Pete Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matt Wrather overthink hypothetical ComicCon announcements and talk about new releases Hercules and Boyhood.[audio:http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/traffic.libsyn.com/mwrather/otip317.mp3]
Subscribe to the Overthinking It Podcast
Want new episodes of the Overthinking It Podcast to download automatically?
Subscribe in iTunes
Subscribe with RSS
Tell us what you think!
(203) 285-6401 call/text
Excerpted from an email sent to the email no one ever emails:
At the risk of straw-manning him, it occurs to me that Matt has presented two basic premises: 1) SDCC is BS and there’s no really compelling reason to waste your time and go to be marketed to. 2) Geek culture as an idea has lost its meaning, if it ever had any, and can now just be considered “culture.”
On the first premise, I fully agree with him. The second I must disagree respectfully but vehemently.
The issue is one of appropriation. Certainly, Pete did a good job of bringing up the topic of the addressable market, it’s correlation with socio economic factors and potentially racial ones as well, but I felt frustrated as I listened because the conversation treated this as, more or less, the end of the story. (Full disclosure, I haven’t finished this week’s cast, but we seem to have fully moved on from the topic).
Anecdotally, I consider myself a full on nerd, and my experiences at work, as an account manager for a software company are relevant here. There is a bright line between myself and my colleagues (at least within the customer sales space) that I think illustrates what is going on here. Certainly, I can shoot the shit with any of them about the latest Marvel movie. They are fully aware of the “universe” and, indeed, some of them are even enthusiastic on the subject, comparing the relevant merits of the MCU versus the DCU (which, for my money is one of the most archetypal “geek” activities that could ever be embarked upon).
However, these same colleagues are constantly baffled and amused by my weekend activities. “Hey Kev, play any D&D this weekend?”, they ask with the same sincere curiosity that you might imagine you would feel towards a co-worker who spends his weekends going on hunting excursions for exotic game. However, indeed, I can go down the hall to the helpdesk, and we can trade stories of last week’s adventures in our respective games.
The point I’m making is this: “Mainstream Culture” has appropriated a lot from geek culture. It has mined much of the monetizable aspects, and through wonderful marketing blitzes and the intrinsic awesomeness of the source material, has done much to socialize it with “the mainstream.” However, there is still a source. There is still a well from which this liquid gold is drawn, and it is still generating fresh, wonderful, “important” material and thought and human joy. It does still exist in a sub altern fashion. Comics, gaming culture (the rat hole goes much deeper than Cards Against Humanity, Catan or GTA, I assure you), fantasy, sci fi.
It’s much akin to the rise of Pop Punk in the 90s. It seems absurd to say “Well, everyone owns Blink 182’s Dude Ranch, so does punk rock exist anymore?” The NOFXs of the world would like a word with you sir.
I’ll leave you with a thought from geek hero Wil Wheaton which has, since its utterance, guided my thought on the subject, even though it, in part, raises many questions about my points above (in the grand tradition of overthinking). “Being a geek is not about what you love, it’s about how you love it.” That seems as good a definition as I have ever heard. Interestingly enough, I would also submit that by this definition you are also a geek podcast, but that may be a discussion for another day.
Love the podcast with all my heart (I may be an overthinking it geek!), keep on keeping on.
Thanks for writing in. Everyone click Kevin’s name and look at his podcast.
Your point is well-taken. I think the appropriate metaphor is colonization — the more powerful interests extract value without really benefiting the natives, and missing entirely the low-level cultural practices that make the higher-order value possible.
I think we need different words for “colonized geek culture” and “‘original’ or ‘authentic’ geek culture” (though there aren’t enough scare quotes in the world to put around the words “original” and “authentic”). I have a lot of trepidation, though, about where that discourse leads us politically, because it risks becoming Puritanical, a government with religious tests for officeholders and the like.
Thank you both for the kind and thoughtful replies.
Matt, your metaphor is a perfect OTI metaphor: Tremendous in its insight and as a thing to think about. Frightening in it’s practical implications (as you so astutely observed yourself).
To your point (before I elaborate, challenging your point) the essential problem of gatekeeping rears its ugly head, which is a legitimate challenge that “our” community faces as we go through this transition and our identity changes. The temptation does exist to determine who is a “real” geek and who is a “fake” geek, or a poser or whatever (the parallels to 90s punk rock continues). Mark said it during the podcast: An essential element of the initial geek identity seemed to be the inclusiveness of the cast-aways. The island of misfit toys. You like weird stuff? So do I, let’s be nerds together! In order to preserve geekdom, we may have to destroy it. That is to say, when faced with the problem we are discussing, one is faced with the only obvious solution being one that is an essential betrayal of the initial identity.
Now, to challenge your initial metaphor, in part, perhaps as a roundabout solution to the above paradox: the value of the intermingling of Geek and Pop Culture, even in this “colonial” fashion may not be all one way. Of course, this metaphor becomes immediately problematic, and I’d like to emphasize that I am not advocating for colonialism, but instead borrowing a metaphor to discuss a very specific phenomenon happening to geek culture.
