— Flea Mewrilah (@Flea) September 15, 2014
By any rational measure, the geeks – fans of comic books, science fiction, video games and fantasy – are utterly triumphant. Economically, the genre in the media is dominant, earning billions of dollars a year. Critically, it is celebrated, getting sympathetic reviews in the stuffiest publications and winning national awards. In every meaningful sense, geeks are the overdogs.
For the geeks, this should be a moment of triumph and celebration. And yet instead, the typical geeks today still regard the world as fundamentally hostile to their beloved properties. The 800-pound gorilla still thinks of itself as a 98-pound weakling, and the results are ugly. The recent GamerGate controversy, so thoroughly misogynist and angry, demonstrates the problem with winners self-identifying as losers: once you’ve cast yourself as a victim in your own mind, there’s no need to interrogate your own behavior.
Maybe this is a period of adjustment, and flag-flying geeks and nerds will emerge from this upheaval in a better place. Maybe people will see that the video game industry can survive both expansion and criticism. Maybe “Game of Thrones” fans will recognize that the show’s essence will survive even with fewer naked, threatened women on screen. Maybe the bomb threats will stop. The essence of confidence is the ability to handle critiques and the existence of challengers with grace and security in your own position. If what deBoer is describing is a permanent state, though, then a certain subset of angry geeks will prove themselves to be exactly what the once-dominant culture said they were all along: myopic and insecure.
Feminist writer Laurie Penny shows admirable and constructive empathy in the face of vile, misogynist threats:
Later in [her book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution], Penny explores the sexism that pervades the digital world where she plays out her politics, laying out in detail the death and rape threats she receives for the crime of being an outspoken woman in the public eye. But she is also sympathetic to the origins of that abuse. “One of the most important things to understand about cybersexism is that it comes from a place of pain,” she writes, an “embattled masculinity” wrought from years of abuse at the hands of peers that for some men manifests itself in a resentment and hatred of women.
But what the boy geeks miss, she argues, is that they are not the only ones who have to deal with harassment or ostracism. Girl geeks like Penny, who spent her adolescence on “the type of chat forums where everyone will pretend you’re a 45-year-old history teacher called George,” experience the same sense of alienation that their male equivalents do.
Meanwhile, Zaheer Ali spotlights an important and growing subset of geek culture:
Today, black nerd culture thrives and continues to shape popular culture in significant ways. Music nerd Questlove serves as music director of one of the flagship late night shows, academics like Henry Louis Gates, Jr. inform mainstream discourse about American life and history, Black Twitter establishes the newsworthiness of black lives, and Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on MSNBC, which proudly identifies itself by the hashtag #nerdland, presents a diverse line up in cable news. The voices of black geeks and other marginalized nerds remind us that the best of geek culture provided refuge and inspiration for social misfits and outcasts.
The voices of black geeks and other marginalized nerds remind us that the best of geek culture provided refuge and inspiration for social misfits and outcasts. Mainstreaming in the form of recovering that geek culture is reason to celebrate.