|This isn't going to be a cheery article.|
What glubbed forth in the precambrian dawn was a lengthy, overwrought explanation of how countless frustrations slowly burned from me my ability to wear the moniker of "Geek" with pride. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am renouncing the term "geek." Or, I should say rather, it renounced me.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's trace the evolution of this event.
Starting With The Last Straw: Geek Pride Day
I actually was unaware of Geek Pride Day until this morning, when I awoke to see some mentions of it on... actually, I don't recall now. Probably Google+, which seems to largely be a haven for geeks of all sorts (since, to their credit, geeks are early adopters of weird tech, and the broader Facebook set haven't migrated). Initially, my response was neutral-to-cynical. Geekdom and I haven't been getting along much lately (I'll explore the reasons why later in the article) so while I wasn't really irate at this point, I wasn't really enthused, either.
I decided to do some research, though, and initially found the results quite heartening. The holiday originated in Spain, apparently. Cool! A lot of geekdom seems to be Americocentric in nature, so having the holiday originate in Europe is pretty neat. And what's more, the day is associated with a list of rights and responsibilities. Responsibilities! That's pretty cool! Geeks have a lot of good to offer the world, and acknowledging that openly seems like a reasonable strategy.
Things were looking up.
And then I read a translation of the list.
Rights:How utterly disappointing.
- The right to be even geekier.
- The right to not leave your house.
- The right to not like football or any other sport.
- The right to associate with other nerds.
- The right to have few friends (or none at all).
- The right to have as many geeky friends as you want.
- The right to be out of style.
- The right to show off your geekiness.
- The right to take over the world.
- Be a geek, no matter what.
- Try to be nerdier than anyone else.
- If there is a discussion about something geeky, you must give your opinion.
- To save and protect all geeky material.
- Do everything you can to show off geeky stuff as a "museum of geekiness."
- Don’t be a generalized geek. You must specialize in something.
- Attend every nerdy movie on opening night and buy every geeky book before anyone else.
- Wait in line on every opening night. If you can go in costume or at least with a related T-shirt, all the better.
- Don’t waste your time on anything not related to geekdom.
- Try to take over the world!
How disappointing that instead of looking inward and seeing how we can make our community better, instead of looking outward and seeing how we can improve the world, how we can be MORE inclusive, MORE welcoming, MORE passionate in a communal way, these rules detail all the ways in which we should become LESS inclusive, LESS welcoming, and passionate only in the things we can own and control and dominate and use as status symbols. The rights are fairly innocuous--there's some stuff missing (again, I'll get to that) but for the most part they're reasonable--but the responsibilities list represents almost nothing but narrowmindedness, status-obsession, and arrogant exceptionalism.
I find only two of the responsibilities reasonable: the first, which urges a self-determined identity (ironically a sentiment undermined by the rigid social code that follows) and the fourth, which urges artistic preservation, a value desperately needed when the speaker for the new XBOX One can blithely claim, "If you’re backwards-compatible, you’re really backwards."
Two out out ten.
Geeks do have responsibilities, responsibilities derived from the positive qualities people bandy about whenever geek pride as a notion comes up. Geeks have responsibilities that come from their intellects and their status as (former) outsiders.
Had we upheld our end of the bargain--had we acknowledged our important role in culture and reacted accordingly--I would be proud to be a geek.
But we failed.
And I am not proud to be a geek.
The reasons why follow.
WE CLOSED OUR DOORS TO NEWCOMERS AND PASSIONATE AMATEURS
There's an attitude in geekdom that intelligence is best expressed through a kind of arrogant dismissal of those less familiar with geek media, and that attitude is absolutely, incontrovertibly holding us back. It's ok to tell someone that they are wrong if, y'know, they are, but that's not a license to take on an air of absolute superiority over younger or newer enthusiasts who are genuinely just seeking answers, or seeking mentors that can lead them to greater understanding. Yet this is the response to newcomers that I see all the time. When you talk about "being the nerdiest," as though it's a competition, this is the ideology you buy into.
This even extends to the way that we deny certain activities the moniker of "geek." Look at responsibility 9 in the list above: "Don’t waste your time on anything not related to geekdom." That's pretty messed up, if you really think about it. That's the kind of dictum present in the strict fundamentalist religions that a significant number of geeks claim to abhor. Abandon this world of things and come to Geekdom! Yuck.
As a consequence, we impoverish our own existence by denying the value of anything outside our narrow spheres of interests and disparage the people (think of "casual gamers," for example, or people who got into the Teen Titans cartoon when they were too young to read the comics) who we deem to be less fully integrated into the cult of Geek.
If we truly love and appreciate our geek media, why do we hide it from the world? We could enrich the lives of so many--and enrich our own lives--if we opened up more of a dialogue with those not traditionally considered geeks. It was our responsibility to open that door, but we closed it, instead.
