Friday, 21 September 2012

Remember When It Was Okay To Just Like Star Wars?

Or a Marxist interpretation of mainstream geek popularity.

Tea Diffuser
First of all, let me say that I think the mainstream popularity of being a nerd is great. It's awesome so many people are letting their inner fan-people out and that groups who once felt social pressure to not geek out, particularly women, now feel comfortable doing so. As the world's group of geeks gets larger and more diverse, the variety and amount of awesome geeky stuff to consume grows which, from a purely mercenary perspective, is great for all geeks. It gives us all a wider menu to choose from and helps keep all our favourite creators employed.

Also, just because there is a large group of vocal and visible cosplayers doesn't mean Batman is going to go away. Which is to say that I think there is enough room in the geek tent to live and let live with everyone (even Twilight fans). Which is to say, I think we should all love what we love and appreciate or tolerate everyone else and their tastes. Which is to say don't be a dick.


Ice Cube Tray
As great as the mainstreaming of geekiness is, I'm becoming concerned by how central consumerism is to the culture and, as a result, I wonder to what extent the emergence of the cool or acceptable nerd in mainstream media is a deliberate attempt by corporations to cultivate geeks to exploit our consumption habits.

More after the cut:



Now, I'm not completely naive, being a geek has ALWAYS been about consumption. I consumed the original Star Wars movies, fell in love, and bought dozens of Star Wars novels and Star Wars Lego when I was a kid. I enjoyed consuming Star Trek movies and television, so I bought Star Trek action figures. I buy comic books, and Sci-fi novels, and video games and electronics. I wear pretty much exclusively t-shirts from Thinkgeek, Threadless, Topataco and Glarkware. I own an iphone, an ipod, two laptops and I desperately covet a new Apple laptop and tablet. Being a geek is an important part of my personal identity and I'm a geek largely because I consume and am super enthusiastic about certain kinds of media and related products.


(And this is when I'm trying not to spend money on unnecessary things.)

Sleeping Bag

I've noticed this kind of behavior in other geeks too. We feverishly buy media products from our beloved geek realms (which largely belong to giant multinational corporations or eccentric douche millionaires like George Lucas). We buy the spinoff merch from these properties and collectible novelties and toys. We buy all the newest video game platforms and expensive TVs and sound systems to play them on (not to mention the piles of games themselves). We tend to be early adopters of new technology, and a subset of us are relentless in their drive for the newest tech gadgets. Compared to other cultural groups, say "the jocks", we buy a lot of expensive media and goods made by companies with a lot of media influence, net worth, and marketing savvy.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that we, as geeks, consume a lot of media and buy a lot of stuff and that makes us lucrative to huge corporations. Or at least that's my theory.

If you accept that previous premise, I've got another for you: I think corporations and advertising agencies are actively encouraging geekiness in society.


Ice Scraper


This is where things are going to get, as they say in the academic world, "hand wavey". So you know the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley? If you don't it's this brilliant book written in 1931 that is a cautionary tale about consumerist culture run amok that is eerily prescient about many aspects of our modern culture (you know, except the cloning thing). I bring this up, because one of the themes of the book is the deliberate social conditioning of people to be better consumers by discouraging activities that require few commodities (say, Hiking) and encouraging pass times that require numerous products (say, Electromagnetic Obstacle Golf). This idea of media/marketing influence driving consumer behaviour was explained in a time before total media saturation and was more of a fear/worst-case-scenario than a reality.  I would suggest that today, with our ubiquitous and pervasive media this kind of social engineering can be realised and IS being realised.  

Now I'm not suggesting that we are ingesting mind control drugs or anything. Instead I think it's a matter of how geeks are portrayed in the media. In older movies and TV, the cool characters were always slick or athletic (Zack and Slater) while the nerd was the laughing stock (Screech and Urkle). Hell, even The Breakfast Club, a movie about accepting everyone, has the geek write a really great paper while everyone else has life-affirming and social-barrier-breaking make-outs.  Geeks were not a group that were cool. Cut to the earliest of naughties when computers, video games, and the internet were suddenly very lucrative and you start seeing much more positive portrayals of nerds. I mean think of all the recent sexy nerds on Chuck, Battlestar Gallactica, Numbers, Firefly, Community and frankly wherever TV is sold. I mean even the geeks in The Big Bang Theory, which is a pretty toxic show, get the girls (who are in part geeky themselves). We are being bombarded with a message that geeks are cool and I think that it is encouraging people to accept their geekiness, to identify as geeks, and to be open about their nerdiness in public settings. 

I think all this represents a deliberate attempt to cultivate present and future geeks.

I could, of course, be wrong about this. Maybe geek numbers are exploding because we were fortunate to grow up post Star Wars but pre-prequels? Perhaps readily available Star Trek TNG and DS9 influenced us as children? It could be that through the internet geeks were able to find other geeks and form friendships and communities with. Maybe the internet helps connect even the rarest and eccentric geeks with others who share their enthusiasm? The increase in geek media might also be entirely innocent and just a result of the kinds of people who want to make media for a living being the generation of geeks who have come before us. Or maybe its all of these things AND a deliberate attempt to condition better consumers. 

I just think this is something we should think about and talk about a bit. And maybe we should find something to define ourselves with beyond the stuff we buy.

(Also, who the hell buys a Star Wars tea diffuser? Seriously.)

(Also, also, the Tauntaun Sleeping bag is legitimately awesome.)


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