26 August, 2014

A Guide to Recognizing Your Geeks

goodbye old school...
Remember "Revenge of the Nerds?" It's a terrible movie, not one I'd recommend watching if you haven't suffered through it already, but it stands as a testament to the Bad Old Days when cool was king and "nerd" was one of the worst insults to hurl. The film presented what was, then, a novelty idea: that geeks can be good for more than shoving into lockers.

That idea isn't so novel anymore. Over the past few years, geek has actually become chic. Or at the very least, it’s got a certain cachet. The days where dweebs were automatically equated with Steve Urkel are over, and for those of us who spent elementary school defending our prized Boba Fett lunchboxes, we’re now enjoying a bit of blowback from the je ne sais quoi of Chuck, Katniss, and the rebooted Star Trek franchise.
...hel-LO new school.

It's not just coming from one corner anymore, either. Glee lifted choir kids out of the social-strata underworld; supernatural creatures like vampires, werewolves, and Misha Collins are all over late-night TV; and the ubiquity of the Marvel films— not to mention the collective dazzle from the MCU's star-studded cast— has made it gauche not to know your Avengers on sight.

So what's separating the geeks from the muns, these days? Some might argue we've got to step up our game to keep our street cred. In the wake of the Lord of the Rings movies, I wasn't the only person I knew willing to go to any lengths necessary to prove I'd been a fan before the movies— in fact, my fervor was outshone by people two and three times my age, from my father to my college advisor, who actually offered a seminar on Tolkien in 2004. In those brief and brilliant years when we were inundated by a new Rings or Harry Potter movie every time we turned around, it became the shibboleth of nerd culture to know "how it really happened", to toss out pieces of trivia like Quaffles through a goal hoop, each of us hoping to rack up the highest score.

And I get it— I really get it. When I was little, books were my best (sometimes my only) friends. Frodo wasn't just real to me, he was important. Knowing him was important, and discovering someone else who felt that way about him was the best kind of surprise, an instant recommendation of someone's character. It was how I learned who was like me and who wasn't— who it was safe to be myself around— who I could trust. Geek was my identity, and when you own an identity that slaps you firmly onto the margins of mainstream society, you come to terms with the fact that most people will never know that part of you. You just can't trust them to understand it; you'd rather hide it than have it denigrated.

better question: who doesn't like debating
the finer points of Westerosi politics?
So as the curtains have been drawn further and further back, the titans of geek media given spit and polish for presentation to a wider audience, we nerds have found ourselves swimming in a much more crowded pond. All of a sudden, knowing who Frodo Baggins is isn't a barometer for geekdom, because everybody knows. Dropping a joke about Thor's hammer isn't an indicator of who's a geek versus who just wandered into a showing of the Avengers by mistake. You can no longer automatically trust that you've found a kindred spirit in someone wearing a Winter is Coming t-shirt. So how do you tell who it's safe to debate the finer points of Westerosi politics with, and who will look at you like you're nuts for thinking that much about it? The sieve has to get finer; the tests have to get harder. Are you really a geek, or are you just pretending?

It feels like an important distinction to make. Because in labeling ourselves different, we set ourselves up as a foil to that which we're different from. The opposition is right there in the title— Revenge of the Nerds. Sometimes it can feel that dire— that we do need revenge for all the slings and arrows we've weathered defending our right to enjoy things unironically, without caring if it's cool. And reading a Red Wedding freakout on Facebook from someone who mocked you mercilessly for reading fantasy books in high school can be— well— a little galling.

Right now we're at the epicenter of the earthquake, the blast point where counterculture becomes culture. And I'll be the first to admit it's not pretty. Sharing sucks; I'm an older sister, I know. It feels like something's being taken from us, that our stories are no longer our own, and in order to keep our identity intact we have to pull up the stakes and retreat further into geek territory, rebuild our pylons and siege towers to keep the non-geeks out. We can still use our geekdom as a stick to draw a line in the sand; it can still be us versus them.

But that's a bat'leth that cuts both ways. Nobody can absorb all facets of geekdom— there just aren't enough hours in a day. I can talk Star Trek and fantasy literature for days, but the number of video games I can hold a conversation about can be counted on one hand. So does that mean I'm not a "real" geek? Does the fact that I'm 30 and only just contemplating buying my first game system somehow make me "less" than people who've been using controllers as long as they've been using silverware?

There's been a lot of talk lately about gatekeeping in geek culture as it relates to women— about girls who go into comic shops and get awkward-stared off the premises, women who go to cons and get harassed for their cosplay, women who get quizzed and challenged by whiny men who feel threatened by the presence of women in "their" geek space. I know I don't need to state that that's bullshit; we can all smell it from where we're sitting, and we know enough to avoid stepping in it.

But if I'm being honest, it's not okay to do to anyone. Who cares when someone became a fan of something? If you were lucky enough to be born with a Silver Age spoon in your mouth, good for you. But we geeks put our pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else. Who are we to judge whether someone's interest is "real"? Who are we to stand with our arms crossed and say "Not you, you are not worthy, you shall not enter here"? We're not Gandalf— we don't get to say who shall or shall not pass.

Fantasy, sci-fi, video games, comic books, they're all ways of telling stories, the purpose of which is to talk about our experiences of being human. I've talked a lot about fandom and how it provides a haven to people who are underrepresented in media— that fandom is where I go to find people like me, whether on the pages of fanfiction or in conversation with other fans. That's what draws all of us to partake in geek culture, isn't it? Sharing our experiences of what a book or movie or comic or game meant to us. Sharing. Communicating. Interacting with people who are like us.

Pardon me for waxing a little Professor X here, but we— we geeks— have more in common with the rest of the world than we might think. Peaceful coexistence with the uninitiated in a geek-oriented space is possible— and not just possible, it's happening already. So maybe this is where we find our common ground: in the exposure of our touchstones to the public eye, in not only allowing, but inviting non-geeks to experience them along with us. In welcoming the newcomers, not excluding them.

Who knows— maybe in being a guide instead of a gatekeeper, you'll help someone discover they've had a Browncoat inside them this whole time. You'll be the one that opened that door into Narnia, the giver of that Green Lantern ring. The analogies I could make are endless. The point is, we all know the experience of reading a book or watching a show and feeling the tops of our heads lift off as that spark in our brain catches and turns into an inferno of excitement. We know it, and we live for it. It's the best feeling ever. And take it from me, watching someone else experience it is like a contact high— and who wouldn't want to be the bearer of that wondrousness?

Look at it this way— this pervasiveness is the nerd's ultimate revenge. We're everywhere now, and we're turning "them" into us without even warning them first. Instead of the geek taking off her glasses to reveal the "normal" girl hidden inside, we can be responsible for the opposite transformation. It's the ultimate comeback to the challenge of hipster culture, which asks us to love things only ironically, from a safe emotional distance.

Screw that. Reject the idea that by sharing our culture there's less of it to go around. Stop worrying, and learn to love the spotlight. Love your stories, share your stories, and make other people love them too. Those people are our people now. And if the proliferation of the nerd herd doesn't sound intensely awesome to you… are you sure you're really a geek?

06 August, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy: A-Holes, Whores, and Things You Just Don't Say to Your Friends

Marvel used the word "whore" in one of their movies, and I'm really not okay with it.

Let me back up.

When I was sixteen, I called my best friend a whore, and it ended our friendship.

Okay… let me back up some more.