The relationship between subculture and the mainstream has always been one of codependence, especially in the realms of film and music. For every British Invasion, there was a Jimi Hendrix, and for every Rat Pack, there was the French New Wave. Most recently, a new cool has surfaced from American subculture: the geek. With the rise of lifestyle-defining technology such as the internet, and the hipster-themed marketing of consumer electronics, more and more people are identifying with this new subculture. On the coattails of the popularization of technology, video games and graphic novels have found new resurgence not only as viable mediums, but trendy articles of the new, cool geek culture. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) and its paratext represents an attempt to capitalize on the geek subculture entering the mainstream, through the multi-authorship of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s video game and indie music-themed graphic novels, the directorial stylings of Edgar Wright, the musical direction of Beck and Nigel Godrich, and Michael Cera’s perpetuation of his typecast as the quintessential cool, yet socially-awkward geek.
The humble beginnings of the Scott Pilgrim anthology started with the release of “Volume 1: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life,” by independent comic book publisher Oni Press in August, 2004. The series then continued to be released roughly annually until the sixth and final volume, “Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour,” in July of 2010. It didn’t take nearly that long for the series to receive critical acclaim and commercial success, however, as the evidence of a hit immediately following volume one resulted in the immediate development of a film adaptation.
The film was released within a month of the conclusion of the graphic novel series, in August, 2010. Along with typical advertising materials such as posters, trailers, and the soundtracks, the film adaptation featured geek-focused promotions through a huge presence at San Diego Comic Convention that July, a unique, video game-themed interactive trailer, and one of the first “promoted tweets” on the popular social media site Twitter. The paratext is also extended through an animation about certain aspects of backstory from the graphic novels that couldn’t fit into the film, called Scott Pilgrim vs. The Animation, which aired on Cartoon Network around the release date. A video game called “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game” was also unveiled in conjunction with the release of the film, and in its wake, its own critically acclaimed soundtrack by chiptune artist Anamanaguchi. This extensive paratext surrounding the Scott Pilgrim franchise is not by chance, or for the mere enjoyment of the fan – the goal of this substantial marketing campaign is to turn niche art into mainstream profitability.
Dominic Strinati writes about the difficulty of appealing to pop culture while maintaining artistic value in his article, “An Introduction to the Theories of Popular Culture.” He claims that instead of the notion of popular culture as a construction upon democratization and education of the general public, it is “the lowest common denominator of the average,” because “the masses lack taste and discrimination.” If this is true, Universal Pictures must have decided one of two things: Either it was commercially viable to target solely the geek subculture, or they could make a Scott Pilgrim movie that was attractive to the masses. It is through the conglomeration of the graphic novel and filmic texts, as well as the supplementary and promotional subtexts, that we can investigate how Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, each of the major authors, and the entire Scott Pilgrim paratext, functions in conjunction with each other to market to, and entertain, the geek subculture, while attempting to address and entice the cultural outsider.
Jonathan Gray theorizes about how paratexts function in his article “From Spoilers to Spinoffs: A Theory of Paratexts,” in an effort answer the question, “Why view this film, as opposed to the many thousands of other options?” In corollary, if the extension of a paratext is an effort to accumulate the largest amount of viewers possible, why did Scott Pilgrim’s paratext commercially fail (the film made $47 of the $60M production budget back) despite the ingenuity and sheer amount of promotional paratext created? Grey continues, “to choose to watch a movie…we may factor in any of the following: the actors, the production personnel, the quality of the previews, reviews, interviews, the poster, a marketing campaign, word of mouth, what cinema it is playing at…or the material on which it is based.” By analyzing the key elements within Grey’s paratextual influences on viewership, it becomes clear that while Scott Pilgrim vs. the World boasts an extensive and meticulously crafted paratext that caters to, as well as propagates the film’s ideology of “geek” as a new popular subculture, the efforts to appeal to the cultural outsiders fell short.
The first instance of the film’s paratext starts six years previous to its release, with the “material on which it is based,” the first graphic novel. While the graphic novels are worthy of their own praise as a first-class, inspired comic book series, in the context of the film’s paratext, they operate in a much different way. This paratextual precursor begins as a synergistic promotion for the film, deeply rooted in the core of geek culture: the graphic novel fans. These published storyboards depict a movie intended to mimic the comic book and video game aesthetic, and appeal to the target demographic - the video game-playing, graphic novel-loving geek subculture.
