When you watch Free Enterprise 20 years later, it’s like watching a time capsule opened up to the way geeks were in the late 1990s. It’s amazing how some things change, but even more interesting is how things stay the same. For instance, the majority of the characters talk in quotes at each other. They’re just memeing back and forth like the majority of the geeks across various social media platforms today. Before the world had been brought so close together, you HAD to get out of your house and go to conventions just to find people in the same area who had the same interests you did, or you got lucky and grew up with them. It was possible to find friend groups like those shown in this movie but they were pretty small, clique-y, and spread further apart. The internet makes you feel less alone. You can find the pockets of Star Trek fans; ones that will only watch TOS, those who refuse to believe TAS is canon, people who are only fans of DS9, and so on. If there is some permutation of a fan, you can find them on the internet. It makes it so easy to connect. It introduces you to all sorts of different people.
Opening this time capsule is interesting because you could update some of the clothing styles, references and the movie would still play really well today. Based on the media we have, the way technology has ingrained itself into our daily lives you can see the geeks clearly won. However if you look back at the late 90s when Free Enterprise came out that wasn’t the case. Geeks were still on the fringes of society, maligned and made fun of at every opportunity. That’s the culture that I grew up in. My first convention was a Star Trek one in 1992. We were THE OUTCASTS, all caps. The looks we got from other people in the street were hilarious, yet full of scorn. They looks just screamed everything that needed to be said. They couldn’t understand cosplay, and wouldn’t understand us, that was ok. We only had each other. Everyone there had some weird quirk about them, each different, and due to their being at the fringes of society and a part of society’s scorn, they were usually extra kind to each other. They were especially kind to this weird queer nerd. I grew up where my only social events were a few times a year I’d go to conventions and get to talk with others who held my same interests. They are where I found some of my first safe spaces outside of normal society, places where I was accepted for who I was with no judgement. The fandom really took IDIC to heart. I’m always thankful for that.
It was around this time that this movie hit that things began to change as if it shook something up. Not only was it for geeks, but it was accessible to others outside of any fandom. The only other movie I can think of at this time that had any kind of nerdy references in it is Clerks, and that is really for the most part just Star Wars references. Free Enterprise took this style of referencing pop culture to the next level. While it rarely explains the references, it doesn’t talk down to the audience either, you were just assumed to know, and if you didn’t that was OK, too. You still were in on the joke. People love passion so it makes their passion for these “silly” things more likable.
There’s a big difference here between how the geeks are portrayed in this and in The Big Bang Theory. In The Big Bang Theory you have a non-geek character that is supposed to be this window into the lives of these geeks. The jokes are usually at the expense of the characters being geeks or their love of a fandom or what have you. It’s disrespectful, feels like the kind of bullying I grew up with going to school as a sci-fi/horror geek. Free Enterprise has respect for the subculture, the other not so much. The way that Free Enterprise is written is where there isn’t a single character that doesn’t have some form of geekery. There’s no character to give more ostracization to the characters who are already on the fringes of society within the film. Everyone is on equal ground. Made by geeks, for geeks with a little bit for everyone else too.
Now we’re surrounded by geek media, on all sides. There’s comic book movie after comics book movie coming out at the box office, there’s a dramatized podcast about Wolverine. As of right now one of the highest grossing films of all time is a comic book movie. The highest grossing film ever is a sci-fi film. There are 100M+ dollar budget Star Trek movies, Star Wars is still making BANK, a Lord of the Rings movie won 11 Academy Awards. The geeks won the culture war against them, and I feel that it is in no small part to this movie. This was one of the first with wall to wall references. Look at the Marvel movies we have now, they’re chock full of pop culture references, they’d feel weird if there weren’t some. Tony Stark brings up Galaga in the first Avengers flick!
All the big budget movies now are big budget B-Movies. The bread and butter of geeks everywhere. They’re sustenance and for many a way of making a living. The geeks that grew up with Free Enterprise are now old enough with the kind of power to make something more than what came before. They fought to keep the adaptations coming out to stay close to the source material, the geeks know what other geeks want.