Mar. 12th, 2014

fengi: (Mr. Fengi)
Part of me suspects Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was hijacked by Harold Holt.
fengi: (Mr. Fengi)
Two years ago Nick Mamatas wrote a polemic Let Us Put an End to Geek Pride. I don't agree with every paragraph and object to some points, but I get the overall thesis and fully embrace the rejection of fandom as political identity:
A subculture is not a counterculture. A consumer culture is not a subculture...Your counter-snobbery is snobbery...Not everyone who likes the same TV show as you is a member of your "family."...Geeks are not an oppressed minority. There are certainly many members of oppressed minorities who are geeks, but geeks are not an oppressed minority. The n in "N-word" does not stand for nerd, or neckbeard. You are not owed attention for the "real you", especially if you insist that a hard drive full of scanlated manga is the real you.
Since then, I've read much bullshit about geek culture which makes sympathize with Mamatas even more. The latest is Laurie Penny's "Geek culture has gone mainstream – and that’s bringing its own problems".

I question the idea of geek culture as outside the mainstream. So much of it centers on highly profitable mass consumer products influenced by the perceived power of straight white male dollars. Is not being the most dominant part of the dominant culture enough to qualify as alternative? I do think popular culture can be used as the basis for smaller group connections and communal actions, but this doesn't mean participants are inherently exempt from the bigger context.

The essay opens:
If you ever find yourself at a party full of “mainstream” literary types and you confess to having not encountered a book that everyone else considers vital, you may well be met by shocked stares. “Call yourself a reader when you haven’t read Ulysses, or Lolita?”

By contrast, at a party full of science-fiction and fantasy fans...
Why yes, and everyone who reads Oscar Wilde is fabulously fey.

Generalizations are not inherently wrong. An opening broadside can lead to a more substantial point, but this one doesn't:
Geeks were the first colonizers of what the writer William Gibson termed “cyberspace” and the digital world now rewards the things that they have always done best – unabashed enthusiasm, community-building, nerdy in-jokes, sharing information and big, dramatic arguments. Fans are welcoming to fellow enthusiasts but jealously guard their space from people who seem threatening or just don’t “get it”...Geek culture is not by its nature more liberal or tolerant than mainstream culture...The difference in geek culture is its limitless capacity for self-analysis – and eventually, after the pub has closed and tempers have calmed down on Twitter, for self-improvement.
I guess the rabid hostility towards n00bs which was (and is) one defining aspect of online culture didn't involve true geeks.

This self-flattering mythology of fandom contrasts with other essays in which Penny critiques gatekeeping within countercultures as of a piece with culture in general:
Feminists - even prominent ones with big platforms to shout from - do not get to be the gatekeepers of what is and is not female, what is and is not feminine, any more than patriarchal apologists do. Intrinsic to feminism is the notion that such gatekeeping is sexist, recalcitrant and damaging...if it is ever to be the revolutionary movement our culture so desperately needs.
Yet geeks who jealously guard their space in a manner that isn't more liberal or tolerant than the mainstream get a revolutionary pass where feminists do not.

I think the apparent dissonance arises from how much one's identity is invested in the presumed benevolence of a particular gated community. I get this. I am also guilty of wanting to set my affiliations apart from the mainstream and sometimes valid arguments can be made. Being human is negotiating the tension between the unique sense of self and the awareness of being just another part of society. Mythic narratives about watching tv and reading books may not be the best resolution.