The series and film’s protagonist is Scott Pilgrim, a young adult with a case of arrested development. He aimlessly stumbles through life, playing bass in a band, hanging with friends, and being a charming, but socially-inept geek. All the sudden, his life gains direction as he becomes smitten by an enigmatic, roller-skate clad delivery girl of his dreams named Ramona Flowers. With Scott’s new purpose comes structure to his otherwise directionless life - he must defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes in battle. His journey to Ramona’s heart is a path filled with health bars and power-ups, music practice and performance, and anime-styled combat, as the fantasy world of Scott Pilgrim is one of geek bliss, borrowing structure and aesthetics from video games and comic books to tell the tale of a romantic indie rocker.
Through the series’ run, the author Bryan Lee O’Malley skyrocketed from unknown cartoonist to graphic novel auteur. In Andrew Sarris’ “Notes on the Auteur Theory,” one of the premises he uses to define the auteur is a “distinguishable personality.” Though the article is directed at film authorship, this point translates into the realm of graphic novels, as O’Malley’s personality is inarguable. Critics and fans use terms like “video-game realism,” “surreal,” and “fantastical” to describe his narrative style, as well as praising other aspects of his work, such as the Japanese-Western fusion of his animation style. This narrative and aesthetic style of O’Malley is now part of comic book lexicon, with the Scott Pilgrim series as the defining work of a new genre that “blend[s] together a lot of different pop-culture touchstones that the creators are interested in, in the same way that [O’Malley] blend[s] together manga, indie rock, [and] video games.”  In this sense, the auteur of the inventive and original text of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is not a director, screenwriter, or actor, but a Canadian cartoonist who dared to write a multi-genred graphic novel series that is a “whole synthesis of everything [he] cares about.”
It would take a particular director to adapt and translate the standout qualities of O’Malley’s text onto the big screen. As the successful director of Spaced (1999-2001), Shaun of the Dead (2004), and Hot Fuzz (2007), as well as his reputation as subcultural comedy auteur, Edgar Wright was the right man for the job. In addition to his successes with pop-culture television and geek-centric films, Wright’s characteristic personality is “a machine gun-pace…packed-in,” where he “ask[s] the audience to kind of keep up.” This was a perfect match for the Scott Pilgrim adaptation - when Bryan Lee O’Malley was asked if he thought Edgar Wright was the right man for the job, he said “As soon as I saw Shaun of the Dead, I clicked with it. I’ve always felt like it’s in safe hands.”
Wright’s style did indeed fit with the graphic novel source text. A particularly well-articulated review states, “Edgar Wright has wisely rethought the way films based on comic books or graphic novels should be visualized. Wright has always favored the occasional fast-paced editing style in his previous features…but with Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, he dismisses the idea that you need long takes and subtle editing to tell a story or get into the head of a character. Instead he interweaves quick cuts, fantastic videogame-like graphics and music, and a host of great young actors.” In the era of extremely theatrical comic book movies, Wright rejects the popular approach and challenges the viewer with a visual style familiar to the geek subculture, but foreign to the pop culture crossover audience expecting another Hollywood blockbuster like The Dark Knight (2008) or Watchmen (2009). Meanwhile, the same reviewer also credits Wright as a “craftsman…gifted at giving broad appeal to genres with targeted audiences,” citing his works Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz as examples of Wright increasing appeal beyond their respective genres’ fans.  In this sense Edgar Wright seems even more of the perfect fit to direct Scott Pilgrim, as a director who can create a film that is loyal to, and satisfies the core fans, while expanding beyond them.
Michael Cera stars as Scott Pilgrim, the latest in a long series of his typecast as a socially awkward, young adult geek, starting with Superbad (2007), and following with Juno (2007), Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), and Paper Heart (2009). Jonathan Grey identifies how a single actor can indicate “intertextual guides,” (the cause of typecasting), for reading texts through: “mode of acting…rhythm of dialog, and so on – immediately make sense to us based on our past viewing.” Michael Cera’s typecast is effective and efficient as an intertextual cue to the characterization of Scott Pilgrim. At the same time, his breakout role in the television show Arrested Development (2003-2006) is known for a fast-paced, “packed-in” style, similar to the characteristic style of Edgar Wright’s productions. This makes Michael Cera the perfect casting for Scott Pilgrim, as an actor who has succeeded in dense narratives, established a persona of socially-awkward geek, and looking for a role to expand his recently-limited acting range.
Despite Scott Pilgrim utilizing Cera’s saturated and frequently criticized typecast as a characterization shortcut, his acting performance is generally praised as one of his best. A critic raves, “This isn’t Michael Cera or anything close to a character he’s played before. He’s far more pro-active…Cera is primarily a dreamer. His hipster & geek lifestyle take second stage to this guy’s dreams.” This is exactly the intent of casting Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim – Cera’s easily-accessible typecast gives a convenient starting point for Pilgrim’s characterization, which is essential given the pace of the film. From there, Cera is able to convey the spacey, yet latently ambitious action hero who just happens to culturally align with the geek hipster.
