I find it telling all the things that Simon Pegg did not say about being geeky:
- He did not say that it was exclusive or exclusionary.
- He did not say that there was an entry test.
- He did not say that one fandom was more important than another.
- He did not say that we all had to be steeped into our respective fandoms at the exact same level.
And that's because it's not, and there isn't, and none is, and we don't.
So from whence comes all the geek vitriol against perceived interlopers?
First off, let's clarify something here and now — being a geek is not a badge of suffering and persecution. Tell us something, Nick Mamatas:
One of the recurring themes in discussions like these is that young people who are "geeks"—this often means they enjoy science fiction-tinged entertainments like video games or comic books—were bullied, or excluded, or taunted during their schooldays, for their interests. "Geekdom" as a "culture" (ugh) was welcoming while the rest of the world—with its interest in sporting contests and motor vehicles that don't have atomic batteries and flame-spewing jets in the rear—was not. And now pretenders and interlopers have come in and it's terrible. It's just just terrible. Boobs boobs everywhere, and not a one to honk, you see.
There's often a distinction made between a geek, a nerd, and a dork. Geeks are enthusiasts, nerds get excellent grades, and dorks socially awkward. It's worth noting that the hair-splitting with these definitions if often carried out by geeks who certainly don't want to be considered dorks. But here's the sad truth: a Venn diagram of the three types would have significant overlap. Most kids weren't bullied for being geeks. They were bullied for being dorks. They're just so socially misfit that to this day they're sure they were bullied because of Nintendo and comics, and not because of their greasy hair or pudgy bodies.
You weren't picked on because of your pop culture consumption habits, you were picked on for being a dork. Perhaps you were slow to develop—or in the case of girls, too fast to develop. Boys who develop fastest have extreme social and physical advantages in school settings. These are the infamous "jocks" who have carried on an eon-long war against the "nerds." But here's the thing: jocks played videogames and watched Star Wars and looked at Batman comics and checked out Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends on Saturday mornings too. Sports games is a major segment of the videogame biz, and Star Wars and Batman were hugely, hugely popular. So was Nintendo generally, and all that other stuff. MTV ran episodes of Monty Python! (I had to watch it on PBS at midnight when I was a kid...) Everyone got every Star Trekreference made on other TV shows. Dungeons and Dragons has had, over the years, something like $1 billion in book and merchandise sales.
Geek "culture" was not a secret counterculture. It was and is a mass culture. If you saw it on TV or in a movie theater at the local shopping mall, or got it for Christmas, it was popular.
If "geek culture" was a huge stigma, there wouldn't have been Star Wars in the mid-1970s and a giant Superman movie in the late 1970s, Godzilla marathons on TV at 3PM—just in time for the kids to come home from school—or Transformers and He-Man toys and cartoons all over the fucking place in the 1980s. Batman wouldn't have been huge in the 1980s, there wouldn't have been a comic book bubble or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle juggernaut emerging from the black-and-white indie comic scene. Pac-Man wouldn't have been stamped on every conceivable product, and a decade later Super Mario Bros. 3 wouldn't have sold 7 million copies in the US alone.
Unless your abiding geek interest is, oh, I dunno, Lithuanian folks dancing, your "geek" childhood was not anything other than the usual sort of consumption of tween and teen products that millions upon millions of others also consumed. You were in the same special secret club that everyone else who had a TV or went to the mall was in.
Hmmmm. Interesting, that. So you're saying that 'geeky' things may not have been vastly mainstream when you were growing up, but that there was enough of a mass geek culture for these movies, books, games and comics to be profitable and thus mass produced. And you're saying that even mainstream people enjoyed some of these 'geeky' things?
Well, okay. But not girls, right? Especially not now. I mean, girls who make costumes and come to cons are just perpetuating a cruel, boob-based hoax. They just don't know enough about what they're talking about, which means they aren't there for the right reasons. Right?
The theme is recent complaints about attractive women who attend SF media/videogame conventions. Apparently, there are too many of them, and they are just there to get attention from the real geeks. Which sounds exactly like the sort of thing pretty girls would spend their time doing—trying to get attention from slovenly misfits. According to their critics, some of these attractive women aren't even actually super-pretty; they just magically become pretty when they dress in "cosplay" as this or that character from anime or a video game or a movie.
Indeed, one reason why sexist attitudes toward attractive women are so prevalent in geekdom is because of the mix of shame and desire attractive women represent to men who feel excluded from the supply of sexual encounters out there in the world.
Okay, so you say that this is not a thing that ALL GEEK MEN do. This is a thing that men who have issues with women and relationships do. I think most geek girls know that there are tons of guys in geekdom who are awesome, and inclusive. But what about all of the guys we see who are hostile to girl gamers? To cosplayers? To girls who wear genre t-shirts?
The ones that do, well, they're the ones I suspect are most likely to accept sexist ideas about attractive women, and fearlessly promote them online, where they're safe from reprisals by the jocks of the adult world. (HR departments and the like.) That is, they become bullies. Why does a bully pick on a dork? Because it's safe—there's no downside to doing it. Why does a dork pick on a woman? Because it's safe—there's no downside to doing it. I mean, it's not like the "booth babe" was otherwise going to go back to the geek's hotel room with him, right? So, rage rage, on and on, and all to protect geek culture from the endless horrors of non-dorks and big tits?
