Friday, June 24, 2011

Alright, look...

I've been bobbing around on blogs (I'll link a few notable ones below) and reading Twitter comments and clumsily trying to weigh in on a bit of a tempest in a teapot that I had kind of been blissfully unaware of up until now. Well, there's too many individual places now that have weighed in on the subject and too many various things for me to string my comments everywhere, so I'm going to use my near dead blog to cover the thoughts that have been brewing since this thing took off.

Finding Acceptance in the Geek Community

This has been a pretty consistent theme in the posts that I have been reading. Many people have been sharing their stories of feeling ostracized and lonely and finding solace in fantasy and sci-fi, in comics, games, what have you. They've been endearing and heartfelt and something that I am glad these people have found.

However, this is entirely new to me. I have had those feelings of isolation, of never feeling like I belong (I will not go into a deep self analysis here about whether that was a feeling I should had or whatnot) just like everyone else, but I never found satisfaction in geek culture. As far as my experience goes, this is new. Long before 'geek' became 'chic,' I've always known geeks to be extremely guarded and judgmental of anyone new to their scene.

And within that scene as well. I remember when Magic:The Gathering came out. By then I was an established attendee at Pacificon, something I had to earn over the course of a few years. The first year everyone of course climbed all over themselves to get those cards. By the second year whole rooms were dedicated to Magic and other card games and the running narrative was, and continued to be as the popularity of trading card games grew, they were ruining the convention and the scene.

In fact, if you talked to the war gamers, the roleplayers had already ruined it. And the boardgamers thought we were all spazzes. And that doesn't even cover the reaction when the LARPers came along.

Within my own small group that I managed to fall into there was resentment. The man who is my collaborator now initially hated it when I came over because it meant that we were going to play Battletech and he hated Battletech.

Now, granted, I still remember the first hour I spent at my first gaming convention. I was standing in a hallway, wondering what it was I was supposed to do when some big older dude walked into the hallway (I was 14, I believe) and asked, "Who is up for some Battletech?" It was the first time in my life that I didn't have to explain what Battletech was and that no, it's not Robotech, but kind of like Robotech because they borrowed some of the designs. It was also the first time I actually got 'cred' because the box I pulled out was from when it was called Battledroids.

And yes, that was a good feeling. It was awesome. But it wasn't acceptance. Yes, I was allowed to fly my freak flag high and proud, but I was not taken in by the 'geek' crowd unquestioned. I was challenged. People told me how it was cooler before the combat gamers came along. Everything is always cooler before you showed up. After working for years in a trendy record store I've come to know this as 'Punk Rock Cred.' It's not exclusive to punk rock, and 'geekdom' is not immune.

Back in college I returned to gaming conventions to film a documentary following a group of gamers at Dundracon. One of the scenes I ended up having to cut from the documentary was a shot I had of a member of the group announcing that "Unlike most of the people here, I know the touch of a woman and it's Valentine's Day, so I must away." In the background of that shot, a couple shared a kiss. In fact most of the b-roll I had featured the fact that women now made up a great deal of the audience at the convention.

His attitude was outdated, but his smugness was as true to the geek scene as I've always know it. From the blog posts I've been reading, this smugness, this exclusivity, this guardedness is new to them. There have been a lot of scolding, wagging fingers telling them to stop like it's a new fire that has popped up. But, and maybe this is the unfortunate element of my age, it's not new. It's been there all along. This wide open arms of acceptance, that's new. I don't have anything against it, but I felt I had to say something.

Wait, Geek is a Good Thing Now?

The other problem is the idea of 'self-identifying' as a geek. I actually kind of remember this transition and having discussions about it. Because it wasn't always that way. It was not a label you gave yourself, it was one you dreaded being applied to you. You hid your Ghost Rider collection, you denied that character sheet was yours, you did whatever you could to not let people know that you still rushed home to watch Robotech. It wasn't a label you aspired to. I was never comfortable with the notion of it being self-applied. I didn't want to hide who I was, but I didn't want my tastes to define me either. More to the point, I didn't want the mainstream's understanding of what I liked to define me. These were good stories and fun games not because they were weird or different, but because they were good stories and fun games.

But now it is. And like all scenes, no one likes the new comer. This isn't unique to geekdom. Ask someone who goes to Burning Man, to a one I'm willing to bet they'll tell you how cool it used to be. I have to tell aircooled people how long I've had my Bus before there's any sort of 'acceptance,' and I lose points with her being my only one. But extra so for the geek, because the problem is when 'geek' became cool, they didn't.

And the word has gone generic. So even if you were comfortable with self identifying as a 'geek,' it went from being something of a cultural identifier to simply being enthusiasm, diluting any meaning it might have had to those who have managed to rally around it.


When geek became chic there was this notion that suddenly it was sexy to be a geek. But here's the problem:

If you're a pretty geek, this isn't a problem. But if you're not...if you're that guy with the sweet Nintendo wizard set up, your life is very different. And if you're that guy it doesn't seem fair that the pretty girl who wouldn't talk to him gets to waltz into the scene and enjoy all the good parts and none of the drags.

Now, I grant that on many levels that isn't fair. We don't know the lives that these pretty geeks have had, how they've been perceived and how they perceived themselves, we don't know if they've been teased. But the feeling is, right or wrong, that they do not really share the life in the way someone who cannot 'pass' does.

