the Great Geek Existential Meltdown

Only 25 Days Until Dragon*Con 2012!!!

Before we go any further, it is imperative that, in order to use and enjoy this blog entry, that you READ THIS POST ON CNN’S “GEEK OUT” BLOG.

Then, watch this video:

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When I was in high school, I was not very athletic, in a traditional sense. I was not good at baseball, football, or basketball (despite being taller than most of the dudes in my class). In middle school, I was in the band and played football, but eventually you can’t do both, so I quit both.

It was not long after that that I took up skateboarding, surfing, and punk rock music. I guess I was around 14 or so when I got my first Ramones cd, “Mania”. And to give credit where credit is due, my cousin introduced me to the “underground subculture” of punk rock: all ages shows, record players, zines, cds and records that you had to order through the mail because no one in my town carried them.

Most of the guys that I knew who were into these things were also into skateboarding and the other crap that I was into. It was like I had found a whole new world (yes, that is an Aladdin reference) where I fit in like a glove.

But most importantly, more important than finding a place to fit in, was that it was a very small, select group of people who were involved or even were aware that this subculture existed. Out of my high school graduating class of about 400 kids, and even including the rest of my high school, I would say that there were less than 20 of us who were into this stuff.

Which, of course, made us feel special, whether we were or not, which, in turn, made us feel like we were actually better than everyone else.

But a bombshell was coming that would soon change all that….

On February 1, 1994 (I looked it up) Green Day’s album “Dookie” released on Reprise records.

Overnight, it seemed like everyone and their brother looked like us, acted like us, and were into the same stuff. We were no longer members of an elite club, we were no longer special, and worst of all, we were just like everyone else.

You have never met a more pissed off bunch of hooligans. The status quo, which we had hated and (in our minds) fought against for so long (like, at least 2 years dude!) was now us. And we hated the world for it.

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Fast forward to today. August 5, 2012. Nearly 20 years later.

Who am I? Where am I going? What does it all mean?

These are questions that many a geek brethren has been asking him or herself lately and, in my mind, are the basis of existentialism.

Geek culture has exploded. In fact, it is way way way bigger than punk rock ever got in the mid/late 90’s. Joss Whedon directed the most successful film of all time. Chew on that for a moment.

Hell, as I’ve said before, the fact that CNN even has a blog called “Geek Out!” (complete with dark-rim plastic glasses icon) is proof enough that geek culture has totally gone apeshit out of control. In fact, it is really no longer “geek culture” but pop culture, as evidenced by SDCC becoming the “biggest pop culture event in the whole damn world”.

(I would like to say, here as an aside, that geek culture has always been big, just not as big as it is right now, which is why it is much bigger than punk rock ever got. It also encompasses so much more than just a style of music and the culture that goes along with it. But who hasn’t heard of Spiderman? Who didn’t grow up reading Superman comics?)

Phrases like, “discover your inner geek” are popping up everywhere. I could have sworn I saw this exact phrase on the Dragon*Con site just the other day, but now I can’t seem to find it.

As someone who was country when country wasn’t cool, I can tell you that this is nothing new. In fact, the purpose of the youtube Barbara Mandrell video is to prove just that:

For every big trend that comes along, there are people out there that were doing it way before it was “cool”.

These are the people who made it cool. It would not be big if millions of people didn’t identify with it in some way.

And it seems, every time, that these people get pissed about it. It’s not just geeks, punks, etc. It is, obviously, country folk and everyone else. I have no doubt that disco was big somewhere before it got huge in the 70’s.

There are two ways to respond to this situation:

1. Get Mad.

2. Accept it and move on.

If you read the comments that are below Joe Peacock’s blog post, it seems that most people these days go for the 2nd option. This is, obviously, the most mature choice. The comments that say things along these lines: “wtf dawg??? you should just accept that people are going to like the same stuff as you and move on! people like stuff, gawd!!!”

I would venture to say that the people who take this moral high road are also the same people who just now got into it.

