Sunday, 22 April 2018

Nerd Shaming

Image result for geekOne of the problems that seem to have arisen from the apparent mainstreaming* of geek culture has been that it carries additional forms of pressure. The pressure to keep up, to not miss out (FOMO - which you know my feelings on), which is balanced by other impulses, the desire to establish one's bona fides as a 'real' geek, and to seek out authenticity. We've seen this not only in terms of the now infamous, and erroneous, belief that girl gamers must be fakes because obviously, no women really like comics, gaming, and other nerd stuff, right?** I'm guilty of nerd shaming myself, because I don't believe turning on a TV set to watch a superhero show is as authentically nerdy as going out to find your next fix in the form of a comic (especially as I date from a time when there was only Forbidden Planet to get a reliable flow of comics from, I remember going to a newsagents in Leamington hoping that they would have the next issue of Uncanny X-Men and I wouldn't be left with a disjointed comic collection).

In the same way, SF TV shows in the UK were either shown late at night, or at tea time and there was a stigma attached to them. Even Star Trek was 'for kids', not the sort of thing adults bothered themselves with. This was true of a whole raft of things, I don't remember my parents expressing anything but bafflement at computer games, and there was a clear demarcation between the worlds of child and adult that no longer exists. In many respects, this is why we have issues around children getting hold of unsuitable computer games - there's still a section of society that thinks, like my parents, that computer games are for children and so will ignore the PEGI age recommendations (and that's before you take into account pester power). I think in the USA the same is true for many comics, and that's led to a great many lawsuits including one against a university whose Comics course wasn't about superheroes but about titles like Preacher and Sandman. Part of me is sympathetic, while another part thinks that Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and other mature books are all over 30 years old and these examples of ignorance about an important artform are a direct consequence of the ghettoisation of comics and of nerd shaming. One might make the same argument about most geeky things, by shoving them out of the light they've grown and multiplied and, as in the case of Iron Fist***, haven't been questioned.

The question, therefore, is how do we deal with some geeky things being in the mainstream. I use the word 'some' because for every success story, be it Marvel's films, Game of Thrones, or what have you, there are authors and books losing out. I'm far from convinced that the success of superhero movies has helped comics sales - if it had I doubt Marvel would be using their start-stop strategy of fresh reboots and endless events to get a sales spike. I'm still waiting for evidence that these things are leading to a sustained investment in geek things. Which is fair enough, money is tight and there are only so many hours in the day (and let's face it these days comics are a pretty awful investment, being too expensive for the amount of enjoyment they provide).

What concerns me though, is this idea that if you don't keep up you're not a nerd or a geek. That you're missing out, even when there might be a dozen things you're enjoying despite, or maybe because, the lack of attention to them. In a world that has so many voices, so many stories, and where things arrive very quickly, almost in a rush of content, there seems to be no real way to pause and digest, and to mull things over. And while I get that 'take things slower' is an annoying message, I do wonder if we're overstimulated, culturally speaking. I'm also concerned that 'Geek' has become something of a straightjacket, and it has prescriptive meanings that link it definitively to shows like Arrow, Star Trek Discovery etc, etc. I don't watch much TV, but I feel the same is happening in books too, albeit in a gentler fashion. I feel I've been nerd shamed over my lack of interest in GoT and other shows, and by the fact that I'd rather read Tim Powers novels than the latest Harry Potter thing. Where geekery was at one point quite a forgiving place, it seems to have become far more judgemental on all sides.

So, this is an area where a lot of fans need to improve (and I do wonder if defining ourselves as 'fans' is part of the problem?). I need to be more forgiving of people who are love with the newer versions of the characters and stories that I remember differently and to be less obsessed with authenticity. I'm sure there are changes other people need to make (but I feel as if I'm already entering the 'bully pulpit' zone). Perhaps the most important things, on the wider scale, are to remember we're people first and geeks second and that like everything else, this moment will pass and we must be ready for the things we love to fade away. The question then will be, do we cling to them or will they become 'things we used to like'. Perhaps then, all this sound and fury won't seem so important.

* My feeling is that this is a convenient fad or fashion and that within the next decade we'll see superheroes and fantasy, in particular, return to the category of 'things that are seen as childish and nerdy.
** Which I suspect is more that there's a problem that a lot of geeky guys are trying to find love in the mainstream, not the geek world.
*** Who's a cool character and, while I can appreciate that 'white guy becomes the saviour of Asia' is problematic, I do feel that 'another Asian character who knows Kung Fu' raises as many problems because it's routinely assumed Asian people automatically know some sort of martial art, as if it's in their DNA. I'm reasonably sure this isn't just a British stereotype as the creators of the excellent Chew have stated that part of the reason they created their comic was to attempt some counterbalance to the idea.

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