Social Justice Warrior
Rocky Horror, Dragoncon, Gamergate: Thoughts On Being 'Geek'

Ross Lincoln | 11 Sep 2014 18:10
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In which we talk about just why inclusiveness matters in this thing we call Geek Culture.

No one goes all out quite like people in the South. Maybe it's just the heat. Whatever it is, when people let their freak flags fly, it's on an entirely different level. And at Atlanta, Georgia's annual Dragoncon, people let that flag fly like the fucking jolly roger.

Nowhere was this more apparent than on the penultimate night, where I sat in a packed room filled with cosplayers for a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Forget bitter arguments, angry denunciations, and obsessing over who does and who does not get to be invited to the party. In their place was what has to be the most positive, life affirming celebration of weirdness, hobbyism and yes, inclusion, I've ever seen at a fan gathering.

Before we get there, let's talk about this amorphous creature we call geek culture for a moment.

Just as Dragoncon was gearing up, a controversy as bitter as any I can remember exploded. You know the story: a fight between a portion of the gaming community and journalists who cover gaming escalated... viciously. My twitter feed (and, I'm sure, yours) was deluged with vitriol and outrage that soon became so personal I'm a bit shocked there weren't dueling challenges issued. I won't rehash this thing here - though I strongly suggest you check out our Editor in Chief Greg Tito's coverage of the latest developments, as well as our just-published ethics guidelines - but I bring it up now to talk about something else.

dragoncon parade staging more box heroes

One idea I saw commonly expressed during what has become known as "Gamergate" is a notion that can easily be extrapolated to geekdom generally: True Real Geeks apparently need to have been marginalized, mocked; one has to have really suffered for one's interests in order to be a legitimate member of the scene. Further, the scars from said marginalization must necessarily linger painfully, the wounds never quite healing. I sympathize with the people advancing this argument, and I have no doubt that many of them genuinely feel this way.

But as much as I sympathize, I think the frame of 'suffering for one's interests' as a key aspect of membership in geekdom is deeply flawed. Not just because we live in a world in which our pursuits are incredibly mainstream, (which doesn't tell the whole story). But because thinking about it this way puts the cart before the horse. It's not that 'we' had to suffer for our hobbies at all (even though I concede that there are parents, authority figures and peers who very stupidly do not get it and can be mean). It's that whatever suffering, bullying or the like we might have endured probably happened as a side effect of our being 'odd' people, regardless of our interests. And as it turned out - at least for me - that suffering was, in fact, relieved by those hobbies and more importantly, by the communities that grew up around them.

More even than comics (which of course did matter hugely), the origins of all that really lie in large part with Star Trek. The original series struggled in ratings during its three-season run and was ultimately cancelled. While the show was briefly very popular, it was mostly a flash-in-the-pan that could have easily been forgotten. And it would have been, had it not been for the boom in syndicated reruns that took off during the 1970s. In reruns, Star Trek proved to be more popular than either its creators or its former network could have believed, largely due to its being embraced fanatically by the people we would eventually label geeks.

Kirk Uhura

What happened? It wasn't that Star Trek was perfect. It drips with continuity problems that would drive geeks crazy today. It also exists in that weird neutral zone between hammy and The Method which makes all TV shot before the early 70s somewhat unintentionally hilarious. Yes, it boasted amazing writing from some of the best minds in science fiction, but what these viewers took so strongly to is Star Trek's depiction of a future that, for lack of a better way to put it, can only be called "inclusive". Racial and economic equality were treated as given (albeit in a quaintly paternalistic way; it was the 60s after all); the differences between people were, for the most part, celebrated; and it advanced the radical notion that the world might be improved by both.

Right around the same time, an English stage musical paying both homage and parody to classic B science fiction films, while at the same time mocking and celebrating changing sexual mores, became extremely popular. So much so that a film was made, hitting theaters in September, 1975 as The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Like Star Trek before it, Rocky Horror didn't quite connect with mass audiences. In its initial theatrical run it was a flop, with 20th Century Fox pulling it from nearly every theater due to tiny attendance. However, in April of 1976, Fox began running it as a midnight movie in select cities, where it found shocking success.

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