I would also venture to say that these people are probably younger than myself or Mr. Peacock (who looks to be about my age. mid/late 30’s. I talked to him at D*C about his Akira collection, which is awesome). They grew up recently, probably graduated high school in the last 5 years or so, and thus were raised in a more accepting world than I was. Today’s high school, despite the bullying we all hear about on the news, seems to be a cakewalk for kids these days.

Why? Because we live in a culture of acceptance.

The people who have the luxury to say, “accept that now everyone else is just like you” were accepted in high school, middle school, and everywhere else they have ever been.

This is, of course, a good thing. I don’t want my fellow geeks, punks, or whatevers to be bullied.

I’m just saying that this laissez-faire attitude is a result of someone who has never had a wedgie because their dice bag fell out of their backpack.

The bitterness and anger come into play when “geeks” see the same people who once gave us wedgies, now suddenly proclaiming that they were really geeks inside all along… and to the untrained eye, no one can tell the difference between them and the “real” geeks (whatever that is).

They didn’t want the geeks in their clique, but now they are forcing their way into the geek world… and getting the boyfriends and girlfriends that the o.g. geeks should be getting.

Allow me to quote a couple of my friends:

“If you were into that shit at my high school, you got a wedgie!”

Believe it or not, kids, but the stuff you see in movies like “Revenge of the Nerds” actually happened. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Deep South, but at my high school, if you were into DnD, Tolkien, skateboarding, etc., you were not popular with anyone except your own group of friends… and do not let yourself get caught out without them.

This is the root cause of the “us versus them” attitude that is prevalent among older geeks/punks/miscellaneous other outsiders. It is the cause of much bitterness, in me and in people like me, the magnitude of which I didn’t even realize until I started typing out this blog post.

“It’s too easy for kids to be cool these days.”

The underlying message of this quote is that you can no longer trust your instincts, and this, my friends, is the main problem I think most of us have with new people coming into our club (whatever that club may be).

Whereas before, when you met someone who had similar interests as you, you were immediately friends. Now, you may meet someone who is into old episodes of Dr. Who or Frank Miller comics, and they are a total asshole and think that you are too fat, old, poor,or ugly to be their friend.

Used to, when you met someone with similar interests, it said a lot about their character because they had to seek it out. I can vividly remember having to order a copy of Watchmen because my local comic book shop didn’t carry it. If someone was interested enough to do that, it usually meant that you could assume a lot of other things about them also. The most obvious being that they clearly really liked this music, or this obscure sci-fi show, or whatever.

The same goes for records or anything else. Nowadays, anyone with a vague interest in the subject can get on the internet and, in a few hours or less, be an expert… and also a total asshat.

With anything, the more people that get involved, the less special it becomes, and there is no arguing that point.

And, more importantly, we are no longer recognized as the special little flower that we are.

So where do we go, my confused brothers and sisters? Do we wait it out and hope that the assholes eventually disappear? Do we revel in the fact that we are finally getting our due?

To go back to the mid/late 90’s, my friends and I dove deeper into the rabbit hole, down to a spot where we thought pop culture would never catch us. Unfortunately, it did, of course. It wasn’t long before we were ferreted out and forced deeper. I think this is why most of the people I grew up with are now into black metal and stuff like that (and could be an explanation for any sort of “extreme” culture. the need to prove that you are different than everyone else can be powerful). The closer pop culture gets, the more extreme people feel like they have to be to escape it and stay different.

That solution doesn’t work. You will find yourself constantly running from pop culture, but you will never escape it and will only become more and more bitter, the older you get. Chasing the dragon and whatnot.

So what are we to do? Who are we, really?

I think the first step toward recovery and stability in our minds (whatever your definition of that may be) is to recognize that yes, you are a target market. You are the product. I’ve said this numerous times on this blog, but the people who made geek culture as huge as it is today know what they are doing.

