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How to be a nerd 

And the geeks shall inherit the earth: If you have no idea what the big deal is about Harry Potter, here’s a primer on it and other multimedia pop culture obsessions.

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We feel for you, you who are reading The Coast's Back to School issue with no foreknowledge of Harry Potter. It's hard to imagine there are any of you left out there. Maybe one or two. Well, you aren't forgotten. Pay attention to what follows.

It's 2011 and the nerds are in charge, where what you like is as important as what you are like. We're here to help you self-identify with a pop-culture tribe, or at least fake it with some conviction.

Harry Potter

The first story about the young British wizard and his pals, Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone---in the United States retitled as Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone due to Scholastic’s uncharacteristic lack of faith in its audience getting excited about a philosopher’s stone---was published in 1997. Written by J.K. Rowling, who famously went from welfare to being a billionaire in the span of a few years due to the phenomena she spawned.

Here’s the deal with Harry: He’s raised by his unkind muggle (unpowered human) aunt and uncle until age 11, when he discovers he’s a wizard. He’s even more special than that, since his parents were murdered by Dark Lord Voldemort when he was a baby. Harry somehow survived the attack, and Voldemort disappeared, making Harry something of a magical celebrity. So off he goes to wizardry boarding school, Hogwarts, where he becomes friends with Hermione, Ron and a number of other young magicians. Through the seven books---the final one, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows was published in 2007---Harry and his friends grow up, graduate from school and deal with the return of Voldemort. The wildly popular eight movie franchise---the last book was split into two movies---made Harry Potter accessible even for non-readers.

FOR YOU IF YOU LIKE: Magic, adventure, coming-of-age stories and Anglophilia.

WHAT TO SAY AT PARTIES: “My favourite supporting character from the books was Peeves the Poltergeist, who unfortunately didn’t make it into the movies even though Rick Mayall was cast in the role.”

Marvel and DC superheroes

There are plenty of comics, but only two big names in the superhero game. DC is the elder, home to Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and The Flash. Marvel titles include Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Avengers, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk and Iron Man. Marvel has been the industry leader in the comic world for ages, even though the company went bankrupt some years back. It’s rebounded nicely and capitalized with a number of superhero movie adaptations, most spectacularly Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man. Aside from the Batman movies and the young-Superman TV series Smallville, DC hasn’t had as much success in the past two decades with its properties---Green Lantern was hardly a big hit this summer---but another Superman movie reboot is in the works.

If you’re down with world-shaking epic battles and occasional streaks of humour, much of it unintentional, there’s plenty to enjoy in these superhero comics. Marvel’s heroes tend to be more alienated and miserable than the DC ones, with the exception of Batman’s gothic vigilantism. A few places to start: DC’s All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli and New Frontiers by Nova Scotia resident Darwyn Cooke. At Marvel you’ll want to read Iron Man by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca, Captain America by Ed Brubaker and Halifax’s own Steve McNiven and Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. Once indoctrinated, read DC’s Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

FOR YOU IF YOU LIKE: Power fantasies, pneumatic physiques, costume fetishes and modern myth.

WHAT TO SAY AT PARTIES: “There’s no way The Human Torch will stay dead. No character stays dead in comics for long. Look at Jean Grey or Bucky Barnes!”

Star Wars

George Lucas is a much adored and reviled figure. He’s the massively creative mind behind the Star Wars universe, a phenomenon that served as the primary childhood religion for many a secular kid. The first three Star Wars movies, released from 1977 through 1983, provided an interstellar escape, with accompanying toys and comics. Then he fucked us with the prequels, which while gorgeously realized via state-of-the-arts special effects, are a showcase for cardboard characters, painfully poor performances and uninteresting plots. Only the third one, Revenge of the Sith, approached the spark of the original three. Now there’s a quality animated series, The Clone Wars, and some great video games, to somewhat ameliorate the frustration.

So, if you’re going to get into the Star Wars movies, we recommend you do so with caution. If you watch the prequels first, which makes some sense, don’t be put off by how lame they are. It’s basically a war movie/western in space, with two generations of princesses, farm boys and freebooters involved in galactic power struggle, with robots, psychic powers and laser blasters thrown in for good measure. It really gets going in Star Wars: A New Hope (Episode IV) and especially Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V).

FOR YOU IF YOU LIKE: Space opera, bizarre creatures, planets with a single climate, borderline incest, middle-brow metaphors of class and race relations.

WHAT TO SAY AT PARTIES: “Lucas will never do any more Star Wars movies. And maybe that’s for the best.”

Joss Whedon

The only phenom that is a person. You can love Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-off Angel, on TV or in their comic book adaptations, written by Whedon. Or you can love the one-season TV series Firefly and its accompanying movie Serenity. Or you can love his X-Men comics or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog or his other TV show Dollhouse or his script for Toy Story. Hopefully you’ll love his movie of Marvel’s The Avengers, coming next May.

FOR YOU IF YOU LIKE: Everything else on this nerdtastic list.

WHAT TO SAY AT PARTIES: “Joss Whedon kicks J.J. Abrams’ ass as a content creator in every way it matters. Even moreso post-Super 8.”

Star Trek

The franchise is a bit fallow until a sequel to J.J. Abrams’ popular reboot movie Star Trek from 2009 gets a sequel. In the meantime you’ll have to do with the endless reruns of the various TV series, classic Trek from the 1960s, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. Or maybe watch one of the 10 Star Trek movies released between 1979 and 2002, all of which can set you up in a universe where an interstellar federation is a ruling body, and humans, androids and aliens travelling in enormous starships do their best to deal with socio-political issues between themselves and other alien races. The movies emphasize action, where the TV shows were more about ideas.

FOR YOU IF YOU LIKE: Utopian fantasies, kitsch, science fiction as an avenue to explore real-world issues, bizarre creatures, Whoopi Goldberg, hotties in tight-fitting uniforms.

WHAT TO SAY AT PARTIES: “The Klingons don’t have a word for fuzzy.”

Twilight

Who are we kidding? We can’t recommend this. Even the people who like the novels in the Twlight series, written by Stephenie Meyer, admit it’s an addictive, empty-calorie treat, like crack-infused Smarties. The story of an American teen besotted with a sparkly century-old vampire uses the undead to endorse abstinence. Never have vampires been less sexy. But if you’re down with creatures of the night, catch up with HBO’s True Blood, full of naked, sexy and funny bloodsuckers.

FOR YOU IF YOU LIKE: Unthreatening boys, the Pacific Northwest.

WHAT TO SAY AT PARTIES: “How do vampires get erections if they have no blood in their veins?”

Other pop culture phenomena to consider:

Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved fantasy books were turned into an Academy Award-winning trilogy by Peter Jackson, who will soon serve up a couple of prequels, adapting The Hobbit

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Transformers
A line of 1980s toys that turn into trucks and cars get a billion-dollar movie franchise and make Michael Bay astronomically rich while the rest of us suffer. Nothing to see here, folks.

Glee
If you’re not into this by the time you hit your undergrad, it’s too late.

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