Wednesday, May 16, 2012

putting my geek culture thoughts to bed

I was asked to write up a piece on my thoughts on geek culture, for Parabasis. So I did! And I'm glad, because I have long flogged away at these issues without getting to just how I feel. This piece is my summation. I hope that people can see from it that the point is not to denigrate or attack people who still feel marginalized as fans of sci-fi or whatever, but to ask them to place those feelings in a larger context. I really do mean it: it's time to enjoy the fruits of the growth that you've craved, and you can't do that if you're too busy lamenting. Check it out, and please share/tweet/link it, if you're inclined.


Matt Eckel said...

Very interesting. I wonder if the real desire, even if it's subconscious, is for geek culture to achieve the status that traditional high art forms like opera and ballet used to have: marginal in terms of fan base, but looked up to by the mass of people who lack the resources/cultural chops to appreciate or participate in it. In other words, there's a thrill in being part of an exclusive club that has now been diluted by the popularization of geek culture. Perhaps "victory" would be a return to that exclusivity, but with popular derision replaced by popular envy.

Freddie said...

I think that part of the thing is that culture is just so diffuse and idiosyncratic that we don't have those models anymore. It's so hard to talk about any such thing as a unified culture.

Matt Eckel said...

There's something to that yeah. Pierre Bourdieu would have a field day.

Isaac said...


I totally agree! As I tried to hint in my intro to Freddie's piece (and I hope to make more explicit) I think what's happened is that what geeks really wanted was to have social and cultural capital surround their interests. They got actual capital instead. And the problem is that things that are super duper popular (as superheroes now are) cannot, by definition, carry much social or cultural cache because that cache relies (at least according to Bourdieu) on scarcity!

I also think, however, that Freddie is onto something with the tea party analogy. Fandom communities tend to be at least partially defined by grievance. And thus that grievance has to be constantly fed or else the community risks being destroyed. On parabasis later this week we have an interview coming up with's Laura Miller in which she touches on this.



Paul Sherrard said...

Good piece. However I think there's more than a geek dynamic in play here.

(1) You wrote something awhile back about how people tend to project implied judgment into others' taste for art when that art is "highbrow"; e.g. a taste for James Joyce is construed as an implicit putdown. This is a very real phenomena. I think what's going on with the Marvel movies is the converse: since this is "lowbrow," any criticism must be snobby & elitist.

(2) This is complicated by the fact that lowbrow culture = popular culture, and (in America since at least the 60s) pop culture = youth culture. Comics, until recently, were for kids; so was rock & roll. Today we have millions of 40-year-olds who read comics and listen to Van Halen and AC/DC. And I think they're a bit defensive, because I think they must know on some level that they ought to have outgrown that stuff at some point. NOT because it's "lowbrow" or bad---it's not necessarily bad; some of it is very good---but because it really & truly is for kids. The point of view expressed by the best hard rock music is (usually) completely, 100% adolescent. That's its whole strength. The emotional issues faced by the X-Men in the typical Chris Claremont extravaganza are adolescent emotional issues: fears of not fitting in, reaching out, feeling vulnerable, etc. It's not that an adult can't revisit this stuff, but one hopes that he does so nostalgically & it's no longer his bread and butter. This is a matter of personal development, not artistic value.