When horror flicks and remakes got huge a few years ago, it didn’t take me long to figure out that the studios had my number… big time. They know that fans cannot help themselves. “Halloween” remake? Sure, it will suck, but there’s no fracking way a big horror fan can stop themselves from seeing it.

Face it, we have no self control when it comes to our passions.

Which brings me to my next point:

Who are we? As a “geek”, are we defined by that word? Do we feel a need to like Dr. Who or Eureka just because we think that someone who identifies themselves as a “geek” should like it? I’ve said before that I do not consider myself a geek, just a normal person with some eccentric interests.

Why? For one, I feel like the undiluted true geeks are still out there… and are probably completely oblivious to the fact that they are geeks or that pop culture and geek culture are now one and the same. Again, the true geek is somewhere in a basement obsessing over MS DOS while we don Naruto costumes and make Dragon*Con playlists.

In other words, are we people or are we just the sum of all our interests?

Do we have free will, or are we a slave to our own identity that we have made up in our heads?

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To sum up this rambling in a few easy-to-read points,

1. No matter what you are into, there was someone there first, without whom it would not exist.

2. No matter what you are into, if it is fun and cool, it will become huge at some point.

3. The easiest way around this existential quandary is to just not care and be yourself, no matter if it is traditionally considered geek (or whatever) or not. As an adult, I don’t care that geek culture is huge now, because I can’t identify with half of it anyway, but I can also understand where a person would be coming from if they were mad.

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And before anyone says it, I realize that this particular brand of mental anguish is solely a “first world”, middle class, sort of problem.

Besides that, I’m interested in your thoughts on this subject. Let’s discuss:

Do you give a shit that geek culture has become pop culture????

prophecy fulfilled

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8 Responses to the Great Geek Existential Meltdown

  1. Your Obedient Serpent says:

    If you hadn’t already seen this one for yourself, John Cheese over at Cracked.com recently did a pretty good article on the recent mainstreaming of “geek.”

    http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-things-modern-kids-dont-understand-about-being-nerd/

    I feel your pain with your sentiments that these days, all it takes is a few clicks here and there on the internet to pass oneself off as a subject matter expert on just about anything (this is particularly annoying in online comments sections).

    To put it bluntly, I truly miss the days when someone genuinely had to know their shit if they were going to hold their own in a debate.

    • I once read an article about how the internet, and in particular smartphones, have placed us squarely in an era of “false knowledge”.

      With the internet literally in the palm of our hand, everyone walks around with the attitude that they are a genius, when they don’t actually know anything.

      Also, that article is genius. While I don’t think I have the same level of animosity as the author, I can sympathize completely. The part about pc games is totally true: I had this game called “Zork” that had absolutely zero pictures whatsoever. It had a picture of the word “Zork” written on the floppy disk with a stone door opening on it. That was the only clue you had as to what you were supposed to do.

      I now realize that this was called a “text adventure”. You basically typed in, “go to door” and the computer would think for a minute and respond. It was like playing DnD by yourself. As in, it was all in your own imagination.

  2. velouria78 says:

    Okay, I hope I’m not hijacking your blog to go off on a side tangent here, but I spent a good chunk of last week working through my emotions on a Joe Peacock piece, so this is a timely post for me.
    http://geekout.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/24/booth-babes-need-not-apply/?hpt=hp_c3
    In which he posits that pretty girls are coming out in droves, pretending to be geeks because they get lots of attention from the geek community. This makes Joe Peacock angry, because he is an o.g. nerd and these ladies are just posers. And while the title of the article indicates that he’s just pissed off about the existence of booth babes (another can o’ worms all together), his article muddles in how angry he is about cosplay girls and especially those girls that just put on a Batman shirt and strut around a convention (how dare they?). Which is where I became irate. Cause while Joe makes a nice “Some of my best friends are nerd girls” argument, he’s pretty much makes it clear that he’s the bouncer of nerdom and if you’re a girl who dares to try to join his club you’re gonna need to pass a pretty rigorous vetting process that Joe has put together for you. And chances are that bar is higher than the one he’s got for the dude “posers” that are milling around his sacred convention halls (seriously, are you pissed at those dudes that are “strutting” around in their Red Skull costumes and Batman tees or do they get a free pass?).