Buried somewhere deep in there is an issue worth discussing—marketers use sex to sell anything, and often promise sex in return for consumption. Cars, toothpaste, you name it. But geeks with sexual anxieties are rightly suspicious of of this sex-sells technique, when they are targeted with it. However, rather than blaming the firms that engage in this behavior—the very firms that have sold these geeks their identity—they take out their frustrations on the women. And all goes according to corporate plan...
So the problem ISN'T men. It's MEN WHO HAVE PROBLEMS WITH WOMEN.
And further, the problem isn't geekdom — being geeky is not inherently exclusionary. The problem IS people who want to exclude others.
But don't take my word for it (after all, I'm a lowly geek girl who's been reading comics and sci-fi for 2/3 of her life, I probably don't know NEAR enough to weigh in on this). Let's hear from a guy in the land of Geek. Better, let's hear from a notable guy — an author, an award winning sci-fi author, last year's president of Science Fiction Writers of America. Let's hear from John Scalzi:
Who gets to be a geek?
Anyone who wants to be, any way they want to be one.
Geekdom is a nation with open borders. There are many affiliations and many doors into it. There are lit geeks, media geeks, comics geeks, anime and manga geeks. There are LARPers, cosplayers, furries, filkers, crafters, gamers and tabletoppers. There are goths and horror geeks and steampunkers and academics. There are nerd rockers and writers and artists and actors and fans. Some people love only one thing. Some people flit between fandoms. Some people are positively poly in their geek enthusiasms. Some people have been in geekdom since before they knew they were geeks. Some people are n00bs, trying out an aspect of geekdom to see if it fits. If it does, great. If it doesn’t then at least they tried it.
Many people believe geekdom is defined by a love of a thing, but I think — and my experience of geekdom bears on this thinking — that the true sign of a geek is a delight in sharing a thing. It’s the major difference between a geek and a hipster, you know: When a hipster sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “Oh, crap, now the wrong people like the thing I love.” When a geek sees someone else grooving on the thing they love, their reaction is to say “ZOMG YOU LOVE WHAT I LOVE COME WITH ME AND LET US LOVE IT TOGETHER.”
Any jerk can love a thing. It’s the sharing that makes geekdom awesome.
But... but, John! The Fake Geek Girls! The cosplayers who don't know what they're talking about! The girls who just want to glom onto our awesome world! What about them??
Let’s leave aside, for now, the idea that for those of this group attending ComicCon, spending literally hundreds and perhaps even thousands of dollars on ComicCon passes, hotels, transportation, food, not to mention the money and time required to put together an excellent costume, is not in itself a signal indication of geek commitment. Let’s say that, in fact, the only reason the women cosplayers are there is to get their cosplay on, in front of what is likely to be an appreciative audience.
As in, so what if their only geekdom is cosplay? What if it is? Who does it harm? Who is materially injured by the fact? Who, upon seeing a woman cosplaying without an accompanying curriculum vitae posted above her head on a stick, laying out her geek bona fides, says to him or herself “Everything I loved about my geekdom has turned to ashes in my mouth,” and then flees to from the San Diego Convention Center, weeping? If there is such an unfortunate soul, should the fragile pathology of their own geekdom be the concern of the cosplaying woman? It seems highly doubtful that woman spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars to show up in San Diego just to ruin some random, overly-sensitive geek’s day. It’s rather more likely she came to enjoy herself in a place where her expression of her own geekiness would be appreciated.
So what if her geekiness is not your own? So what if she isn’t into the geek life as deeply as you believe you are, or that you think she should be? So what if she doesn’t have a geek love of the things you have a geek love for? Is theappropriate response to those facts to call her gross, and a poacher, and maintain that she’s only in it to be slavered over by dudes who (in your unwarranted condescension) you judge to be not nearly as enlightened to the ways of geek women as you? Or would a more appropriate response be to say “great costume,” and maybe welcome her into the parts of geekdom that you love, so that she might possibly grow to love them too? What do you gain from complaining about her fakey fake fakeness, except a momentary and entirely erroneous feeling of geek superiority, coupled with a permanent record of your sexism against women who you don’t see being the right kindof geek?
These are your choices. Although actually there’s a third choice: Just let her be to do her thing. Because here’s a funny fact: Her geekdom is not about you. At all. It’s about her.
Geekdom is personal. Geekdom varies from person to person. There are as many ways to be a geek as there are people who love a thing and love sharing that thing with others. You don’t get to define their geekdom. They don’t get to define yours. What you can do is share your expression of geekdom with others. Maybe they will get you, and maybe they won’t. If they do, great. If they don’t, that’s their problem and not yours.
So...if a girl dresses up in a costume, she didn't do that for me, she did that for her. If she came to a con wearing a genre t-shirt and she's only there because she has one thing she's interested in, that's NOT HURTING ME. That's not taking anything away from me. That doesn't make me look bad. Or small. Or less than what I am.
Revolutionary, I tell you. It's almost like people do things they want to do because they like them, not because they're trying to overthrow the things I love.
Oh, and one last thing:
One other thing: There is no Speaker for the Geeks. Not Joe Peacock, not me, not anyone. If anyone tells you that there’s a right way to be a geek, or that someone else is not a geek, or shouldn’t be seen as a geek — or that you are not a geek — you can tell them to fuck right off. They don’t get a vote on your geekdom. Go cosplay, or play filk, or read that Doctor Who novel or whatever it is you want to do. Geekdom is flat. There is no hierarchy. There is no leveling up required, or secret handshake, or entrance examination. There’s just you.
Anyone can be a geek. Any way they want to. That means you too. Whoever you are.