hide captionActor Andrew Garfield asks a question from the audience wearing a Spider-Man costume during the Sony panel presentation of The Amazing Spider-Man at Comic Con last Friday.
Actor Andrew Garfield asks a question from the audience wearing a Spider-Man costume during the Sony panel presentation of The Amazing Spider-Man at Comic Con last Friday.
This clip made the rounds last weekend. You may have already seen it: Actor Andrew Garfield, the guy who'll be playing Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man, next year's reboot of the film franchise, puts in a stunt appearance at Comic-Con and gives a heartfelt speech.
Andrew Garfield surprises the assembled nerdery at Comic-Con last weekend.
If you watched it, you may have come away with the same kind of Pavlovian "d'awwww"-response that videos of monkeys taking pictures or Dogs in Wigs engender.
Or you may have only gotten a few seconds in before Garfield's outpouring of guileless sincerity made you so uncomfortable you were tempted to click over to the Amazing Spider-Man preview clip before something untoward — like, say, a feeling — happened.
The more cynically minded among you might have thought, "Pfft. This guy's just playing to the crowd."
Here's the part where I admit that all three of the above reactions occurred to me, in rapid succession, the first time I watched the clip. But I've since gone back to watch it again, and my thinking has evolved.
They Come to Kiss The Power Ring
Understand: The relationship between Hollywood and Comic-Con is ever a complicated one. To be sure, it's by its very nature symbiotic, founded as it is on mutual exploitation. And though the dynamic shifts slightly, year-to-year, one thing that endures is the superhero movie rite of passage: The Annual Pilgrimage to Hall H.
Year after year, the actors and directors of big superhero films come to Comic-Con to present clips and establish their nerdy bona-fides. And don't think for a minute that Comic-Con audiences don't relish bringing their best "Dance for us, pretty boy!" attitudes to the whole endeavor.
No, it doesn't make sense: There's no real evidence that buzz at Comic-Con, good or bad, has any measurable effect on a film's box office (Viz: "I'm sick and tired of these scottpilgrimin' snakes on this scottpilgrimin' plane!"). And really — who cares if the third lead of The Green Lantern ever watched Challenge of the Super Friends as a kid? The guy's an actor. You know what he can reliably called upon to do? Act.
Garfield at Large
So when Garfield disguised himself in a Spider-Man costume, "hijacked" the audience mike at the Spider-Man panel, started fawning about his love of the character, and whipped off the mask to the cheers of the assembled, it was a great stunt. It was also pretty much what we nerds have come to expect from Hollywood studios: A bit of well-executed lip-service to the properties they're currently shepherding through multi-platform development via cross-market distribution channel synergy.
And if Garfield had stopped there, you might not have heard about it. Your nerdy cousin in Boise might never have emailed it to you.
But he didn't stop there. He went on. He read a speech about what Spider-Man meant to him as a skinny kid. He talked from the heart about why heroes matter. And it was all way too gushing, too over-the-top, too gallingly sincere — it was just plain too much.
But listen to the room as he goes on — listen to the energy change. Listen to thousands of nerds cycling through their carefully cultivated cynicism and promptly past it, into something else. Because all that stuff Garfield's saying? That hilariously hokey, joyously heedless passion that catches in his throat and moistens his eyes?
Oh yeah. That's familiar.
I Geek Out, Therefore I Am
We nerds recognize it. It's the secret language we speak to one another, that connects us together, and that we seldom show to outsiders.
Now, yes: It's this same breed of enthusiasm that, in some corners of the internet, can all too easily curdle into a toxic sludge that fuels bitter trolling and endless flamewars.
At its purest, however — as, for example, exemplified in that clip — we can't help but respond to it. It can build friendships and entire communities; it makes thoughtful, engaged, enlightening discussion not simply possible but more likely.
You've felt it, too, even if you don't know the Green Goblin from the Green Lantern. Because at the end of the day, Garfield could be talking about anything, there: The Red Sox. Shakespeare. Darkness on the Edge of Town. Knitting. The short stories of Grace Paley. The late-period film oevre of Steven Segal. Anything.
Because what matters is that unalloyed, transporting joy, not its object. My fellow nerds may access that joy differently than you do, but if you can look into Garfield's face and tell me you haven't felt anything akin to it in all your life, well.... I'm sorry for you.
That doesn't mean you never can or will. Take heart; there's still hope for you.
Tell me — you ever read Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol?