Roundtable on Geek Culture

Gary K. Wolfe

While I agree with Paul and others that this is mostly a new market target, I still have to wonder if it has much to do with the likes of us.

I don’t think anyone has yet mentioned The Big Bang Theory, which could be easily cited as a kind of apotheosis–the sitcomization of geekdom–except that none of the characters on that program are ever seen reading or discussing SF or fantasy or fiction of any sort. They’re comic geeks, gaming geeks, Star Trek geeks, etc. In terms of the original remit of geekdom, they’re geek-manques.

So when we talk about the commodification and market segmentation of these geek-manques, even with an occasional breakout phenomenon like The Hunger Games or Game of Thrones, I don’t see this having all that much impact on the literary culture of SF and fantasy, which is still fairly narrow and still a specialized market segment not all that much different from jazz or contemporary classical music (for lack of a better term). I don’t see corporate media throwing a lot of money at serious SF first novelists, and even the most established writers have a hard time placing a story collection with a mainstream commercial publisher. There may well be a bullshit juggernaut out there, but for the most part it’s leaving us alone in our nice little basement, just as it always has. Paul’s comparison to YA is a good point, but YA has been much more accommodating to serious SF and fantasy than the geek-manque phenomenon.

Karen Burnham

That’s a really good point–the Geek culture that’s becoming mainstream is very different from a reading culture. In my years in the aerospace industry I’ve worked with some die-hard geeks, but only one other die-hard reader.

Paul Graham Raven

Now that’s interesting, at least to me; I’ve always seen TBBT as a cage for “geekdom” rather than a celebration of it. As I remarked to an ex-housemate last summer, jokes based around the central riff that “intelligent and/or obsessive people have fascinating and hilarious personal problems!” are probably much easier to stomach if you weren’t the butt of them from puberty onwards. TBBT seems to me more geek-as-pathology, with the cultural affiliations as characterisation short-cuts based on easy stereotypes.

That said, there’s definitely a geek victimhood syndrome developing pace, and I wonder if the above isn’t evidence of me engaging in it accidentally. There was a Twitter fracas t’other day over the phenomenon of “otherkin” – just Google it – and the tendency for those who identify as such to compare their persecution to that experienced by QUILTBAG folk, POCs, Jews and women. This comparison is invidious, but it also seems to be regrettably common in a number of geek-affiliated subcultures (genre literature included, sadly), and I’m left wondering why: why, at this point of apotheosis, is that sense of victimhood coming to the surface?

Siobhan Carroll

I have to add a caveat to this discussion: cultural prominence does not necessarily translate into social power. Just because it’s the fashion this week to wear saris and listen to Bollywood videos doesn’t mean that Indo-Americans are now the most powerful group in America.

That said, Hollywood etc. is showing a new respect for comic book fans and, more accurately, their wallets. If geeks do seem to be getting more respect these days, I suspect that reflects the current high status of stereotypically “geek-dominated” professions like IT and engineering. If the geeks have money, the markets will try to please them.

Which isn’t to say that the geeky high-school kid isn’t still being bullied in school. Different insults may be hurled in a climate where everyone wears Batman T-shirts, but the insults are still there.

But being bullied in high school does not somehow grant you lifetime membership in the Oppressed Minority club. On that front: enough already.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

Another part of geek culture that pertains here: Geeks see themselves as the preservers of unappreciated or underappreciated treasures. But those preserving measures are exercised for the geek community (i.e. like-minded folks who know value when they see it). When the general culture begins to show interest, geeks feel it to be a form of trespass. Geeks like their ghetto, and no one in the ghetto welcomes gentrification by outsiders.

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