Age of the geek?

There have been a couple of recent book events that have annoyed me. The Da Vinci Code was one of them. So many people were going crazy over the content of the book, over the concept that the author was trying to push, and yet the writing was utter shit. I mean, just terrible.

I read detective novels and suspense thrillers. I went through a period in my life where I had read almost all the current releases, even the shitty books that they sell you at the checkout counter in big box stores like Wal-Mart or Meijer, for like $1.99. So, when I started reading the Da Vinci Code and I was able to guess every step that the author would take for the first 30 pages, I decided I was done.

I don’t want to be a step (or five) ahead of the author. I want to be surprised and shocked and mesmerized the whole way. Which I wasn’t.

And I wasn’t all that surprised about the content of the book, either. After reading other books with similar theological content (and which mare much better written) like Christopher Moore’s Lamb, and seeing films like Kevin Smith’s Dogma, the idea that things did not go down like the bible spells it out is not a new concept to me. And it’s not heretical, at least in my mind. There are numerous reasons why the Catholic Church and the Pope would want to change the story to meet their own needs and I get that. Which is why the whole plot of the Da Vinci Code just didn’t shock me.

Like, at ALL.

That ties in with a second phenomenon that bothers the crap out of me. Remember when Lost came out and all these people got sucked into the story? People who had denigrated and smack talked all sorts of sci-fi and fantasy works for years?

Yeah, they decided that they loved Lost and they fell into two categories. Either they refused to believe or accept that Lost was actually a work of science fiction or of fantasy (which I experienced when I worked at Blockbuster and got into an argument with a woman who refused to accept that Lost was a fantasy despite all of the evidence to the contrary), or they acted like they were the first person ever to like science fiction or fantasy. Or, that Lost was the first show to do any of the things that it did.

Spoiler alert- it wasn’t.

Not that I don’t think Lost was a great show, although I only watched the first season and that was it (god, back to the Twilight/Hunger Games conversation). I think it did amazing things and I am actually pretty glad that it got people interested in speculative fiction. However, as a lifelong speculative fiction fan, it’s annoying.

My husband is seeing this trend in gaming and with comic books. It’s really popular to be a geek right now. Geek isn’t really derogatory anymore, which is nice for the kids growing up, but it’s annoying for those of us who went through that gauntlet when we were kids and are mad as hell that the people that tormented us with snide comments and who failed to invite us to their parties are suddenly embracing the very things that they gave us shit for.

The internet, it seems, it responsible for this in the long run. It’s not that Spider-Man is inherently cooler now than he was thirty years ago. It’s not like the X-Men have undergone a major revision and are suddenly a different, more exciting team of heroes. No, it’s that the people who never would have read those comics or seen those movies in the past are being shown, thanks to technology, that those stories are amazing, they are spectacular (see what I did there?), and they are worth spending time and money on. The internet, it seems, is a geek enabler.

The internet makes it easier to share your passion. It makes it easier to show people WHY you love something and give them an interactive medium with which to ask you questions and find out more. And if someone does find your little manifesto on why Nightwing/Robin is the best sidekick ever in the history of comics (with Bucky coming in a close second), they are able to, with just a few clicks, find more material to read and do research. Comics, it seems, are not difficult to get a hold of anymore, even if you live in the middle of BFE.

Short stories, fan fic, book/comic/movie reviews, podcasts- there is an amazing amount of access available via the web and it’s allowing people to find their inner geek, even if they hadn’t allowed themselves to do that previously.

Which bugs the shit out of the nerds/geeks who had to take the heat for loving Star Trek or Star Wars for the past 40 years or so.

I was an angry kid, tall and strong and big, who cared what people thought but was able to throw shit back and ACT like I didn’t care when people made fun of me. It was fun to be contrary and tell people, “so what?” when they told me that I was a loser or that Star Wars was lame.

“Why do I care what you think?” does wonders for people messing with you. (I will also confess that I won a weight lifting competition when I was in high school and after my total weight lifted was announced over the intercom the Monday after, there was a certain segment of dudes who had given me shot before then who decided that I was no longer worth the hassle, which made life a lot easier for me.)

Seriously, when you tell people who are giving you shit that you don’t give a shit about what they’re saying, it is so much fun to watch their faces. They sometimes deflate, like a balloon, or they get all red and mad, which is equally awesome.

But I digress.

My point here is that my husband and I grew up without the internet. If we wanted to squee over Star Wars or Thundercats or whatever, we needed to actually meet people, probably in our hometown or at camp or something, to talk about it with. It could be hard to find fellow fans (Escape to Witch Mountain fans, please contact me!) and being a fannish person could be super lonely.

If you were alone, and you were taking shit from people at school, it could be a long, hard road to walk.