Of course, the dividing line between geeks and non-geeks emerges from more than a simple judgment of experience. The fact of the matter is:
WE FAILED TO CONVERT SAFE SPACES FOR GEEKS INTO SAFE SPACES FOR ALL
Women. Queers. People of color. Geeks increasingly embrace a policy of marginalization and exclusion against these groups. I'm sure most of the regular readers of this blog are well aware of the issues, but it bears repeating, I think. If I catalogue the sins of geeks, this is certainly one of the top few.
How does this happen? Ugh, all kinds of different ways. A lot of social justice folks talk about microaggressions, but I'm more concerned with people just straight up being overt, aggressive assholes.
Like, let me give you an example. On the Wizards of the Coast forums, the word "queer" is censored, which I guess makes sense since it can be used as an insult, but which makes it difficult for me to discuss LGBTQ issues as openly as I would like. To get around the problem, I replace the "u" in the word with a "v."
Here's another poster's condescending response:
Why do you keep using a v instead of a w? You're not using real words even if the "community" thinks they are. Now we should definitely take this to another thread but I don't tolerate using fake words to make people feel special.Reread that first sentence a few times. "Instead of a w." Yeah. He then proceeded to misuse the term "asexual" after I had literally just gotten through explaining the fact that "asexual" and "intersexual" don't mean the same things in gender and sexuality studies as they do in biology.
But the unique stupidities aside, what this really tells me is that I should shut up about my queerness, just as women should shut up about their womenness, and people of color should shut up about their weird skin. We don't need diversity, is the message here. You're the REAL racist/sexist/homophobe (how the fuck does that one work?) for wanting more people of color/women/queers in your fiction! And asking for special treatment is just reverse discrimination.
Women who speak out against misogyny within geek culture are slutshamed, harassed, threatened with rape. Casual homophobia seems to be a core part of the First Person Shooter and Fighting Game scenes these days. People straight up flipped shit when they found out that a non-canon parallel universe's Spiderman had died and was to be replaced by a young black boy. They did the same thing when they found out that there was going to be a black Lancelot. Oh, and then there's the Homestuck fandom. Remember when the fandom shit itself because a bunch of assholes used a joke in the comic to harass cosplayers of color and people who drew non-white fan art? And then shit itself further when Andrew Hussie removed the joke and those same fans decided that a horrible crime against artistic genius had been committed? That sure was... peachy.
The story of geekdom of late has been one of a minority of straight white males railing against political correctness, activism gone mad, and the destruction of their last safe space. Men's Rights idiocy spreads like malignant cancer through the body of our culture, and the message I hear again and again--loud and clear though it comes veiled in a pseudo-intellectual cloak--is that I am not welcome here unless I keep my fag mouth shut.
What kills me about this is that I remember a different geekdom. I remember geeks that accepted anyone that was an outcast, because WE were outcasts. If you would associate with us, we would associate with you. For a long time, I thought acceptance and understanding was, albeit imperfectly, woven into the DNA of geeks. Weren't we responsible for the first interracial kiss on American television? Didn't our authors push the boundaries of gender and sexuality (I think of people like Ursula LeGuin in particular, here) further than anyone but the most advanced of ivory tower intellects? Shit, didn't we used to be better than this? I have conversations sometimes with older geeks that are just as disturbed as I am by the current trends. They, too, remember when geekdom represented something more.
We had a responsibility to band together against those who did not understand us, those who found us weird or freaky. We had a responsibility to welcome other outsiders, the dispossessed, with open, if slightly smelly, arms. We failed.
And then we committed an even greater sin:
WE REBUFFED THOSE WHO POINTED OUT OUR FAILINGS
People spoke out. We turned them away, threatened them, called for their heads, declared them collaborators with the enemy. We did that Robespierre shimmy, danced beside the guillotine as, one by one, our former allies lost their heads.
The man who openly sneers at the dispossessed is a danger, sure... but more insidious is the man who reacts to conflict with endless cries for peace and calm!
More insidious is the man who chides the activist for raising a fuss, who scolds the activist for "sinking to their level," who bemoans the activist's constant need to bring up the uncomfortable, push things further than polite conversation allows, or show fury or hurt when attacked, insulted, dragged through the mud, and forced to endure insult after insult.
Where is that man when his fellow geek jeers and mocks the woman, the queer, the man of color? Nowhere to be found, in my experience. Because it takes two to fight and one to bully; when a fight breaks out, it's because the attacked party responds in kind. The fight would be impossible if we would just TAKE IT LIKE A BITCH.
So many speak out against the toxicity of our culture, and we had a responsibility to listen, to stand beside them, to defend them. And we rebuffed them instead, and made them the source of the problem. I see it on, again, the Wizards community forums, when female members react with justified rage to a poster that for six years has stalked, harassed, condescended, and made deeply disturbing sexual advances towards any openly female poster. The mods will not ban him, and more and more I see other posters chiding the women for reacting with anger and disrupting the community.
