(TW for mentions of violence, bullying and suicide)
About a year and a half ago, a story broke about a little girl who was teased for having a Star Wars water bottle because Star Wars “is for boys.” The geek community rose to her aid, informing her that she shouldn’t let her tastes be dictated by gender norms.
While the boys in question were being mean, this article is not about them. Rather, it’s about the response to the incident and some who took it too far.
It would be churlish to call sticking up for a five-year-old girl White Knighting; however, there was also a certain amount of Pedestalization. The Geek Commandment of Thou Shalt Honor Geek Girls was invoked, the rationale being that geek girls are a prize above rubies. This is condescending and basically defeats the purpose of the idea that geek has no gender, but that’s not the worst part.
At least a few of the commenters suggested that the girl whack the boys with her bottle. Even more shocking, one poster pondered how he could legally beat up the boys, or hire a kid to do so.
Remember, we’re talking about six-year-old boys.
This is an extreme example, but it shows a troubling aspect of geek culture. There is an increasing amount of hostility among geeks, and few seem to be addressing it.
In the essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” Richard D. Hofstadter noted that what distinguishes political extremists is their feeling of powerlessness and persecution. I don’t think geeks are extremists, but I believe that many consider themselves outcasts even though in many ways they dominate mainstream pop culture. On the Internet, the traditional assets for bullying (physical strength, intimidating size) fall away. Literally anyone can be a bully or be bullied online.
Literary critic Terry Eagleton has referred to religion as a form of pop culture. That’s debatable, but in many ways pop culture and geek culture in particular has become a substitute for religion. There are the prophets (Gene Roddenberry, Stan Lee, J.R.R Tolkien) and the fallen idols (George Lucas…) There are the holy scriptures (and the debate over what is “canon”) and the threat of excommunication (I’ve been told many times to “turn in my geek card.”) Flame wars can resemble crusades or even inquisitions.
There is also a way in which geek culture resembles sports fandom. Geeks root for their teams, and not just in a speculative could-The-Hulk-beat-Superman way. Some male geeks mock Twilight fandom, but is Team Edward vs Team Jacob that different from Team Marvel vs Team DC?
It’s not good enough to enjoy a geek movie anymore; the movie has to pwn the competition. (Discussing the success of the latest superhero movie on one forum, a fan wrote that the fans of another franchise were “slitting their wrists”) Isn’t there a point where this stops being fun?
To further the religion analogy, I once thought there were two types of fans. Evangelists would preach the Good News at the drop of a hat (“you’ve never heard of _____? You’ve gotta see it!”) Gnostics, on the other hand, want to keep stuff for themselves (“you’ve probably never heard of ______”)
Now, I see there is a third option: geek ecumenism, namely accepting that there may not be One True Path to geekdom. As with the religious variety, it’s probably the most difficult road to travel, but it’s also the most rewarding. If there are Geek Commandments, is it too much to ask for a Geek Golden Rule?