The mainstreaming of geeks
Thanks for all the well wishes, folks! Everything went well, and I’m mostly tired, but should be back to lifting heavy objects in no time. (Or 48 hours, according to the doctor.) Since lifting heavy objects is my favorite thing to do, this was welcome news.
And thanks for all the recommendations! I love Netflix streaming, but the biggest problem with it is it’s really hard to find the good stuff. I knew in my heart that there was a lot of worthwhile stuff lurking in its depths, but knowing where to start is rough. The algorithm that creates recommendations in not just Netflix but nearly all sites like it struggles to really come up with stuff you like, or maybe it’s just me. Liking one sci-fi show doesn’t mean I’ll like the others, but it’s hard to program je nais se quoi into a computer. I’m not mad about it, but just find it one of the more mundane, everyday problems that makes making computers think “like humans” so frustrating and likely impossible, at least in my lifetime.
As a thanks to you, I want to share this awesome article by Emily Nussbaum about “Community” and “Dr. Who” and the dialogue between mainstream and geek entertainments. For some reason, Nussbaum employs the euphemism “passionate fan” to describe people who are commonly known as geeks, perhaps because a lot of these passionate fans don’t identify as geeks, both for their own reasons and because, frankly, the geek community isn’t having it. But what she notes is that these two shows—“Community” and the reboot of “Dr. Who”—have in common is that they balance their geeky obsessions with more universal human concerns.
What she doesn’t go on to say, but I think is an interesting extrapolation, is that this is exactly why so much “geek” culture has gone mainstream. In fact, there’s a long-running joke on the show “Party Down” about this. One of the characters is an aspiring screenwriter, but he constantly harangues everyone about how the only good sci-fi is “hard” sci-fi, i.e. sci-fi that minimizes relationship to maximize time spent on detailing out the imagined workings of the various sci-fi Macguffins that move the story ahead. (The comedy of this is heightened by dwelling on the least plausible kind of imaginary science that populates sci-fi.) The sci-fi and fantasy shows that make the leap into the mainstream are the ones that focus on human relationships, making them more “literary”, and allowing people who aren’t interested in the trappings of fantasy narratives themselves to get engaged. The best of these manage a nice balance, where they don’t completely eliminate the geekier elements; fans who were unwilling to listen to light exposition about space travel and other geeky things wouldn’t make it through “Battlestar Galactica”, and fans whose eyes shut the second they start hearing about the pedigrees of various demons wouldn’t get very far in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. But these shows had a good sense of how to rein that stuff in and make sure that the focus was always on relationships and emotional storytelling, anchoring the story in something we all understand, which is people.
I’m definitely in the category of fans who have no interest in the “hard” geeky stuff, but eats up what I consider successfully mainstreamed stuff like these aforementioned shows, and stuff like “Game of Thrones”. What I find interesting about all this is that, from my viewpoint that’s basically outside of geekiness, I don’t see a lot of antagonism from inside World O’ Geeks towards the mainstreaming of their obsessions. Which is interesting, because most people who have drawn an identity from a subculture tend to get very defensive of that subculture, and suspicious of travelers who want to stop by, get something out of it, and then move along. Part of it probably has to do with a geek ethos of inclusion, but I also think it’s because most geeks are seeing a material advantage from the mainstreaming of their obsessions. One of the big problems with old school stuff is that there wasn’t much money being thrown at it. Mainstream geeky fare, however, can get a bigger audience, which means more money, which means more special effects, bigger name actors, better editing, and it means all the best talent can be recruited for a project in general. The expansion of San Diego Comic Con alone shows how much material benefit long-standing geeks get from the mainstreaming of their culture.
Just a few thoughts before I retire to the couch to watch some of the stuff you guys recommended. I should be in full fighting form tomorrow. Meanwhile, thoughts on this? Is the mainstreaming of geeky stuff good or bad for geeks?