Roundtable on Geek Culture

Stefan Dziemianowicz

I don’t want to get too nerdy here, but film adaptations of comics have to be looked on as significantly different commodities than the comics themselves. Films are sold to a different audience, they have different production standards, and their narratives often deviate significantly from those of the comics–much to the outrage of the comic-book geeks.

Charles Tan

I’ve been part of a lot of fandoms so I’m wrestling with this topic–not because I don’t have an answer, but because I don’t quite understand the topic’s thesis as it covers a broad range.

Do I agree with Nick Mamatas essay? Yes.

But the problem for me begins when it gets equated with the commentary on the Avengers film, which while related, is a different beast altogether.

I want to mention though some integral points:

Any culture isn’t monolithic. “Geek” culture isn’t homogeneous. In our community for example, we don’t agree on what makes a work science fiction, or fantasy, or Steampunk, or Interstitial, etc. We debate, argue, and organize ourselves into sub-groups. I think that’s also true here.

The problem with this type of Geek culture is that it’s this concept of geek culture that Hollywood and the mainstream idea is trying to sell to us, when it is in fact diverse, and probably still has a long way to go (whether in terms of true acceptance, or delivering on a certain promise).

The word oppression has been mentioned, and while there is some stigma associated with various fandoms (including genre), let’s also not get carried away. The prejudice against race for example is oppression. The social awkwardness involved with being a “geek” is benign by comparison.

I also dislike how comic culture has been appropriated, when what we’re seeing on-screen is merely a sub-group, namely superheroes. Comics for me is actually a broad term, which includes material like manga, various non-US comics like Asterix and Moomins, web comics, or even non-superhero US comics like Road to Perdition (which was adapted into film a few years back) and Asterios Polyp. Some of these have become mainstream to some extent (depending on where you are), but comics, as a whole, isn’t quite as accepted as media wants us to think. Some are still struggling with the idea of comics that they make a distinction between comics and graphic novels when it’s just another marketing strategy at best, or a different container at worst.

But my experience with fandom is that there’s this internal crisis within it. On one hand, there’s one part that screams for acceptance, the misfit looking to fit in, and the sensationalism of all of this panders to that need. On the other hand, there’s also part of various fandoms that revel in their pain and their exclusivity: it might be the D&D gaming group that wants to preserve the all-boys club atmosphere, the hardcore gamers that rebelled against casual gaming and accessibility, or in superhero comics, embracing the misogyny and racism with “preservation of the canon” as the main excuse (a stark contrast from most of the superhero adaptations, whether it’s film or TV, which isn’t canon either save for a new exceptions here and there).

And with the Avengers, I also do think the bar has been set low. It did deliver on a shared-world film but aside from that, everything else was mediocre (although it has some compelling dialogue). I was amazed with the Thor film for example because it had a story arc and some character–but that’s because everything else that preceded it (there are a few exceptions of course) has been deficient in that aspect.

Siobhan Carroll

Thanks, Charles, for succinctly articulating something I was stumbling around.

According to Althusser, we are “hailed” in every encounter with society, and in the very act of being hailed, we are implicitly told who we are and how we should act. (He uses the example of a police officer shouting “Hey you,” and the free individual then turning around, acknowledging himself as an obedient subject before any conversation has taken place.)

In my encounters with geek culture I am continually being hailed as a white 13 year old boy. Hell, even the Avengers review makes that assumption (though I think it raises the age to 15).

In explaining my fondness for exotic adventure stories last weekend, I even said, “yes, I have the taste of a teenage boy” — and then was disturbed by this, because actually? I have the taste of a thirtysomething professional woman. Earlier in my life I had the taste of a female teenager, and that experience taught me to pick out books with white male adventurers on the cover because they were more likely to be the kinds of things I wanted to read. I learned to go to the movies reviewed “for teenage boys” because they were often the movies I wanted to see.

But do you know what? I have never met these 13 year old boys who the media keeps telling me are the foundational demographic of geekdom. (Except my younger brother, who doesn’t count as I was the person telling him we needed to go see Batman.) Almost all the geeks I have met are older, male and female, of diverse races and sexualities.

I’m tired of being hailed as a white American teenage boy.

F. Brett Cox

I have met those boys, but not recently. I was one of those boys, but it was a long time ago. Do those boys still exist? In the world in which I was 13 years old, not everyone automatically knew what you were talking about if you uttered the words “Klingon,” “Golem,” or even “Kryptonite,” or the phrases “warp drive” or “parallel universe.” Can that boy exist in the same way in a world where such terms are common coin?

Karen Joy Fowler

In recognizing us, the media are also telling us who we are. And getting it wrong. Thanks Charles and Siobhan for putting that so clearly.

I would just say though, on the subject of readings, that while we personally may not be in danger of co-option and riches, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Twilight are all book-driven markets. If the readers hadn’t been there first, the movies wouldn’t have moved in for the kill.

Fabio Fernandes

I agree partially with Nick: indeed, a subculture is not quite a counterculture (a Brazilian journalist once said simply that “counterculture is culture”, that is, two sides of the same coin, they always relate to each other). However, assimilation by the mainstream does not necessarily entail a major fail of the subculture. If we can use a word as inaccurate as evolution, then we can say subcultures evolve, and at some point in time every subculture loses its condition of tributary to enter the flux of the Amazon of cultural mainstream. And the die-hard fans/nerds/geeks will always be there, sometimes deluded by the smoke and mirrors of the silver screen (by the way, Charles, The Avengers is REALLY WELL DONE in terms of scriptwriting, don’t you dare call it a mediocre movie! *geekmomentover*), but always looking for the next big thing when it comes to satisfy their geekiness.

And what’s wrong with that? We (I mean SFF writers) are ALL geeks of one sort or other. Maybe not all of us collect stuff – stuff that is not books, of course, because sometimes we forget books are objects of desire as much as they are literature or research material, so, yes, maybe all of us collect stuff all right – but, anyway, we all collect stories. We are all looking for the next big thing, the next big author, even when we don’t agree on issues of subgenres or such. Nobody in an insider culture necessarily agrees with each other the whole time. See the punks, for example. On the other hand, that dissonance is the mother of invention: in SF fandom, every time you disagree with someone or a particular trend, you create a subpunk genre! (I’m joking but not really joking).

Let´s face it, geeks are like hackers. Every time someone appropriates their object of geekitude, they create another just because. Pour epater le bourgeois.

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