The benefits, as I see them, are thus:
1) As geek culture becomes more mainstream,and demand increases, its artistic and expressive options become more varied, producing, a gross increase in nerd culture generation. This includes the raw amount of dollars available for producing “genre” or geek films, and their ability to include more in scope than ever before (e.g. The Avengers). Indeed the Marvel Movies are the centerpiece of this argument that one can point to as an objective “good thing” which geeks have gained. (DC…not so much) Additionally, the rabbit hole just gets bigger, because more people want to go down it. I don’t really care who else is down here, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone and I get to be down here too.
2) To really torture the colonial metaphor in a potentially even more problematic fashion: Evangelism and identity. Mainstream geekdom as a gateway to helping people find their true passions which they may not have known existed, or only understood notionally. A sort of evangelical process of bringing the concept of geekdom to the people who have had geekdom in their heart, but did not know how to express it or what it meant. An opportunity for someone who hung out in basements reading Star Wars technical read outs to figure out that there’s a name for that, and a place where you can belong, which is, potentially, a powerful experience. (It was for me).
Kevin, I largely agree with you with respect to the idea that mainstream culture has appropriated geek culture, though I’m not certain that the appropriation that’s going on here has the same value-laden meaning that the concept has in the context of colonial or racial appropriation.
That said, I want to push back on the last definition of “being a geek” that you offer (via Mr. Wheaton). While I think the “how” you love something is certainly *part* of geek/nerd culture, I don’t think it’s really adequate to explain the entire concept.
Let’s look at the “hows” of geekdom: depth of knowledge; interest in minutae; the desire to debate the relative merits of different aspects of the culture with “co-religionists”. If you’re only a “geek” because you do all of those things with respect to some chosen topic of interest, then there’s no reason that you can’t be a “car geek”, “gun geek” or “fashion geek.” Indeed, I’m sure that in a more modern usage lots of people might describe themselves in that way.
But I don’t think that really gets at what we really mean when we think of geek culture – imagine two guys sitting on a stooping have an impassioned argument about the relative merits of a machine they will never possess. If that debate is about the latest Ferrari v. the latest Lotus, then I don’t think most people would look at those two guys and say they are “geeks.” On the other hand, if the debate is about a light saber v. the Elder Wand, then they fit squarely into the geek pigeonhole.
None of that is to say that this definition is RIGHT in a moral sense – I tried and failed to come up with a non-gendered body of knowledge that someone could be a “geek” about without really being a “geek.” But nonetheless, I think there’s something more substantive about what it means to be a geek – I think Mark hit on it fairly closely about having to do with speculative fiction.
Thanks for the reply. As with my response to Matt, I recognize that the metaphors we are using to talk about this are wracked with potential meaning that is well beyond the scope of something as trivial as our pop-cultural affiliation. I agree.
When I read your argument, it strikes me, almost, as a chicken or the egg paradox. That is to say, certainly, there are traditional signifiers of “geek culture” and Mark has very astutely identified that “speculative fiction” is probably the flagship for those sorts of things. However, to turn the idea on its head, what if that is the case not because those are the things that make a geek, but instead, whatever makes a geek has attracted people to those signifiers?
As Pete pointed out, Geek Culture does come from a root of certain socio-economic factors. Leisure time, some discretionary income, a certain level of education, urban (or, arguably, suburban) proximity (and what a city was at the time when this culture was forming). Perhaps, at that time, the set of things which a “geek” could be geeky about was limited, to some extent, by those factors (at least in a general sense).
Is it possible that now, as the internet and the information age break down some of those more stringent socio-economic barriers, that as much as the traditional signifiers of geekdom have been amplified, the breadth of geekdom has been able to spread to address other topics not traditionally associated with geekdom, but certainly fittable within the rubric (as I described it)?
I turn to the example of football. I happen to think American Football is the greatest game ever invented (debatable and subjective, but good for this example). One of the reasons I believe this is because I think it is compelling to humans of so many different stripes. I consider myself a football “geek.” I enjoy not just statistics, but strategy, tactics, etc. The mental portion; the xs and os as much as any other portion. I also acknowledge that there are many of what might be considered the “anti-geek” (traditionally named a meathead or jock) who contain just as much passion for football as I do, but do not love it in anything near a geeky way. For them, perhaps it appeals to their sense of tribalism, or power fantasy or raw bloodthirst.
This seems a good example of why the “what you love” is not the defining feature of what makes you a geek, but instead “how you love it.” To extrapolate to Comicon and Mark’s pet topic “Peak Superhero”, this may be a good explanation of why you get movies like Man of Steel (which is a phenomenal movie about punching things, but a terrible movie about anything else). That is to say, although myself and the average movie goer who is fueling this “colonization” may like the same general subjects, we like (or more importantly, consume) them for very different reasons.
I gave a bunch of far-fetched answers to the question, “what would make it worth enduring the crowds and lines of SDCC.”
But to bring things down to earth, I WILL be at New York Comic-Con in October, and I will admit that there’s practically no limit to the amount of time I will wait in line to attend a Terminator: Genesis panel, should one occur then. I probably won’t have to wait long, though. AFAIK the NYC Con is nowhere near the insanity of the San Diego original in terms of lines and crowds.
Anyone want to join me in line if this comes to pass?