As a film with a large and dynamic musical component, not only in the indie band scenes, but in creating the video game and comic book aesthetics, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World owes a lot of its inventive success to indie rocker Beck Hansen and composer Neil Godrich (whose credits include engineering and composing for Radiohead and Beck, among others). Beck adds a level of credibility and name-recognition to his contributions, which mostly include the Sex Bob-omb (Scott Pilgrim’s band)’s songs throughout the film. Beck’s bassy, indie sound is an ideal match for the songs depicted in the graphic novels by O’Malley, and in perfect contrast to Godrich’s score, which in tasked with creating the video game sensation. While the acclaim is universal, it is best put simply, “The single most effective and truly new musical…something wholly new.” These two musical auteurs, combined with an array of tracks by fictional and non-fictional indie bands, manage to fulfill every daunting requirement called for by the film.
It is clear that the authorship of Edgar Wright, Michael Cera, and musicians Beck and Godrich are effective in transferring O’Malley’s graphic novel onto the big screen. Each of these renowned auteurs of their mediums fulfills Sarris’ three requirements of accreditation: technical capability, distinguishable characteristics, and the goal of creating “interior meaning, the ultimate glory of film as an art.” These integral creators all bring their prowess and character from beyond the text of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World into its meticulously crafted world, and the result is the accomplishment of the artistic vision set forth – the effective filmic translation of an energetic, vivid action fantasy romance. But despite their masterful creation, Scott Pilgrim failed to live up to the commercial expectations that come with such artisanship. Assuming the paratext attached to each of the auteurs lured the cultural and film-literate masses, how did the rest of the paratext fail to attract the outsiders into theater seats?
Scott Pilgrim’s heavy promotion at San Diego Comic Con 2010 was the first attempt to bridge from the geek subculture to the mainstream by appealing to the graphic novel fans and popular film fans alike. Originally, Comic-Con was “seen…as the holy four-day weekend for geek culture,” yet in recent years, there has been an increased presence of mainstream culture in San Diego. Regardless of whether the increase of prevalence of SDCC is caused by the rise in popularity of mainstream superhero and graphic novel movies, distributors trying to attract the loyal and attractive geek fan base, or an actual increase in geek-themed texts in popular culture, San Diego Comic Convention has evolved into a dichotomy of popular culture and the geek subculture.
The result of Scott Pilgrim’s presence was described as “the buzziest thing at Comic-Con.” In an interview, Edgar Wright said of the screenings, “it was our toughest audience. But it played like a rock concert. It was amazing.” A perfect blend of celebration of the final installment of the graphic novel roots of Scott Pilgrim, and premiere showings of the action-romance film featuring the budding director Edgar Wright and starring the iconic and popular Michael Cera, felt at home with the Comic-Con purists and pop-culture invaders alike.
After Comic-Con, Universal Pictures released an “iTrailer” hosted on Yahoo!, which quickly went viral across the internet. The iTrailer functions as any regular trailer, but “offers all sorts of behind-the-scenes tidbits from director Edgar Wright…presented with an awesome old school videogame flair.” Hidden Easter eggs throughout the trailer unlock directorial commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, and trivia, each worth points towards more unlockables available at the end of the trailer. The “neat” factor of a playable trailer-video game and its hosting on the widely-used search engine Yahoo! advertised the film to a wide audience, while also embracing the film’s target cultural demographic through reinforcing the geek themes of gamer and comic book culture.
Just like the iTrailer and presence at Comic Con, the promotional paratext was extended into geek-friendly mediums in the form of animated shorts on Cartoon Network and a video game for the Xbox360 and Playstation 3. In his article “Transmedia Storytelling 101,” Henry Jenkins describes this cross-medium promotion by explaining, “transmedia storytelling reflects the economics of media consolidation or what industry observers call ‘synergy’.” By spreading the franchise across as many different media platforms as possible, they “provide back-story which enhances the viewer’s experience of the film even as they also help to publicize the forthcoming release (thus blurring the line between marketing and entertainment).” In this sense, these promotions fall right into the overall paratextual plan for the film. While neither of these textual extensions ventures far beyond the familiar and friendly ground of the geek subculture, the exposure on cable television and game consoles, both inclusive to popular culture, may have been able to contribute to the film’s viewership outreach, while simultaneously providing entertainment for the geek fandom.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the Animation is a four minute animated short done by the production company behind most of the shows on the Adult Swim block of Cartoon Network, Titmouse Inc. In it, the backstory behind the relationship between Scott and Kim Pine, the drummer of Sex Bob-ombs, is explored, something that takes place in the graphic novels, but was left out of the film adaptation due to necessity. Jenkins describes this as a typical transmedia story, one that builds “complex fictional worlds…[which] encourages an encyclopedic impulse in both readers and writers…drawn to master what can be known about a world which always expands beyond our grasp.” The backstory depicted in Scott Pilgrim vs. the Animation excites the fan by providing more details of the Scott Pilgrim universe for them to gather and interpret. This paratext functions in harmony with the film’s marketing strategy – by appealing to the geek while attempting to entice the outsider in mediums where geek and mass culture overlap.
