Geek is the New Hip? Count Me Out

So, there’s this new website, “The Society for Geek Advancement.”  They made a video.  How cute!  In it, a smattering of geeky icons (Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton, and Jonathan Coulton among them) proudly declare their love for geeky things alongside some people who… I don’t know.  They’re pretty, and they use Twitter and Macs, so hey, they can be geeks too!

Are you wtfing at your screen, too?

Yeah.  A bunch of people did.  Wil Wheaton got a bunch of backlash for it, and mused a bit about how the project had morphed from what he’d originally understood it to be.  It really does seem like some kind of marketing ploy.  All through the video (I typed ad, originally, that’s how much it feels like one), I expected to see some sort of  “GO BUY THIS NAO” at every new celebrity.

There is apparently a purpose to it, though it’s not all that evident on the site.  The creator, Shira Lazar, wanted people to use social media for good causes and to make a difference.  Proceeds from sales of “I Am A Geek” t-shirts go to Room to Read, which, hey, reading and education is an excellent choice, made even more awesome by the fundraiser they threw benefitting six girls.

However, it still seems to sneer a bit at things that are, traditionally, pretty geeky — Wheaton declares that he doesn’t speak Klingon.  Someone else burbles proudly that they don’t play Dungeons & Dragons.


Now, in his defense, Wil says he meant the Klingon thing as inclusive, in a sense:  “Geeks don’t have to speak Klingon.” Which, okay, I’ll give him.  I’m guessing it’s one of those things where, the meaning of it was clear to him, but when it comes out in a two-second sound bite makes the ones who are fluent in Klingon boggle.

Bridget McGovern at Tor sums it up perfectly.  Go read the whole article, but let me quote my favorite part:

One of the greatest strengths of geek culture is its remarkable inclusivity, its creativity, its ability to encompass and combine disparate ideas, modes of thoughts, and areas of interest without having to worry about keeping up appearances or maintaining the conventional status quo. To be so dismissive of traditionally maligned geek interests and so incredibly smug about our apparent technological superiority at the same time doesn’t celebrate geek culture—it’s just a cheap way of buying up some nice property in the mainstream, at the expense of the quirks, the playfulness, and the ability to be comfortable being different that is the essence of geekdom.

If there is one stereotype we should be moving away from, it’s the geekier-than-thou, Comic Book Guy-style sense of smirking superiority that only serves to alienate individuals from one another within and without the community. The creators of the SGA seem to think the best way to empower geeks is to ditch the nerdy comic books, hand the Guy an iPhone and a Twitter account, and make him over into an Ashton Kutcher clone, while retaining the obnoxious, supercilious attitude. This plan has the stink of a bad 80s movie all over it, and as someone who’s seen Can’t Buy Me Love more than a few times, let me tell you—it doesn’t work, my friends.

That.  Right there.

I know it goes against the idea of geekery-as-inclusive when I want to shout “YOU ARE NOT A GEEK” at so many of the participants in that video.  But I dunno, I get the sense that more than a few of them would be quick to sneer at con-goers, WoW players, tabletop roleplayers, and members of the SCA.

Hooray for you — you have a popular blog, you have a million followers on Twitter, you played Guitar Hero that one time and it didn’t totally suck.  Sometimes you forward LOLcats to your friends, and you even went to see the new Star Trek/Spiderman/Terminator flick!

I’m all for geekery going mainstream.  Hey, that means that more of the things I like might get the recognition they deserve!  More sf/f books?  More shows like Firefly, Lost and Fringe?  Kings getting put back on the air?  Hell. Fucking. Yes.

But if the idea is for sleek marketing people to redefine what makes a geek, make it hip and cool, pretty it up by taking away certain elements so the Cool Kids can still have people to snicker at, then count me the hell out.

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