One of the great things about geekdom in the age of social media is that there can be a wonderful coming together of minds with the greatest of ease. You liked that episode of that show? You went to see that movie this weekend? Everyone is doing that, everyone is talking about it! It’s pretty cool, and if you’re old enough to remember the days when you had to plug into a physical phone line to get onto a blocky forum somewhere to do this, it’s frankly amazing.
However, it’s not without its downsides. If everyone is getting to talk about that thing, and you’ve not seen it, suddenly you’re clearly, openly missing out. Even worse, what if you’ve seen it and you just don’t like it? Are you wrong? Are you a “Bad” geek?
The answer is obviously “No”, so thanks for reading! But more seriously, it’s an interesting phenomena you see crop up periodically whenever a show or film generates a big splash. Recently there has been a flurry of debate about the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones, alternating between outrage and adulation, almost episode to episode. But whatever you think about it’s content, it seems you have to be watching it. Even if you hate it. Doctor Who is another good example; every time it comes around you will be part of a population of social media users who feel obliged to watch a show they don’t enjoy just because everyone else is.
It’s often pointed out that you probably shouldn’t waste your time consuming something you don’t enjoy and that’s good advice. But if everyone else is doing something – if consuming that thing is in some way a marker of being a geek then that’s easier said than done.
Geekdom is at its best as an embracing community that likes what it likes and damn the rest, but can also feel like a gated community where you need the right t-shirt and DVR full of superhero TV shows to gain admittance and that’s before you hit all the other barriers that affect entry into a culture that’s primarily straight white men.
That last point can often get some eyes rolling – not this again! – but it’s an important thing to consider. For so many people – any sort of people, all over the world – being a geek has a history of being a solitary thing, or something only a small number of people you know were. It’s never been cool, or culturally relevant in the way that it seems to be at the moment. There has always been an outsider myth that informs many fictional heroes; the lone heroes on distant worlds, or on daunting, against-the-odd-quests, and that can really resonate when you have an interest only you and a few friends share. But it’s hard to be an outsider if everyone is in the club.
This tension between a history of feeling excluded, and suddenly living in a period where pop-culture has embraced your stuff manifests in some odd ways. Some people want to pull up the drawbridge and claim “true” geekdom for their own with whatever rituals and signs they feel are important. Others are keen to police new fans on the correct things to like and how to show you like them. Meanwhile, the big media companies that control the properties we love want to push them to the widest possible audience and are often jettisoning years of history and tradition on the way. For every crazed headbanger who genuinely doesn’t want girls in his clubhouse there are probably a dozen who just don’t understand why their favorite character isn’t in their own comic book anyway.
So into the swirl of new-found popularity and change, how do you identify as a geek anymore? It’s certainly not the age-old cliche of oppressed, glasses-wearing kids in fear of the school bully stealing their D&D books. The idea that there is a “canon” of work you should consume is pretty laughable too – Marvel vs DC goes back to the 1970’s and can be a pretty hard divide among comics fans; you’ll find Science Fiction Fans that don’t think Star Wars counts in their genre, which would boggle the mind of most casual observers. You’d think from some quarters that cosplay was a new development, but of course it isn’t – it’s just that these days the characters you see come from video games, anime and “i don’t even know what that is” as often as Star Fleet uniforms or Jedi Robes.
Which is where the doubt comes in. If there are no easy identifiers – if anyone can just roll up to a convention without knowing Jim Steranko from Jack Kirby – where do you stand. Maybe you though Guardians of the Galaxy was unfunny, derivative rubbish and Game of Thrones a mud-filled slog into stagnating horror. You don’t want to wear a costume or collect vinyl figures or start another collection of Issue #1s for revamped superheroes. Well, there is good news and it’s this:
Being a geek isn’t about what you like, it’s how you like it. It’s about a level of love – obsession – with that thing that makes you light up inside when you talk about it. It requires passion, and investment, and commitment, and it can be as broad as “movies” or as narrow as “comics written by that one writer who really speaks to you”. It can come and go as Real Life(™) swirls around you, but it’s about having something, deep down, that you relate to intimately and that fires you up. Geekdom as it stands today is at it’s best not as a celebration of any specific thing, but as a celebration of obsession, a sharing of other people’s joy as much as your own. If you love something, if you love other people loving something, then you’re a good geek.
GS Blogger: Matt Farr