Similarly, a side-scrolling, beat ‘em up video game entitled “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game” was released right before the film. With the mainstream success of the Nintendo Wii, which was released in 2006 and proceeded to bring video game consoles into the living rooms of non-gamers in record numbers, the entire video game medium has been liberated from geekdom as a fixture of popular culture. The game takes the Scott Pilgrim universe into another geek-dominated, but massively available medium, the video game console. As Jenkins explains, “transmedia storytelling practices may expand the potential market for a property by creating different points of entry for different audience segments,” so for those who may have been deterred from the film by negative reviews or the overwhelming iTrailer, Scott Pilgrim v. the World: The Game offers a different entry point for the more video game-inclined. In this sense, the video game and animated shorts are examples of appealing to the niche geek culture in a mainstream-accessible medium, while also providing a new entry point for viewer expansion.
Despite the efforts to create a text that was accessible to the cultural outsider, the reviews of the film (also functioning factors within the film’s paratext) were mixed, with a 70% spread between the highest and lowest critic scores. The perfect scores are attached to critics who not only appreciated the “inventive” quality, but also recognize it as a “vivid and spirited adaptation of a comic book…amplifies the cinema-ready devices of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novels.” Meanwhile negative reviews call the film a “dog-frequency movie: enjoyable only to those tuned in to its particular register.” This spread of “getting it” to “not getting it” is to be expected when dealing with a film with an atypical storytelling aesthetic, or one about, and primarily marketed to a subculture, which Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is both of.
Despite the extensive promotion to the targeted geek culture as well as outside of it, the film’s release was not met with commercial success. The inability of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to recuperate at the very least its production budget had Hollywood quick to write off geek culture film as commercially unviable. Strinati explains one of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’s fundamental issues of creating cross-cultural appeal: “Mass culture is therefore a culture which lacks intellectual challenge and stimulation, preferring the undemanding ease of fantasy and escapism.” While every auteur and paratextual addition to the text was meticulously crafted to broaden appeal to mass culture while simultaneously satisfying the subcultural fan base, it seems like the atypical structure and aesthetic may have been enough to over-stimulate the masses.
There are a variety of reasons that can be attributed for the cause of this commercial failure. For one, the amount of money spent on marketing might not have been enough. Maybe trailers were attached to the wrong films, or during the commercial breaks of the wrong television show. Another factor is the films Scott Pilgrim was released against. Also opening the weekend of August 13th, 2010, was The Expendables and Eat Pray Love. While the geek core had an easy decision as to what film to patron, the mainstream may have mostly split between the action flick and the romantic comedy. Scott Pilgrim might’ve also lost some of its action-loving, gamer fan base to The Expendables (containing similar qualities to the popular first-person shooter genre of video games), slicing its already small slice of the viewership even smaller. In this way, the commercial success of a film is not necessarily reflective of its quality or content, and Scott Pilgrim’s paratext may not be guilty of scaring away the cultural outsiders.
So where does the aftermath of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World leave popular culture’s relationship with the geek subculture? It would seem the same as before, as Edgar Wright’s usual posse (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Nira Park) will be releasing a sci-fi comedy about two comic book nerds encountering an alien in March 2012 (Paul). Several comic book sequels and reboots are currently filming, and even more in pre-production, including the eagerly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises, as well as The Avengers. Given these projects, it would seem safe to say that currently, geek subculture is best suited in films that dilute its culture in the mainstream theatricality of comic book blockbusters or unchallenging genre comedies. A carefully crafted and unique film like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, however, may ask too much of mainstream viewers, for now.
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 Winning 3
 “Capone”. “Capone is Quite Fond of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and You Will Be Too.” Ain’t it Cool News, 13 August 2010. http://www.aintitcool.com/node/46129
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 Kennedy, Sam. “Scott Pilgrim Interactive Trailer Is Like an Old School NES Game.” 1-Up, 5 August 2010. http://www.1up.com/news/scott-pilgrim-interactive-trailer
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 Gronvall, Andrea. “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” Chicago Reader, 12 August 2010. http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/scott-pilgrim-vs-the-world/Film?oid=2157935
 Hornaday, Ann. “Only Fans Will Care Who Wins.” Washington Post, 13 August 2010. http://www.washingtonpost.com/gog/movies/scott-pilgrim-vs.-the-world,1160862/critic-review.html
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