One Ring to Shame Us: The Lord of the Rings in Concert

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There's a reason that "Something is always going on" is the mantra of cops and not entertainment writers. There are days where no matter the locale, little of interest is happening. Those are the days when we dig into the stack of press releases that we ordinarily use as emergency Kleenex or chew on when the communal peanut dish is empty.

Case in point: On October 15, the Honda Center hosts The Lord of the Rings: In Concert. What's a LOTR concert all about? Basically, they're going to project The Fellowship of The Ring onto a humongous screen while an orchestra of 200 performs the movie's score (visit the tour website for details).

Our first response was a slight gagging sound, a jerking-off hand motion, and a flurry of put-downs, since this is the kind of event we delight in eviscerating, this marriage of kitsch and geek.


We pegged it as an odd attempt to graft loftiness upon the lowbrow, or a live music equivalent of the "rare" jewelry sold in the Sky Mall catalog. We also thought of those concerts where Elvis Presley's old band performs along with tapes of the King's disembodied vocals. In a word--cheap.

Our contempt realized, we settled in to write a harsh critique and move on to other chores. Before that, we paused to ask why we felt such animosity towards a concert. Is LOTR itself such an offensive thing?

Not really. LOTR and similar fantasy product can be earnest, simplistic, self-serious and overly merchandised, but overall, they cause no harm.

The fans, however, are a different story. The people we imagine would enjoy such a spectacle, popularly known as "fanboys," are the actual targets of our scorn.

Fanboys, according to our pals at Wikipedia, are males who are "highly devoted and biased in opinion towards a single subject or hobby" (in this case, the Lord of the Rings).

The most fervid of fanboys make serious emotional and financial investments in their hobbies while neglecting life beyond comic books, films, and video games. This can lead to bedsores and protracted virginity for some and dangerous addiction for others, such as Ryan Van Cleve, a college professor whose dependence on World of Warcraft nearly drove him to suicide.

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Mila Kunis. Self-described nerd.

Adding to our irritation is that everyone is seemingly a proud geek these days, thanks to a glut of comic book movies, the popularity of video games with graying demographics, and sketchy claims by hot actresses like Mila Kunis that deep down, they are nerds, just like their fans (for more on the icky rise of nerd culture, see Patton Oswalt's fine essay from the December 2010 Wired Magazine).

We find the mainstreaming of geek culture not only lame, but a little suspect, and even a touch harmful. Escapism is cowardly in that it's a refusal to see reality outside of the Good Guy-Bad Guy duality set forth by low culture, and in how it reinforces an apprehension of degree and complexity in both behavior and circumstance.

Is immaturity such a bad thing, you ask? Can't a few million creeps enjoy their gross little preoccupations in peace? Are these guys as bad as you imagine?

Sure they are. The same disdain for complexity lies at the heart of discrimination, of xenophobia, and of that tribal longing to pounce on outsiders and spit forth a rationale predicated on little more than "They started it." If one cannot accept ambiguity in one's own affairs, how can they accept it in the actions of others?

Fanboys, and we mean those who are not literally boys, but adults, seem fearful of living on anything but their own safe terms. Accuse us of overreaching, but how else to explain the psychology of grown men who devote their lives to games, books, and toys originally designed for children?

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Above: The good old days.

Back when we were kids, you boxed up your toys and collectibles for good by 6th grade. Those who maintained a nerd hobby kept it a secret, walking the Darwinian maze of high school with an exhausting paranoia that they'd be outed as infantile stooges enamored with Batman.

Back then, geeks felt a healthy shame, an awareness that as much fun as video games or toys could be, neither would make one adept at dating or getting a job or meeting anyone remotely different from their inner circle of friends.

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The world belongs to him now.

No matter. That battle is probably lost. Millions of people are happily gap-jawed in front of flat screens, immersed in multiplayer games or movies based upon multiplayer games. With notions like health, self-respect and personal responsibility quashed by the rise of Slug Life, what place can higher culture - like classical music - hope to attain in our Frito-strewn 21st century?

That is, what becomes of people who dedicate themselves to mastering 300-year old compositions on unwieldy, challenging instruments like the cello? Our guess is that they seek refuge in prestigious and increasingly esoteric music schools. That, or they adapt to the times.

The classical musicians involved in the Lord of the Rings concert, far from being part of the cheapness we've decried, are probably good and conscientious people adapting to a lousy predicament. We feel bad that they have to do this, and angry, in fact, that the surest way to lure a general audience off the Lazy-Boy and toward the arts is to involve a stupid movie about elves.

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An elf. Your gateway to enlightenment.

So if you attend the concert, try to steer your eyes away from Orlando Bloom's prosthetic ears and focus on the orchestra pit. The real spectacle lies not in a movie you've seen 30 times on TNT, but in the sight of 200 gifted musicians performing in unison under the direction of a single conductor.

Not convinced? Chances are good that at some point in your life you thought four unemployable schmucks playing three-minute punk songs were "brilliant" (they weren't).

If anything, the classical musicians performing at this strange event are a metaphor for high culture in the age of digital idiocy-- outnumbered, seated in the shadows, dwarfed by gargantuan special effects, and largely ignored by an audience they'd love to enlighten or entertain, if only the damned fools would turn off their I-phones.

Far from beating up this concert, as you probably expected us to do, we're encouraging you to attend it (or any performance of classical music), and most of all, to listen.

Be sure to let us know what you think.


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