    But, in some ways, I get Joe’s anger. In both of these blog entries. And your post has helped clear that up for me (this is a great post, by the way… a million times more thoughtful than the Peacock piece). He’s just a version of angry high school you or I. I mean, when all the girls I went to high school with bought Jagged Little Pill and suddenly thought they were experts on all things grrrl, I was pissed. Joe-Peacock pissed. Green-Day-Dookie pissed. Self-righteous-bouncer-of-all-things-I-believed-cool pissed.

    So, I sort of understand what he might be trying to say. But I also read both of these articles and just want to tell Joe Peacock to kiss it. He needs to get over it, mind his own business and be happy that me and my Batman shirt are busy sorting through the bootleg horror dvds and staying out of his way. Maybe I’m falling in with the “love one another” camp here. Maybe I’m older and more mature and accepting than I used to be. But I doubt it. I think Joe may just be a big D-Bag.

    All of that said, it IS too easy for kids to be cool these days AND I reserve the right to demand that all said kids get off my lawn at any moment.

    Here are some more responses to his article, if you’re interested. Most are pretty squarely addressing the whiffs of misogyny that are steaming off of the Peacock article. If you read nothing else, read John Scalzi’s post. He makes some really nice points re: the Great Geek Existential Meltdown.

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/07/26/who-gets-to-be-a-geek-anyone-who-wants-to-be/
    http://geekout.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/26/in-defense-of-lady-geeks/
    http://goodmenproject.com/good-feed-blog/are-geeks-being-manipulated-by-hot-girls/

    • First off, I want to thank you for such a well thought out comment, it truly made my day. Also, thank you very much for the compliment.

      I was going to say something along the lines of, “I know this whole post smacks of ‘Kids these days’ old fogeyism, but so be it.” Your lawn comment says the same thing, but better.

      I was aware of the “geek girls” article, but did not realize until now that it was by the same author.

      In his defense, I’ve chatted with Mr. Peacock at Dragon*Con because I was geeking out (ha!) over his Akira cel collection and taking pictures of it, and he seemed very nice and hospitable.

      Of course, I’m also a guy (not saying he would be any different if I were a hot girl).

      It’s hard for me to feel comfortable commenting on that particular article though, due to me a) not being a woman, and b) not claiming any sort of geek cred.

      That said, the idea of sprucing the place up with hot chicks is nothing new. It’s also not something I am inclined to complain about. However, if feminism is about anything, it’s about a woman’s right to do whatever the fuck she wants, and whether that is being a geek, or being a waitress at Hooters, no one has the right to, basically, say, “you are doing your life wrong”.

      I read the three articles, and you’re right, the first one is the best (even though I hafta kinda take issue with the fact that he calls Mr. Peacock out for not having enough geek cred to call someone out for not having enough geek cred. His excuse of “You did it, I didn’t like it, so now I’m doing it,” doesn’t really hold a lot of water for me. Also, CNN is the one who made Peacock the Speaker of the House, not Peacock himself, which is unfortunate because now his ramblings will be seen by WAY more people than myself, Scalzi, or any other blogger).

      Geek culture just encompasses too much stuff for anyone to ever think they can decipher the “real” geeks from the “posers”. The definition of geek is way too broad for such things. Most stuff that people get called “posers” for pretending to be have a fairly narrow definition attached to them. This is not to mention that I haven’t heard anyone called a “poser” since I was in middle school, until I read this article.

      Scalzi’s differentiation between geeks being about sharing and “hipsters” (another word I thought was extinct) being about exclusion is spot-on, except that at the very beginning of his article he does exactly the same thing: excluding Peacock because he doesn’t have enough “credibility”. Credibility here being defined by time spent in the geek “scene”, number of published books, and awards. Any jackass can get a book published. Seriously. This is defining success as “popularity”. Most popular movies are turds, so no matter how many copies of his book he sells, it doesn’t mean shit to me unless it is good, to me (I am sure his books are good, I’m not saying they aren’t).

