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May 16, 2012


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Noah Berlatsky

This is a great essay. Thanks for posting it.


Yeah, but what about my mom?

Nicole Starrett

Damn, homie! Ok, hold on to your hats kids, because here comes a (highly imaginative, possibly childrens') book.

"You might speak to a fan of avant garde theater and count your blessings; better to be able to get the media you want and be unhappy with its critical reception than to not be able to get your hands on it at all."

Love you. Love this. Great article, son. And this quote IS true, but perhaps not in all the ways I might like.

For example, you might notice past and former "musical theater geeks" lately dealing with the same type of identity struggle that you write about. Shows like "Glee" and "Smash" continue to gain overwhelming popularity. Broadway embraces the youth demographic with "In the Heights" and even "Book of Mormon"! The once- marginalized theater nerds are now tv's popular kids (IRL)!

And hey, as a result of shows like this, some underfunded high schools are receiving theatre arts funding:

( http://broadwayworld.com/article/SMASHs-MAKE-A-MUSICAL-PROGRAM-Announces-Winning-Schools-for-Fall-Phase-10-Winners-and-20-Finalists-20120507 )

Wahoo!!! Victory for theatre geeks, right?

Well, yes, and no. As you point out, "Self-conceptions of victimhood are not easily rejected." (SO GOOD.)

Point being, an oppressive force, imagined or real, (and I would argue "shadowy cultural elite" and "the popular kids who hate us because we're artsy" are one in the same here) is crucial to the narrative of geekdom. Which is the very same reason why these genres are so popular- America loves an underdog story.

I think the real fear here is, if nerds embrace this new status as pop heroes, does it destroy that "loser" narrative? Do you maintain nerdal integrity as an outsider when America loves you? (And yes, nerdal is a word that I made up for the purposes of this sentence.)

All people are afraid of losing their story. I'm gonna turn to immigrants on this one- the "assimilation/cultural loss" fear of the first generation, or "find a nice Jewish girl and settle down", perhaps. The hope being, if you can keep it within the boundaries of the underdog group, eventually this group will grow, thrive, prosper, and take the power from The Man- without losing its own cultural hallmarks in the process.

But as we know, America doesn't work that way. We are all about assimilation- which involves loss and gain. There is always a cost, but collaboration, artistically, and ethnically, works for the most part. Duh, mixed race babies are the cutest.

Which is why, in conclusion, i think your point about introspection on the nature of the art form, and connection (not division) between the genres is the best solution... or way for marginalized nerds everywhere to look forward to a new, still unfolding story.

United we stand! Go team!

(*Exit, chanting "U-S-A!! U-S-A!! USA!!"*)


While it's true that Roger Ebert is infamous for the row he had with geeks over whether video games can be considered as art, he has actually championed a number of "geek" genre films, e.g. the Nolan Batman films. Freddie, you could probably pick a better example for one of the critics that is a stick-in-the-mud holdout.

Micah Blackburn

While certainly 'geek culture' is becoming more acceptable in media these days, to pretend that this somehow represents an overall acceptance of geek culture or a parity with non-geek culture is
disingenuous as best. The fact that elements of geek culture have been sublimated by the main stream do not indicate an overall acceptance of that culture. It is a fad, a temporary bridge between the cultures that, like some video games, allows a point of contact between the cultures without guaranteeing acceptance. The mainstream will happily watch a Batman film, or the Avengers, and still look down on people who read comics. While Game of Thrones achieves popularity, it doesn't lead to positive depictions of role-players and larpers, who even when they are presented in a mildly positive light (The Big Bang Theory) are still the butt of the joke. When will geeks think it's enough? Probably when the number of shows and movies that cater to our interests reaches parity with the number that doesn't. It will be enough when characters who read comics and play role-playing games are depicted as the main character, not the nerdy sidekick. Whether the Avengers wins mainstream appeal or not is irrelevant to how well geeks are treated by the mainstream; Star Wars was very popular and though it opened the door for geeks, it didn't lead to their widespread acceptance.

Clarisse Thorn

One thing that I find odd about this phenomenon is that when I talk about my interests as a teen, I am now frequently parsed as bragging in some weird way, or trying to one-up people. It's like ... no, I really did enjoy gaming and obscure SFF, I'm not saying that to impress you, and why are you trying to insist that you did it earlier/more/better than I did? I wasn't even trying to compete!


I also find many of the superhero stories that have a lot of financial legs to push a character type that bears a strong resemblance to the Religious Right's savior Jesus Christ.

Certainly, these stories don't make up the whole of 'geek culture's message,' but they do seem to have the most widespread marketability.


