Roundtable on Geek Culture

Jeffrey Ford

The only difference, and it’s a big one, is that there is something at stake for the characters and the culture, in the epics. In the Michael Bay/Avengers/Battleship movies, there’s little at stake. We know the good guys will win and that’s the point of them. Simpleton. In the epics much is at stake. Characters can perish, and not just for box office, but because it’s really part of the story. Things may not work out well. In Gilgamesh, Enkidu dies and Gilgamesh comes to the end of the tale really unvictorious but with a realization that there are no definitive answers. I doubt Bay would ever have that as a plot to a movie. The clashing and bashing of CGI, gods and monsters, is only part of it. In the films, the other part is pretty empty and/or predictable.

Kathleen Ann Goonan

I think there are two factors at work here: More People (giving all subgroups more mass) and connectivity, which gives all groups the ability to find out “Wow! There’s someone else like me! In fact, there are a LOT of people like me!”

A certain aspect of geekdom rests on being outsiders, and it often seems to me that there are is an overwhelming number of movies based on comics (there always seems to be one playing); Comic Con is much larger than Worldcon; etc. If geekdom is defined as being comic culture, geeks have won.

From 1960-1965 my life revolved around the day and hour of the week (I knew exactly) when the local drug store got their comic book shipment. I was compulsive about riding my bike to the drug store to get the latest (10 cents, and then, outrageously 12 cents, and a quarter for a big fat special) offering. My mother worked hard to extinguish what she saw as a bad habit by giving away several hefty collections. Most of the other kids who read comics were boys, but at that age I was not seen as an outsider, just one of the gang. When we moved to a place where I could not ride my bike to a drug store (until one was built a year later) the addiction was broken. (I read comic strips every day, but that’s different.) By that time I was another kind of geek–shunned because I seemed smart. Not saying I was, but it was very unpleasant to be regarded as smarter than the other kids by them. No one ever shunned me because of comics, but reading anything else–yikes!

A recent Big Bang Theory featured LOTR, and I was pleased for a few moments, when it became apparent that it was all about the movie. Then I was disappointed. So, yes, ironically, reading sf is left in the dust when it comes to today’s definition of geekdom.

Stefan Dziemianowicz

Something in this conversation has been clawing at the back of my mind, and I couldn’t figure out what it was until just now. It’s wrong to look to the box office gross of The Avengers as proof that comic-book fans exert considerable force on popular culture. That presupposes that everyone who is going to see the film is a comic-book fan. In fact, films like The Avengers become landmarks only if they reach beyond the fan culture to the much broader general culture. I’m betting that the percentage of people who read comics, or who know the Avengers through comics, made up only a fraction of the audience for The Avengers.

Cecelia Holland

On a blissfully unrelated note, the NYTimes is running a feature on Phil Dick  suggesting that we are just too ordinary after all.

F. Brett Cox

I think Stefan’s last point bears repeating. Most of the people who’ve gone to see The Avengers could care less about the original comics. In fact, I’d say the number of people who go because they’re fans of the Avengers comics is significantly less than the number of people who go because they’re fans of director Joss Whedon. And both pale in comparison to the number who go because they’re teenagers and they know their parents won’t be there.

Another question that emerges from the discussion: is awareness victory? As I said earlier, everybody knows about Comic-Con, but does that really change anybody’s attitudes about anything?

And I think Cecelia’s accurate reference to a feature on Philip K. Dick as “blissfully unrelated” to our discussion serves to underscore Gary’s earlier point that discussions of “geek culture” have next to nothing to do with the culture of reading books.

Siobhan Carroll

“…everybody knows about Comic-Con, but does that really change anybody’s attitudes about anything?”

Well, it’s changed Hollywood’s attitudes about fan gatherings like Comic-Con. Hollywood now sees fan conventions as crucial marketing locations in which they can generate excitement about their project among important cultural tastemakers (aka PowerGeeks).

20 years ago people like Harry Knowles wouldn’t have gotten the time of day from Hollywood. Now they’re courted. This represents a real change, I think: the Internet has granted a worldwide platform to media enthusiasts with websites and a link to a cool trailer.

(Did pirate radio stations have the same kind of taste-making impact? I suspect their “hits” took longer to filter out to the mainstream community. Today, on the other hand, the trailer that appears on an obscure geek site is going to be on everyone’s Facebook page by noon.)

And here we run into some of the anxieties surrounding “geek pride.” People who build their identity around their love of media appear in corporate eyes to be the ideal footsoldiers for their marketing campaigns. Who else would market somebody’s product for free?

Ellen Datlow

I never read the original comics. (oh maybe The Hulk) and I didn’t go because of Joss Whedon. I went to see it because I heard it was good and that Mark Ruffalo was especially good in at as the Hulk.

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