We rebuff them instead.
And as a consequence,
WE BLINDED OURSELVES TO REAL ISSUES
I hate The Big Bang Theory. Everything geeks say about it--that it laughs at us rather than with us, that it relies on shallow stereotypes rather than a deep understanding of geekhood for its humor, that its gender dynamic is frustratingly regressive--is true.
The Big Bang Theory is not "Blackface For Geeks."
In fact, if you think it is, I recommend that you go see an eye doctor immediately, because shit, son, you got to get yourself some fucking perspective.
It is so damn offensive to compare a show about white male geeks that is a little stereotypical to a practice that systematically denied the acting capabilities of people of color while simultaneously reinforcing racist stereotypes that were part of a systematic disenfranchisement and, in some places, an establishment of an economic system that was slavery in all but name.
Male geeks? For fuck's sake, LOSING A GAME OF MAGIC: THE GATHERING IS NOT GETTING RAPED. I don't care how quickly your opponent beat you, I don't care how much damage that spell did in one turn, I don't care, I don't care, I don't care. It's not rape, it's not comparable to rape, and the fact that you are describing yourself as "getting raped" shows that you are at best profoundly insensitive, and at worst profoundly misogynistic.
Geeks pride themselves on their intelligence (this is a point that'll show up later on as well). We pride ourselves on having more adapted imaginations than others, better insight. And yet somewhere along the way, we forgot that with that great power comes great responsibility. We blinded ourselves to the realities of oppression, we lost our sense even of what truly constituted our own exploitation and abuse and transformed trivialities into great crimes.
But it's no surprise we can't even recognize when we're getting fucked over. See,
WE POISONED DISCOURSE
Yeah, now we're getting a bit meta here. See, there's two camps of very vocal geeks these days. There's the people that absolutely cannot be satisfied with anything and work themselves into a frothy-mouthed rage each time something happens that they don't like. And on the flip side of that coin, there's the people who go into a frothy mouthed rage any time someone decides that something new isn't to their taste. "You're raping my childhood!" one side screams. "If you don't like it, get out!" howls the other side.
And in the process we've absolutely slaughtered substantive discourse.
How do you begin to analyze whether or not The Dark Knight Rises or Iron Man 2 were functional films when the voices of critics with actual deep-level understanding of narratives or the broader political implications of certain film ideas are drowned out by people howling that the continuity has been screwed with, or backstories don't work? Or when the response is that anyone criticizing the films on their own terms are simply grognards unable to adjust to changes? Even changes that are legitimately boneheaded and insulting, decisions that legitimately undermine a work or pander to the lowest common denominator, simply cannot be discussed any more because there's so much damn noise. The discourse has been poisoned because we collectively decided that we didn't need theory, we didn't need to find better ways to articulate our complaints, we didn't want to reflect and contemplate and compare our media to other acknowledged masterpieces of literature and film and music, we didn't want to differentiate between unfocused incoherent anger and fully-articulated fury at legitimate slights.
And now that we poisoned our ability to discuss the state of our media,
WE ENSLAVED OURSELVES TO THE INTERESTS OF OTHERS
Remember when Call of Duty was advertised by Oliver North?
You know, the guy who was a part of the clever deal where we sold weapons to Iran to finance far right dictators in South America who were responsible for perpetrating all sorts of atrocities upon their own people?
That Oliver North.
Geeks are being co-opted in all sorts of deeply disturbing ways. One of them is the collusion between Call of Duty and other first person shooter game producers and the American military-industrial complex. Oliver North's endorsement of a shooting game is simply one representation of that. There was also a thing where Call of Duty was selling advertisements for real guns within their games. That's kinda sick, huh?
Another is the constant refrain I discussed above that dismisses any criticism aimed at geek products as illegitimate. This creates an atmosphere where corporations are protected by a loyal meatshield of lapdog fans, eager to explain why their favored product or company is beyond reproach. So, unfair business practices, decisions that reinforce the alienation of minorities from geekdom due to the purported "simple economic necessity" of choices like refusing to include female sprites in multiplayer games or refusing to support any game with a non-sexualized female protagonist... all these things and more are fervently explained away by the devout. In the process, they enslave our culture to people who do not have our best interests--or in some cases, the best interests of the world--at heart.
