Thursday, September 12, 2013

Talk about Geek Culture

I hear a lot about Geek Culture, and I know a lot of Geeks and a lot of geeks. I wanted to kind of ruminate (really navel-gaze) about what Geek is and what geek is and who takes on that label. This is all just my stuff so I don't really care too much if people agree, I just felt like writing it.

First, I don't think anyone has to be a geek or that they should be labeled one without wanting to be one. I do think that people can participate in Geek culture without being a geek or a Geek.

Let's clarify some stuff (these are my descriptions and definitions only):

Geek Culture = the overarching media and social constructs surrounding enthusiasts and Geeks/geeks.

Geek = someone who is a geek and active participant in Geek Culture. When used as "a Geek (thing)" or "Geeky", something that is mainstream geek, common to a larger majority of the community, or something that is geeky.

geek/enthusiast = a person who enjoys media or activities and participates actively in enjoyment, whether it is sharing experiences with others or simply investing time and/or money in their hobby or interest. A person can be an enthusiast without being a geek, but rarely a geek without being an enthusiast, and geek is a self-identified label. When used as "a geek (thing)" or "geeky", something that is any type of hobby or preoccupation, any level of commonality in the community, but not necessarily part of the larger Geek community.

fan = a person who enjoys a thing or activity, with varying levels of interest.

Not all geeks are Geeks but all Geeks are geeks, geeks can be fans but not all fans are geeks, all geeks are enthusiasts but not all enthusiasts are geeks, and so on.

As an example, I'm a Geek and a geek and a fan. I consume mainstream geek media like Star Trek and Star Wars and Harry Potter, and actively participate in the enjoyment - I share it with friends, I talk about the meaning and theories addressed in the media, and I invest money in clothing, jewelry, posters, etc. about these things. I'm an RPG geek, not just playing but also discussing theory and investing money into the products, and a participant in the overall gaming community. Someone just the same as me might say that they're just a geek, or just an enthusiast, or just a fan, but they have the option of a narrower label.

I think one of the big problems right now is that one, we're applying the geek or Geek label to people or things without it necessarily fitting. See, someone can be a geek about football but not consider themselves a geek, instead using the label of fan. However, someone who is a fan of football might consider themselves a sports geek, because they know the gritty details of the statistics, details about the players, and other things that indicate a deeper level of involvement.

Sometimes people are geeks or enthusiasts because of their profession - academics, experts - but don't use the geek moniker because it has a negative component for a lot of people. Geek was used as an insult and has a kind of yucky history, and some people don't want the label because of that. That's totally okay! They don't have to be geeks! We can think of them in that context to understand them, but that doesn't make them geeks - you can't be a geek without consent. This is part of why the Fake Geek meme is so outrageous. Geek is a self-applied label, so telling someone they aren't a geek or that they don't do enough of whatever you think they should do to be a geek is utter nonsense. Just as someone can behave in a manner of a geek and not call themselves a geek, someone can behave in a manner not like a geek and still call themselves a geek. 

Another problem is that geek has become Geek - mainstream - in many arenas. Geekiness carries so much baggage that being a part of the mainstream or there even being mainstream geeks or Geeks is just weird, man. Geeks are used to being separate from the norm, a niche market, outcasts. Now we have TV shows that feature geeks prominently and often not flatteringly. Non-geeks adopt our image - geeky references on t-shirts, black rimmed glasses, even attaching themselves to our media and our gadgets. 

We feel defensive. I feel it, too, even though some might consider me a Fake Geek, when people on the periphery claim, "I'm such a geek!" when in my mind, they're really a "Geek". They're enthusiasts and consumers but they are more than that a part of the larger Geek Culture. They might like Avengers (the film) and have never picked up a comic in their life, and that's cool! They can be a part of Geek Culture. They can consider themselves geeks, big or little G, because it's perception that matters. How you perceive yourself - a geek, an enthusiast, a fan, or a Geek - is what matters, not how I look at you, or some stranger looks at you. You judge if your amount of investment into something counts enough to make you a geek. 

Geek Culture has some biiiig problems, though. One, the Fake Geek thing, which I've addressed above, is total bullshit and needs to die die die. Two, there's still so much rampant sexism and racism and classism. 

Classism? Yeah, I said it. Being a Geek costs money a lot of the time, and because collector items often require a lot of investment (and sometimes geeky endeavors in general take a lot of time and money), it can give people the impression that if you don't have the funds to participate in all of geek/Geek, you aren't allowed to be a Geek. Maybe someone only saw Avengers and doesn't buy the comics because they only have a small allowance and $4 comic books multiple times a month really add up, but seeing one movie this summer at the shitty local theater was just affordable. They can still be a geek if they want to, because we shouldn't have a buy in to be a geek. Geek isn't a country club!

Racism and sexism? You can't throw an Xbox without hitting an article about the sexism and racism in Geek Culture. From video games to movies to comics to historical reenactments - these things are pervasive in normal society, and geek communities have no special exception. The thing is, we all should care enough about this community and about the media we consume to actually give a fuck about changing it. 

What we consume as Geeks or geeks or fans or enthusiasts, whatever label you want to put on it, contributes to the image we present as people or as members of Geek Culture. And we need to change it. If people look at us and see these negative aspects first and foremost, it gives all of us a bad name, and that's part of why people deny identification. Geeks shouldn't be known for being assholes or ignorant. We should strive to make our fandoms and our interests look better, not be negligent or dismissive and make them look worse

But, so many of us don't. After all, it's just a game! It's just a movie! It's just a comic! 

It's just a huge part of our lives

Just some stuff to think on.