There is a fantastic webseries (and I'm not just kissing up because I want one of the producers to star in my hopefully upcoming short) about geek dating called Awkward Embraces that is written by and stars a self proclaimed geek who also happens to be pretty. I have to admit, and was called out on it a bit when I met with one of the producers, that my first reaction was to think, "Yeah, well...this isn't my story." The first episode covers a classic Walk of Shame and the first season her love interest is a, if I may say, dreamy guy.

To Captain Nintendo up there, this is not his life. This is not his experience. Now, the series is wonderful and the episodes are only eight minutes long, perfect for an internet attention span. And I'm not denying that this is her experience. I'm sure it is, and they're wonderful to watch.

But no one is telling Captain Nintendo's story. There's a scene in American Splendor where Harvey gets frustrated with Toby, who is completely taken with the release of Revenge of the Nerds:
Look Toby, the guys in that movie are not 28 year-old file clerks who live with their grandmothers in an ethnic ghetto...They didn't get their computers like you did, by trading in a bunch of box tops and $49.50 at the supermarket...Sure, go to the movies and daydream, but Revenge of the Nerds ain't reality. It's just Hollywood bullshit.
And that's the reality of the geeks who didn't get the luxury of labeling themselves geeks. Because when geek became 'cool', it wasn't that girl that is still super strange, and it wasn't Captain Nintendo there either, it was pretty people. And when the geek stories are told, it's stories of pretty geeks. When geeks are celebrated, it's the pretty ones.

Right or wrong, that breeds resentment. Resentment from people who are already guarded, people who already have to be protective because 'geek' is not a label they get to apply to themselves. And the pretty people are telling them to get over it. They were never allowed to define themselves, and when their culture hits the mainstream as far as they're concerned the same people who have been labeling them their entire lives are now getting to define the culture, their little nook that they've been shoved into as well.


I don't want to sound like I'm on the side of the gatekeepers. I had mentioned punk-rock cred...nothing garnered more disdain than the notion of punk-rock cred. Scensters were a complete drag...if I may, we were hating Hipsters before it became cool to hate Hipsters. Truth be told, I hated that barrier to acceptance in the 'geek' world as much as I hated it in the mainstream one. It was a pain in the ass, it felt like shit. It still feels like shit. I've never been to the San Diego Comic Con because or Wondercon because I didn't feel like I would be able to fit in with the ugly geeks or the pretty geeks. I've driven that Bus for 17 years, I still feel awkward going to VW club meets. I don't talk at jazz shows in case someone over hears me and finds out I don't know what I'm talking about, even if I might. And filmmakers...they're the worst. Whatever they're working on is the Citizen Kane of whatever medium they've chosen, and whatever your doing is an adorable pet project. And no doubt there is some film person out there that just scoffed at me choosing Citizen Kane. And what's even sadder, I've done that.

There is nothing about prettiness that precludes someone from being into 'geeky' things. There is nothing illegitimate about it. I do believe that pretty geeks have indeed struggled, especially in that prettiness is largely subjective and even if we think someone is pretty they might not have felt that their entire lives. I imagine that it can be extremely frustrating to not feel attractive your entire life only to find a group of seemingly like minded people only to have them reject you for being 'too pretty.' Something that non-pretty people have a hard time grasping, and something I have to remind myself of constantly, is that 'pretty' does not always equal 'accepted.' They are separate.

Look, the truth of the matter is that every scene goes through this. They struggle to gain relevance in the mainstream and then have to struggle back to retain their identity once they hit that. It doesn't make it okay, just a reality.

Ideally, the best way to avoid a scene giving someone status is to not be exclusive about that scene. But the Toby's of the world, the ones who thought their moment had arrived only to find themselves shoved to the back again, that's a hard pill to swallow.

I don't want to get myself in a position where I'm advocating 'geek cred' or purity checks or excluding pretty people from fandom. I'm not and I don't think we should. The truth of the matter is before 'geek' hit the mainstream the Captain America movie sucked. There wasn't a TV station dedicated to sci-fi. Battlestar Galactica was cheesy. Geek culture is a market, long before it became 'chic'. And if a show about Superman has to have a healthy dose of Dawson's Creek thrown in to run for ten years to go on to also be one of the only super hero tv shows to include actual canon without splash titles, then so be it.

I'm no more patient with scene gate keepers now than I was at the record store or any of the many times in my life I've felt left out. I don't need anyone to prove their cred to me, if for no other reason than I don't want them to check mine and find me lacking. And as to the case of Ms. USA defining herself as a 'geek'...I'm absolutely sure, in the modern parlance, that's how she feels. It is entirely believable in the beauty pageant world she lives in she doesn't find a lot of people who share her passion for history or science. I remember working a horrible, horrible sales job and during some down time reading Watership Down only to find myself in an awkward five minute conversation with someone who could not conceive of someone doing unassigned reading, I imagine she's had to put up with that a lot. There is nothing illegitimate about that. I just wanted to maybe give some understanding about the people who feel that way who don't get to take a break from that and be beauty queens, even if I don't agree with the way it's expressed or acted upon.

I don't know that this accomplished anything.

Here is the discussion up to this point:
The spark what lit the fire.
When Geeks Become Bullies
And more
Hopefully from there you can find the chain of the conversation if for some reason this is your introduction.

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