Let geeks die
Welcome to the end of 2010, a year that is certainly remarkable for one reason or another. Just like every other year encountered. It is as remarkable as it is unremarkable. It just depends on how you want to label it. 2010, for me, is many things. I could affix many descriptors to it but those will not serve it any justice. The experience of 2010 is more important than anything I can say about it.
I’ve been bouncing back and forth on the idea of the one article to sendoff the old year. What mark do I want to make at the end of the year? The most poignant would be a non-statement. Another article, perhaps a discussion of the entertaining but certainly not brilliant TRON: Legacy. Maybe a discussion of the latest Doctor Who Christmas special, which was absolutely wonderful. I would write an article and leave the end of the year understated because what’s the point and I’m too cool for that.
Then I’m linked to an article on Wired‘s blog written by Patton Oswalt, a very funny man and champion of geek justice. He discusses the evolution of geek culture over time, from his discovery of it in the 80’s to the present day of superhero movies, reboots, and deep (and publi$hed) analysis. The article is in part a tale of losing possession of one’s precious and in another part a complaint about losing one’s status. The geek is not a special thing anymore. Anyone can become part of the geek culture. The mainstream movies, the college courses about comics, and the dissemination and easy access of information on the internet make it so easy to enter the world of the geek without the same level of effort Oswalt and many others had to make. It conjured to mind the $30 I had to pay for VHS containing only 2 episodes of my latest anime interest. It does help that he used the word otaku, the self-applied label of an anime fan.
My response to the article was at first righteous indignation because the mainstream is stealing our culture. To co-opt a statement from the “Goobacks” episode of South Park, “They took o’r culture!” But then I stopped caring. I started reading the comments on the article, which I repeatedly say are the most important aspect of any blog, and I saw a few different responses. One kind of response called Oswalt an old fogey complaining about the kids messing up his geek lawn. Another kind of response suggested that geek culture has evolved into a less techy, more hands-on level of culture that is focused on cooking and making things for oneself. The last kind of response, which may be very well reasoned, is that a new geek culture is bubbling under the surface but none of those initiated in the current culture can see it. It all makes sense to me. But I realize that none of it actually matters.
I grew up being called and thinking of myself as either a nerd or a geek. I always enjoyed thinking a little longer about ideas, reading, or focusing on the smaller details of a story. People called me out on it. I love stories. I love the ideas they bring to mind. I’ve sought newer stories outside of those immediately accessible to me. (Hello library. Hello video store. Hello anime.) Naturally, I was called out on it. After a while it only made sense to wear that label. I am a geek. I am an otaku. I am an outsider because I am told that I am an outsider. It was much easier to dive into it when it was expected of me.
Patton Oswalt’s article finally made something click in my mind. Being a geek and an outsider often have two causes: rejection from the mainstream culture or a self-imposed withdrawal. Counterculture is certainly involved in some way. Is counterculture a statement asking the mainstream to move beyond or an attention-seeking announcement of, “I am different!”? Both aspects tend to be present. Sometimes you see one aspect more prevalent in a work or person than the other. Still, what does it matter?
In Oswalt’s article I found the dark underbelly of being a geek that reminded me of the underbelly of being a jock. Oswalt brought to mind the elitism and better-than-thou mentality of geekery that is more embarrassing than anything else. Just as the stereotypical jock seeks attention by being on the sports team and being something, the geek seeks attention by explaining that he was ahead of the curve and that his intentions are to not follow the herd. Unfortunately for the geek, the flaw is in the awareness of the so-called herd. The geek is still bound by mainstream culture, whether in reaction to or trying to stay ahead of it.
At the same time, there are people who are labeled geeks or jocks who are not doing so for attention. There are jocks who do not care for the glory but are involved because they absolutely love the game. Then there are geeks who are not aware of their status in or out of the mainstream, who just love the stories, the action figures, the model kits, etc. These are the pure. These are the kinds of people who do not write articles about others coming into their culture and sullying it. These are the people who say, “OK, pass me the ball,” or, “Want to make a run to The Vault of Midnight and try to find something cool?”
Writing a culturally aware response article like this certainly takes me out of the realm of the pure. That does not matter. I am not a geek. Nor am I an otaku. Nor am I even a nerd. Those are just words. Labels used to say “one of us” or “one of them”. I’m tired of that game. There has never been a geek culture. It is just another part of our culture. Maybe only a small group of people get into it, but let’s refrain from labeling them all based on that one interest. I’m sure there’s more to them. They’re all different people who just happen to like similar things. That is true for all of us. We can group together based on these things, but let’s do away with the annoying labels and the possessive claims.
This is how I’m sending off the old year. I am denouncing my geek/nerd/otaku status and embarking into a world of broad genre labels (do we really need so many subgenres?) appreciated by people without labels themselves. The appreciated cultures can stick around, but what is the point of being exclusive and elitist when it all simply comes down to an appreciation for things? I am moving into 2011 without concern for what people call me. I will still appreciate the multimedia culture the same way, focusing on what the items say and how well they are done. It’s not about proving whether or not I fit in or even having others prove themselves to me. You like multimedia? Come in, and take a seat. Let’s try to find something cool together.