Whilst at MCM London last month, I sat out on the grass and watched the hordes of fellow nerds amble by and was struck by just how many of us there are. I mean, it was absolutely jam-packed, even more so than usual. I realised that I hadn’t even noticed until that exact moment in time just how much conventions have changed over the past few years. When did conventions become so busy and crowded? But that isn’t the only thing that grabbed my attention, oh no. The other thing that stood out like a sore thumb is the range of people that now seem to frequent conventions. Of course, there are ‘regulars’: those of us who are conventions veterans and ‘old school’ nerds. There are also the newbies, those geeks that are fairly new to embracing their inner nerd and have only recently started to attend conventions. Then there are the ever-growing population of photographers, bloggers and YouTubers, all documenting the occasion on various bit of hi-tech equipment. 99.9% of the time, all these groups of people are lovely and polite and just sort of get on with the task in hand. But the other 0.01% of the time is filled with a particular kind of person and that group of people (in my mind) have no place at conventions: the ‘popular kids’. And why are they there? Because geekdom is now considered cool. But since when did Geek become ‘Chic’?To explain what I mean, I need to take you back a few years. Waaaay back…..
2016 marks my 20th year of going to conventions and cosplaying. I know, I know, my costumes should be far more advanced than they actually are given the amount of years I’ve been doing the whole cosplay thing, but let’s just put my complete lack of skills to one side for a moment shall we? I remember when conventions were fairly secret, almost underground affairs. You had to make sure that no-one had followed you, that you hadn’t been seen, and that is all because being a geek was considered to be a death wish. It wasn’t ‘cool’ to be a Trekkie, read comics or play D&D. It was social suicide and if one of the popular kids at school caught you with a comic sticking out of your backpack then you’d better be able to run faster than they could or you were in for a beating. Conventions and geekery is where I went to escape the bullying and the popular kids who all used to laugh at me and push me around. Yeah, I stuck up for myself and I usually always fought back because why the hell should I let the captain of the school hockey team push me around because I love Hawkeye? But that doesn’t mean that they ever stopped. In fact, because they had managed to elicit a reaction from me, they would double their actions and pretty soon it would become a relentless cycle of bullying, black eyes, ripped up comics and a few tears shed when the bullies walked away.
Now though, the same kids are coming to conventions because geek is ‘in’. Geek is the new chic, it’s popular, mainstream, and that brings with it all the shit that I have managed to avoid my entire life thus far. I now have to put up with the ‘popular kids’ of cosplay bitching about other cosplayers and being judgemental about other people’s skill levels. And of course they have their followers (a lot of them), who will help to spread the vitriol around. The ‘best’ cosplayers are now the hot blonde girls with big boobs that the boys all preferred in school, along with the cutest boys who have muscles and hair you want to run your fingers through. Cosplay and conventions used to be my safe place, my haven away from these people but my space isn’t safe anymore. The one place that I felt safe and protected and free to be myself has now become just like everywhere else that I felt uncomfortable in and like I didn’t belong. I no longer fit into the world that has offered me protection from real life, offered me a place to go. I can’t even escape online without someone with a gazillion followers having an opinion that is considered the right one and chasing me off. Where am I supposed to go now?
I’m never going to turn my back on geekdom because it’s been a part of my life since I was small child, it’s a part of me and I can’t ever change that. I will, however, be giving up cosplay for a little while as it no longer holds the excitement and specialness that it once did. When I see people asking who they should cosplay next whilst pouting and wearing next to nothing in a selfie it leaves me cold. You should know who you should cosplay next because you have a lot of characters that you love. But it’s no longer about that, is it? Now, the internet and whatever is currently popular gets to decide and a costume is made whether that person has read the comics, seen the film or tv show or not. Mostly not and that saddens me. Where is the passion for these characters? Where is the connection, the love? Now cosplay just seems to be about dressing as whoever or whatever is the most popular at the time and what is going to get you the most attention at a convention. That’s not what cosplay has ever been about for me. I have a deep and unconditional love for the characters I choose to cosplay, not whether they’re popular or not. Just because you look like a character does not mean that you should dress up as them.
And now onto the big question: Why is Geek now considered to be so cool? What happened? When did that change? Well, as a lifelong Marvel fan, I hate to say this but a whole lot changed when the first Iron Man film was released. Suddenly, a huge Hollywood blockbuster with one of the most popular and recognised actors of our time pushed the Marvel Universe into the forefront and it’s only been an upward trajectory from there. The MCU is worth billions and along with that comes an insane level of popularity. Of course, it’s not just down to Marvel, but boy did it start something.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a sad, bitter old 36-year-old who wishes it could just go back to how it used to be, back to when I was an outcast and a reject along with other geeks. It was like a private club that only a very select few were a part of. I like it when it was small and unpopular, it gave me somewhere to go and feel safe, feel like I belonged. Now, even as what could be considered an aging adult I feel bullied and pushed out of the only place that I have ever felt safe in. And all because geekdom is now the ‘in’ thing. It feels like a never ending invasion and as a result, I feel that I no longer belong in the one place that has always been special to me and has helped to shape the person I am today.
Do I like it? I most certainly do not.
Will I ever give up? Hell no. The popular kids didn’t break me back then and they certainly won’t now.
Why? Because geek is who I am and will always be where my heart lives so I’ll stick with it, bullies and the popular kids be damned.
GS Blogger: Vix
PS: There will be a follow-up piece to this for the other side of the geekdom coin. But I have no doubt that this is a very contentious subject and that I’ll be getting letters on.