It is almost fitting, though, that this should be the case. It is almost a karmic fate, because
WE DEMANDED MORE EVEN AS WE ATTAINED THE MANTLE OF LEADERSHIP
Somehow geeks have internalized their outsider status so fucking hard that the mindbendingly huge success of a science fiction movie that features blue aliens as main characters and a movie that is the culmination of a bunch of other movies that bring together a giant green guy, a Norse god, a man in power armor, a superspy, a supersoldier, and a super... uh... archer (poor Hawkeye) is still somehow not evidence that we won. We took over. The world is effectively ours. From the bizarre surrealist and science fiction experiments in pop music videos, to the staggering success of shits like Mike Zuckerberg, to the staggering cultural penetration of weird shows like Adventure Time, geeks have taken over.
And yet we still behave as though we're outsiders, as though we're the underdogs, as though we can't catch a break.
Like, a few days ago I was wading through the maelstrom of stupidity that was the My Little Pony fandom's reaction to Equestria Girls, a movie where Twilight Sparkle goes through a magic mirror to a human high school. Amidst all the generalized stupid, there was one comment that stood out to me. The person was outraged because this was, in his mind, a clear attempt by Hasbro to take My Little Pony and turn it into something for little girls.
Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick.
That's the kind of acquisitiveness I'm talking about. It's like anything not for us is somehow an insult, as though we are all that matters in the world. It's not enough that we should dominate culture, we must utterly absorb it, and anything for anyone else is an abomination. Here's our weird geekdom religiosity rearing it's head again... in the dumbest way possible.
I guess this is just a variation of what I said earlier about our blindness, with a touch of my points about the pervasive racism, sexism, and homophobia in the culture mixed in for flavor, but I think it's worth saying as its own sort of point. We had a responsibility, once we finally won, once we got the respect we deserved, to rule wisely. We had a right to conquer the world! And we had a responsibility to recognize what winning looked like it. But somehow we missed it, and we kept demanding more. Eventually we're gonna do that King Midas thing, I think. We'll demand the world turned to gold. And in our glorious golden palace, we'll starve.
Which leaves us, I guess, with the elephant in the room. The final sin. The final great failure that underlies all the others.
WE EXPLOITED OUR INTELLIGENCE AS A STATUS SYMBOL, NOT A TOOL
We decided we were brilliant, and that we deserved to rule, and that the world should dance to our tune.
And then instead of using that intelligence, instead of using our sight, and our thoughts, and our hands, and our hearts, we erected greater and greater monuments to our own genius--sterile and perfect, reaching upward to the sky.
Seeing the ivory towers of those who had spurned us, we did not use our minds--our greatest gifts--to build a new kind of dwelling for culture, a new kind of fortress with walls to protect, not to exclude. We built, instead, our own towers and cried, "Look, we are surely gods! We have surpassed all those who spurned us, all those who sought to limit or exclude us!" We built our own Babels, our language degraded as we increasingly shouted out liturgies to our own egos, and now the animals look back and forth between the humans and the geeky, nearsighted pigs, and they just can't quite tell the difference.
We cry that pop culture exploits us, while we exploit ourselves. We turn ourselves into cultural commodities, scrabbling for every ounce of respect we can get, acquiring flunkies and moochers and fans of our own. We built high and lost sight of the dirt from which we climbed, and we keep building with our own hands, enslaving ourselves to our intellects rather than enslaving our intellects to a deeper purpose.
Geekdom is a failed experiment. Every responsibility that we had, we failed to fulfill. We did not keep up our end of the bargain.
The towers we built did not lead to God at all.
They just led straight up our own asses.
Don't Call Me Geek
I'm not a geek anymore. I was, but the culture has changed, and it's made it clear to me that I'm not welcome. Because I'm a critic and a theorist, and because I'm a social justice advocate, and because I'm a pansexual genderqueer, I'm not welcome.
My girlfriend, my sister, my other female friends... unwelcome.
My friends who are black and Latino... unwelcome.
Hell, a lot of the people I love and respect, simply by virtue of their particular opinions, or their acceptance of and interest in broader culture, are... unwelcome.
So, don't call me geek. I'm not that, not anymore, not just by my own choice, not just by my own disgust and anger, but because I am a storm unwelcome in these new towers.
Sometimes I bandy the idea about with my friends of starting a parallel geek culture--a fork of geek culture, if you will--that takes on the mantle of responsibility, that embraces the roles I lay out here and adds some more rights--the right to be protected from misogyny and homophobia, the right to articulate arguments of like and dislike without dismissal, the right to blend high and low culture, maybe. I'm not sure what you would call us. Maybe nothing at all. Maybe fans of our respected geek things--fans of The Avengers, fans of Tolkien, fans of Homestuck, Adventure Time, My Little Pony, but also James Joyce, Beethoven, hip hop, goth rock, whatever we like, whatever we want to geek out about.
Part of me wants to call us "Grangers." I like Hermione, ok? And her demotion to second in command maybe is a good symbol of the kind of problems we seek to solve.
But probably you don't call us anything at all. We're the geeks of geekdom, the new dispossessed.
And maybe I can be proud of being that kind of geek, after all.
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