      I would like to think that Scalzi’s emulation of Peacock’s supposed bad behavior is used in irony and as a way of injecting some humor into what is, clearly, a tremendously serious subject.

      Anyway, any and all replies are appreciated, as amateur sociology is quite interesting to me, and I think seeing this “authentic” vs. “poser” debate happening on such a vast cultural scale is extremely interesting.

      • Your Obedient Serpent says:

        — … no one has the right to, basically, say, “you are doing your life wrong”.–

        But as a firm guideline; if women aren’t lamenting, you’re not doing it right.

        While I hold no strong opinions one way or the other on this one, I did somewhere along the line come across some sort of interview at a fan convention with a stunningly gorgeous attendee in an April O’Neil costume that was in every way possible an advertisement for her sexuality. Yet it seemed apparent during the course of the discussion that she knew her supposed source material very poorly (not that the throngs of her male counterparts in the background minded, at least). Maybe she was just playing dumb, who’s to say? But while it’s still a free country, for some of us, at least, a casual outside observer would also be entitled to wonder what it was she was truly after in a place like that…

        While I do maintain that geek impersonation is not grounds for capital punishment, these authors might be pushing that one (if you’ll pardon me invoking Cracked again):

        http://www.cracked.com/blog/4-geek-humor-books-by-authors-who-understand-neither/

        (I had never heard of John M. Byrne before, but I can only hope he’s retired at this point.)

      • Goddam. Some of those books are so bad that they may be genius. It’s like they’re trying to troll their own audience… which probably wouldn’t work when your goal is to sell copies of books.
        Either that, or they are almost over my head. Like some kind of crazy “Tim & Eric” style bullmess.

        The “pac man as a shark” doodle made me lol.

  3. velouria78 says:

    You are spot on when you say that the definition of geek is too broad to allow anyone to decipher who the “real” geeks are. This whole thing boils down to me being irked by the implication that we must diligently ferret out the poser geeks. To suggest that we must do so along gender lines seems even more ludicrous. However, I go to around five or so horror/comic conventions a year and I’ve never ever witnessed any sort of real life behavior that echoes the sentiments being tossed around in these articles. Mostly, everyone is just nice. Although, one year I was pregnant and thought I might have to fork stab some dudes who kept cutting in front of me in the buffet line at the con hotel.

    As for legitimate frustrations re: pretty girls playing/being dumb, I read a few blogs from folks who said things similar to, “She had on the costume but didn’t seem to know who the character was” and even “Girls show up in my mmo’s and are all ‘Oopsies doopsies! My badsies!’ and everyone says ‘Hey! No problem, sweet dimples!’ but a guy would get destroyed if he did that.” Again, I’ve not really been in any situation where I’ve witnessed these things, but I don’t doubt they happen. All in all, there are some really interesting gender dynamics that come up in this discussion. Armchair sociology is fun. And I’m super pissed that none of your “Geek Humor” books mention Ms. Pac-Man (JK).

    • I haven’t been to a lot of conventions, but for the most part, at the ones I have been to, people are nice. I’ve only had problems with one or two people, and those were probably explained by my own drunkeness. They also were with other guys, mostly the uppity geeks: the type of dude who was probably home schooled, has zero social skills, and thinks they are brilliant and better than everyone else (the type of douche who would wear a Phantom of the Opera costume at Dragon*Con).

      The “legitimate frustrations” that you mention, I have personally never experienced either, but I would say that the guys in those situations are acting as enablers and are just as guilty as the ladies. Not to mention that, as far as I’m concerned, the purchase of a ticket to the Con is qualification enough to be there. If someone purchased a ticket to be at Dragon*Con, they obviously deserve to be there just as much as anyone else, and I think I would have serious issues with anyone who would say otherwise.

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