Wednesday, 13 April 2016

30 Blogs of Night: Geek Etiquette

Day Thirteen

I've been pondering the issue of etiquette recently, and particularly in relation to geeks and fandom. This is partly because of something I read recently about women in gaming, which I found quite distressing, and because of the Message (an Australian campaign to kick sexism out of the roleplaying hobby). Add to that reports of online abuse, of assaults at conventions and the generally fractious nature of fandom with flame wars and edition wars and so on... I get the feeling that even as companies and hobbies rush to make their products more appealing to women, and members of minorities, groups within the hobbies are unconsciously, or consciously, trying to stake out those areas as their territory. In some respects, after the furore over the all female Ghostbusters or female leads in Star Wars, it feels as if parts of SF are becoming increasingly hostile towards women.

Which rather steams my broccoli, especially as the reasons for it are either 'SF is for boys', or 'they're raping my childhood'.

So I wanted to talk a little about the idea of geek etiquette, what it means, and how we can encourage it. The easy version I suppose, is 'don't be a dick', or 'be excellent to one another', Which is all well and good, but I get the feeling that we need to delve a little deeper, because the thing about geekdom is that it is different to the mainstream, and presents challenges that you won't necessarily find out in larger society. This is partly because so much of what makes us geeky is based on passion, involving things we care about deeply, even if in the long run they don't really matter. Nobody died because Marvel made Iceman gay. Nobody is going to starve because Star Wars Rogue One has a strong woman as a lead character. Sorry, I don't care how passionately you feel about it, but it's wallpaper (especially when you look at what else is going on in the world).

Another aspect to consider is that geek stuff is often a male safe place, for kids who get picked on at school. Comics and the like provide an environment for those children to find heroes, and start to emulate them. It's natural therefore to react badly if the people you associate with the bullying and unpleasantness that drove you to fandom start to invade and take over (and like it or not, girls can be bullies as well as boys). That doesn't excuse bullying within the hobby however, and if a male geek can't handle girls getting into the hobby they should take a good long look at themselves if only to work out why.

So what should we stipulate as being the planks of etiquette specific to  Fantasy, Horror and SF fandoms?

1) Listen. Not hard thing to do, but most geeks are keen to get their points across and seldom pay attention to anyone else's opinions. Take a step back and hear what other people are saying, it might just bring a new perspective on the things you love.

2) Respect Others' Pasts and Knowledge. Bear in mind how much you don't know about the people you meet, unless you're secretly a telepath. The person you're extolling the virtues of your latest passion about might have read or seen far more than you, and be bringing that to bear in their assessment of your pash. For example I have read a lot of fantasy fiction (enough to grow bored of the tropes certainly), and that comes into account if someone tries to sell me on a new series of books.

This cuts both ways of course, and is one area where I will pin something on female fans. There are reports of Twilight fans invading Cons and basically being unpleasant to other geeks because 'Twilight is special'. No, no it isn't and you're an ass for acting up like that. If we're all playing happy families, that means we all have to. You don't get to pick and choose who you do it to.

3) Present Reasons. Linked to the point above, I would encourage any fan to see if they can step back and present reasons why they like something. Don't just blather on about how it's the best thing ever and you love it, think about who you're talking to and tailor your arguments. It's no good trying to sell something on how scary it is to someone who hates horror, or who hates zombies (if say you're selling the Walking Dead).

Linking back to Point 1, listen to the reasons others have for not feeling the same away about whatever you're passionate about. For example, I feel strongly that Star Wars is at heart quite an ugly piece of art, not in the way it's presented but in its subtext. It feels very American Way through strength of arms, coupled with a white, male supremacy aspect that I can only compare with Alien's feminism (as they were made about the same time) and feel that it's a retrograde franchise that isn't in anyway progressive. But I know I'm in the minority and that I'm probably overthinking... I just don't get the love of the series as a result. My point is that I can state that but I don't have the right to poo poo anyone else's opinion just because I dislike the franchise.

4) Accept Change. The world changes, attitudes evolve and anything that wants to survive has to adapt or end up a 'classic' (which let's face it can be just another way of saying 'sits on a shelf and gathers dust'). So, things have to change, they don't get a choice. Rather than kicking off, accept that and move on. Perhaps you need to acknowledge that something you loved in your childhood is no longer for you, and that you should cultivate another interest. Perhaps we all should, and just grow up a bit. I don't know.

Also, if something comes along and it doesn't look like your cup of tea, even if its part of a dearly loved franchise, don't see it! Or read it, or buy it or whatever. Believe me when I say, your first impression is probably the one you'll stick with and while I know that geeks often think that if they miss something production will cease, that isn't actually the case. If you don't fancy something, it will all be okay.

5) Look Past the Packaging. One of the things I see most often is criticism over the way women dress or present themselves in geek environment, and to be fair there's a large proportion of 'pretty girl dresses provocatively to get attention' out there. Companies aren't averse to using our interest in scantily clad women to shift products either - why else would they employ Booth Babes?

Despite this, try to ignore the attention seeking tactics and treat them as people, even if you're getting annoyed by the way they're simpering at the GM or leaning forwards a bit too much over the wargaming table. Treat them as you would anyone else, they'll get bored of it and stop. Simples.

6) Be clean, Be Polite, Be Punctual. You know, the usual stuff. Be how you would want others to be, and you can't go wrong.

Or in short 'don't be a dick' and be excellent to each other'.