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Have We Lived And Fought In Vain?

Published on March 29, 2012 by in Dithering, Essays

Justice League of Felt
The title comes from Christopher Priest’s hilariously overwrought anguish over the Arthur C. Clarke awards. It’s noteworthy only due to the fantastic amount of skill Priest possesses; the sentiments are all ones we’ve heard before. It is not unlike the recent kerfuffle over “fake” Geek Girls: “dilettantes are devaluing my club!”

I’ve been listing to old episodes of This American Life thanks to their iPhone app, and in one episode about simulated worlds, a Civil War re-enactor says:

When I see someone in line and he’s got modern glasses, that takes away from my event. It might not affect his event, but it takes away from mine.

Fantasies are oddly fragile, the slightest reminder of just how flimsy they are is enough to shatter them. The re-enactor is not actually in the past. The hours of geekdom Tara Brown and Patton Oswalt put in isn’t worth anything beyond the enjoyment they gave them at the time. Priest’s tastes no longer reflect the culture he has help build. I’ve heard the term “cultural appropriation” thrown around, referring to people who like nerdy things but don’t have the “cred” others have worked on. But that’s not what this is.

This is bubble-bursting. This is reminder that the entertainment we spent so much time, effort and money on, it’s still just entertainment. And it can be consumed by anyone. You can have DOCTOR WHO fans, now, who have no interest in the series before Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor. And why shouldn’t they? Smith is the guy who’s on TV now.

There’s something strange about geek-culture. I’ve heard it referred to as an “obsession,” but it’s not just that. Strangely enough, geekdom one of the few obsessions where participation does not equal involvement. When someone refers to themselves as obsessed with swing dancing, say, or food, it is is assumed that they dance, or cook. Even hardcore sports fans play the games they obsess over, even if it is just shooting hoops in the driveway. This participation is the mark of their obsession; they create because they are obsessed. Anyone can enjoy dancing, food or basketball. The obsessed push it beyond mere consumption.

But geek culture is just about consumption. Most comic fans don’t make comics. Most film fans don’t make films. I know a lot of sci-fi fans who are also sci-fi writers, but I know many more who aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does make it hard to differentiate between those who are obsessed and those who just like something.

When I was growing up, there was a idea that the more you knew about a sci-fi show, or film series, or comic book character, that knowledge gave you a certain amount of power. You could lord it over other kids. And if you were ever challenged, you could count on your accumulated nerd-lore to prove you the victor.

Part of this comes from the childhood need to compete, to establish a pecking order in a social group. And some of this comes from the need to believe that everything we gave to our entertainment meant something. That it wasn’t just consuming. That being a sci-fi fan meant being part of a group of embattled warriors, who were teased endlessly for what we liked. Surely, that must mean something. Have we lived and fought in vain?

There are people who enjoy geek culture who don’t believe in setting up pecking orders, who consume what they like because they like it, not because they have to complete the set. There is no difference in their enjoyment, in their desire to lose themselves in a expertly-crafted fantasy world. But these are people who enjoy things as adults, and that can be extremely jarring to those of us who still enjoy things as we did when we were kids.

We set up goal posts, of what it means to be a  geek. What level of commitment it takes. But in the end, we’re really just griping about someone who had the nerve to enjoy themselves without changing their glasses.

 

The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of Flying City
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4 Responses

  1. Spot on, except for this bit. “Even hardcore sports fans play the games they obsess over, even if it is just shooting hoops in the driveway”

    Most sports fans I know haven’t touched the ball they obsess over in years. That’s more true when it comes to team sports than individual ones.

  2. Jared

    Fair point. And it’s harder to get a football game going than it is to play a round of golf. But I do feeling like playing sports–even in a “I used to do this college” way–is still a part of sports culture.

  3. I just found out about this whole business the other day. One of the reasons I never went to Whovian events growing up was probably because I loved Doctor Who when I was growing up. No, I didn’t own any of the VHS tapes, or go to conventions, or find every possible episode in every format and spend all my money on it: I had no money, not even an allowance.

    But the point is, I did sit down with my family every night and watch Doctor Who. I dressed up as Tom Baker for a Halloween contest in first grade and won. The next year, Peter Davison didn’t fare so well. Growing up, I wanted to * be * the Doctor, but the fans who obsess over the fact that I don’t know where he got his scarf, what type of martial arts John Pertwee practiced, or the fact that I never had the opportunity to watch any second Doctor made me a little wary of such fandoms.

    The fact that I don’t obsess over certain things, that these are just parts of my life that I don’t necessarily have the time to devote such crazy amounts of time to exploring make me wary of trying on the word “geek” in front of self-described geeks. But to the average joe on the street (“Normies” as one fellow con-goer referred to the non-convention guests at the same hotel) I am obviously in that category. Who else would spend time even watching such stupid shows as Firefly, or Doctor Who, would know that there were two doctors on Star Trek: the Next Generation?

    But do I watch Firefly over and over? No. I enjoy it, and have watched it full-through maybe three times. There are other fun aspects of Science Fiction, Fantasy, for lack of a better term “geekdom” that I would like to explore.

    If that doesn’t make me geeky enough to be accepted by the hardcore geeks, oh well. Guess I’ll just have to find other “geek-light” folks to hang out with, or maybe some hardcore geeks who won’t judge me.

  4. Danny Oakley

    Nearly everytime I read your work I’m drawn to self-reflection and this piece is no different. It’s also drawn me out of my shell and gain an online voice in recent weeks and I thank you for that.

    Over the years I’ve attempted and enjoyed a ton of hobbies geeky or not. Some I stuck with for a few weeks others I haven’t known life without. My significant other says it’s in my nature as a gemini to bounce around, but looking back much of the enjoyment and kept interest was in the companionship. I find looking back that once through the honeymoon phase and no longer being considered a guest, I became disinterested and unhappy with being forced to jockey for rank or sit on the fringe of the community. Lately I’ve refered to myself more and more as just learning, a novice, a noob to try and distance myself from being credited and filed in rank.

    I agree with you, the behavior behind those pushing for geek entitlement is in feeling that their investments have become devalued. As I read from Patton Oswalt’s work in your link, I kept thinking this is the 21st century version of in my day I walked through miles of snow to get to school. My thoughts go back to the behavior though and wonder how much is rooted deeper. A dark bitterness for being ignored at the least and stepped on to the point of questioning self-worth at the worst because geeks interests are different and geeks were willing to suffer for them. It may be that finding peace with the shadows of our pasts is the key to being open and accepting of mainstream folks stepping into our bar.