That all changed with the internet. We got the internet at my house in 1996 and the coolest thing about it, at least for me, was the fact that I could get on Yahoo (oh, 1990’s, how quaint you were!) and do a search for any of my fannish loves and find web sites devoted to it, fan fiction archives with the additional adventures of whoever it was you wanted to read about, newsgroups discussing the latest episodes, and e-mail loops with all of the above.

Suddenly, the community of geeks was much larger, in that it now included the entire world, and smaller, in that so many people from all over the world became close friends with fans who felt the same way about it.

On the one hand, I am so glad that today’s kids can log on to the web and find someone else who loves what they love and they can talk about it. Even in a town as small as the one that I grew up in, it’s easy to find someone else to geek out with, even if they live 5,000 miles away.

The other side is that the special nature of geekdom is slipping away. It used to be that you survived the trial by fire and you earned your stripes. You got respect for what you made it through and what you were able to find on your own. It took work to get a hold of fanzines or fan films. It was hard to get all the episodes of Doctor Who or Cowboy Bebop. Now it takes less than 5 minutes and you can have the entire run of Doctor Who on your iPad.

I feel like an old person, complaining about this, but I think it is something that needs to be brought up. After all that, it comes back to the Lost phenomenon. All sorts of late speculative fiction adopters are annoying those of us who have been in the game for most of our lives. It is super frustrating when people talk about tropes of the genre that appear in these shows (I will include Battlestar Galactica here as well because there are a ton of people who jumped on the bandwagon because it was cool, not because they really loved the sci-fi and started acted as though BSG was the first to do any of it and really? It was a REMAKE of a show from the 1970’s- CLEARLY it is not entirely new and fresh.) as though the show was the first to do any of it.

No. No it isn’t. They are tropes. Please to be doing some homework.

Here’s the thing. I’m not opposed to things like the Da Vinci Code or Lost. I just wish they were BETTER than what we’ve been given. If we’re going to suck in this new wave of fans, why can’t we give them the best that genre fiction has to offer, not just something that’s middling?

Clearly there is something in these works that have connected with these viewers/readers in a way that previous works did not. That must be taken into consideration, clearly. My concern is that what if what drew people in is something superficial and stupid, that no one who is a true lover of genre fiction would ever want to repeat in their own works? Like, did people watch Lost because of the cast? Or because they were fans of Felicity and JJ Abrams was a part of Lost? Or was the massive marketing campaign that ABC threw out a part of it as well?

I don’t want to be the snob that doesn’t want to let in the barbarians at the gate. I love that more and more people are getting into the things that I love. It’s just that, as they do, they are changing the nature of fandom and of fannish interactions. They’re changing what it means to be a geek and some of us long term, hard core geeks who survived all those early battles are a bit bitter.

Just a bit.

I’ve been on LiveJournal for over 10 years, and I’ve been an active participant in fandom and fan fiction culture for almost 20 years. There are certain rules that were created in the early days of the net that governed the way that fan interacted. Those rules tried to take into account misogyny, racism, ablest language, gender and sexuality issues, and generally try to make fannish online spaces safe havens for fans of all types, no matter what they look like, who they worship, who they want to have sex with, or what kind of body they were currently living in.

New fans are breaking these well-established rules, left right and center. Just look at the comments on any random youtube video. Or on popular online blogs like IO9 or Huffington Post. The negativity, the vicious attacks on anything and everything- it’s like the wild west out there and the old school online fans are having a hard time tamping it down.

Many of us are sticking with our little corners of the web but as more people embrace new technologies and advances, we’re forced out more and more. I LOVE Twitter- I think it’s so much fun, but it does allow people to be absolute dicks to each other, and in public. The things that people will say on Twitter that they would NEVER say face to face is just astounding.

And tumblr. I don’t even get tumblr. I feel like an old lady sitting on his front porch with the shotgun and the old dog, warning kids to get off my lawn when I play around with tumblr. But as LiveJournal has issues and people aren’t willing to go over to Dreamwidth (which you should- it’s awesome!), they are finding themselves on tumblr and the epicenter for fannish info and trends is gradually shifting. Maybe not so gradual. And, again, tumblr is the wild, wild west. It doesn’t work the way I’m used to and it’s uncomfortable.

Change is uncomfortable.

I’d really like to welcome all the Twilight fans to the world of the paranormal. I’d love to tell the Losties where they can find the best sci-fi to expand their minds and to find more of what they loved about their favorite show. But I’m not sure where or how to do that, or if it would even be well received, because I’m not sure that their speculative fiction is MY speculative fiction and that makes me a bit worried.

The times, they are a’changing and I’m not sure I like the way the wind is blowing. I bet this is how old school Trek fans felt when Next Gen was on the horizon. At least they had Patrick Stewart to look forward to.

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