Fabulous essay. I would say this applies in equal measure to genre fiction. BUT the Nobel still hasn't gone to a genre writer. (I'm sorry but Lessing does not write science fiction). When someone like Le Guin wins the Nobel, then that's the final wall tumbled down.


This Felicia Day song is almost an exact representation of the issue at hand:


I love The Guild and Felicia Day's work in general, but even I thought—and I remember the not-that-long-ago days when being a geek got you beat up—"pander much?" It's just as you say, being a victim of jocks and the "mainstream" is an integral part of geek self-definition. I remember more than a decade ago Jon Katz posted a bunch of stories on Slashdot where geeks "came out" and told their stories of persecution post-Columbine. It was the biggest and most popular set of posts ever, in 1999, when a lot of these trends were starting.

I really do think those of us who identify with geek/nerd subcultures need to get beyond the victim mentality—maybe even rethink the idea of defining ourselves around pop culture products, no matter how niche...then again, I run an anime website, so look who's talking. :) (Anime/manga fandom is, compared to the superhero blockbusters, a tiny fringe, by the way. The "manchildren pervert" stigma is still alive even from other geeks...)

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Geek culture didn't become mainstream. What happened was that the mainstream fragmented so totally that geek culture achieved dominance by having spent decades building independent production and distribution systems from the mainstream (such as the big TV Networks). And what looked like a small fanbase in 1980, looms huge in the fragmented world of 2012.

Of course that hasn't changed anything. The perfect example is the Academy Award win for Return of the King. It required a trilogy of critically beloved, hugely successful fantasy films in order to secure that award. And that certainly didn't result in, say, Wall-E getting even a nomination despite being the best movie of the year by far when it was released. Similarly, Battlestar Galactica was almost totally shut out of the awards. Community is shut out, while the Emmys has twice now nominated every main character on the incredibly bland, mostly coasting, white, upper class drama Modern Family.

While the English Departments have been taken over by the barbarians (and good for them). The cultural gatekeepers still work quite hard to make sure that regardless of popularity the genres are not considered serious or artistic.


Yeah, Ebert's a bad example, given that he was an actual classical-style fanzine-making science fiction fan in his youth.


I wasn't really a huge fan of The Avengers. To me the movie was just mindless action. I like the character of Iron Man and think he is played by a great actor. It is also cool that all the superheroes are in one movie. Apart from that though The Avengers is not very good and is my least favorite superhero movie. I've yet to see Captain America but I really want too. On a side note most people are seeing these comic book movies not just geeks. Yes geeks love these movies but so do average joes. Movies like spider man are suppose to appeal to everyone.


It seem to me more that mainstream is accepting sci-fi elements and people are willing to play games when their friends play the same games, that does not have consequences for people whose tastes still lie out of mainstream. While mainstream and those people share affinity for futuristic gun design, whenever game or sci-fi piece step out of narrow bounds mainstream outrage ensures.

The out of mainstream people used to be called geeks, but that word used all meaning lately. I have seen a piece that called 4chan users geeks. This piece seem to use the word geek interchangeably with "anyone who likes sci-fi". The out of mainstream people did not ceased to exist, we just do not have word for them anymore.

The thing that attracted me to sci-fi was space for darker stories and grey morality rarely found in mainstream (HBO production excepted last years). That is cause for outrage currently, although if the piece is popular enough (Game of Thrones) the piece can get a pass.

Knowing most about games, the blogs complaining about "high culture" have their couterparts - blogs complaining that just released shooter prevents "growing up" or "moving on" of the games. There is culture war going on between propenents of artistic game like experiences (usually young culture writers) and fans of gameplay game kind of types. That is who they argue with, most of us have no idea what happens inside real academic academia. There is huge disconnect between writers and game buyers.

I have seen gamers complaining about games being blamed for violence every time shooting happen much more through. People complain about being called racist misogynist neckbeards whenever they disagree with mainstream writers. Avengers or candy crush being popular is irrelevant to me when entertainment I like is still treated as cause of violence or sexism or racism for dubious reasons. When it is sexist to like Skull Girls (I like them) or preference for Mortal Combat makes you presumably violent or childish, candy crush being popular is of no consequence.

I do not particularly care whether Avengers won mainstream award or not. I like what I like and while it is great when majority likes the same, I do not mind when they don't. Mainstream can like or not anything depending on how current tastes changes go. I do care a little when the words "geek" and "nerd" are used as insults usually together with "neckbeard" or "man child" - oddly enough even if you are a women.


"The out of mainstream people used to be called geeks"?


*Some* of the out of mainstream people used to be called geeks.

Some of the other out of mainstream people, such as the Amish and the Grateful Deadheads for two of many examples, did not used to be called geeks.

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