still, in the last decade it seems to be developing at a surprising rate, not just in cinematic circles but in every aspect of daily life. Ask any parent of a teenager and they’ll attest to the fact that kids speak a different language, and that language changes quickly. It’s a prestige thing…the newer and less understood a set of slang terms is, the cooler and more valuable it is. With the internet, though, knowledge spreads so fast that new words are quickly defined and disbursed to the masses. They lose street cred, and new words and terms must be invented. The cycle continues.
Movie geeks, too, contribute to the status-based language change, but in a fairly unique way. Popular (or unpopular) movies become adjectives and genres unto themselves. Saying that a franchise has “nuked the ‘fridge” holds intense meaning for an intensely small group of people, and defining McG as the poor man’s James Cameron might incite discourse, but any true movie geek will know what you mean.
For us, it’s all about status, too. But instead of focusing on being cool or trendy, our status is based on knowledge. If someone asks me the greatest movie of all time and I respond “Citizen Kane” without missing a beat, any true movie fan will get the joke. I get approving head nods every time I remark that the latest installment in the Terminator franchise “pulled a Spider-man 3.” The language works to make us all feel good about having some deep knowledge base that isn’t shared with the rest of the world. And the more obscure the reference, the better. I got a nice chuckle from my friends when I walked out of Avatar remarking, “Well, it’s no Delgo.”
Seriously….who would get that except me and about 150 other people in the world?
But that’s what it’s all about. The fewer people who get the joke, the louder the people who get it will laugh, and the more special we’ll all feel. It doesn’t matter how dorky or obscure or dumb the reference is…as long as it binds you in knowledge to the geeks surrounding you, that’s all we care about. And if you don’t know the difference between a trekkie and a trekker, then you aren’t invited to the club. Epic fail.