The “Mainstreaming” of Geek Culture

Lately, I’ve been hearing/reading a lot of complaints about “poser geeks”, “hipster geeks”, “geek chic”, “fake geeks/fake geek girls”, and the like. Now, to be fair, I’ve also seen plenty of people putting their feet down and refusing to pander to that nonsense – but the fact of the matter is, the idea that people could be posing as “fake” geeks because it’s the “cool” thing to do these days has been popping up far too much in the past year and a half or two years. I mean come on, there’s even a “Fake Geek Girl” meme! (And it’s nowhere near as amusing as most other memes out there – nor is it in any way necessary.)

I think that those who complain about geeks and geek culture becoming more mainstream are overlooking a few things – namely, how long it has taken for this to happen. How it has slowly built up over the years. How the internet – especially sites like Reddit and Tumblr and even YouTube and Twitter, to an extent – has made it seem as if geek culture has only recently exploded into “real life”, when in actuality it has been there all along, and we were merely lacking the outlet to express ourselves until more recent years.

Think about it. Dungeons & Dragons has been out since 1974. Star Wars: A New Hope is 36 years old, and this year is in fact the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi. Commodore 64 computers were in production in 1982, and in fact my husband Steve grew up with one in his home. The NES console was brought to the U.S. in 1983, after the video game crash that year, and is therefore nearly as old as I am. And speaking of myself – for me, the internet has been a home fixture since 1999, and most people I know had it available to them before that, or at least very soon after. Even if you look at more recent situations where formerly “geeky” things exploded into pop culture, for instance The Fellowship of the Ring was released in theaters nearly twelve years ago.

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And that’s not even the half of it, really. Of course, for much of that time, labels like “nerd” or “geek” were pejoratives – but as the years have passed by, they’ve became less so. And as I said before, that did not happen overnight – it’s simply more prominent now because those of us who are okay with putting ourselves out there, with being called “geeks” and even referring to ourselves as such, with letting it be known that we are fans and we have feelings, nowadays have [fairly large] pockets of the Internet where we can express ourselves.

Fellow geeks, please listen very carefully, here: this is not a bad thing. And in fact, those people out there who believe that there are “fake geeks” and that those “posers” somehow “deserve” to be called out as such need to take a chill pill. Admittedly, yes, some issues have cropped up that have in part probably caused or been due to this mainstream geek culture movement – Big Bang Theory, in which they laugh at us geeky people rather than with us, comes to mind (for a show that does the opposite, check out Community). And as a convention goer and cosplayer (as much as I hate that word…), Syfy’s Heroes of Cosplay and the fact that it makes it seem as if all cosplayers are as fame-seeking, money-grubbing, and uber-competitive as the people that show features is frustrating at best. And as fun (and funny) as Tumblr can be – as much as I love that it makes sharing and saving fandom finds from the internet amazingly easy – many of its users (too many of them) also far too often tend toward childish and argumentative behavior.

Of course I understand that the aforementioned things can be a bit maddening. I’ve lost count of the number of times my non-geeky friends ask me if I watch The Big Bang Theory, and are shocked when my response is an emphatic “No.” The cosplayers featured on Heroes of Cosplay, with their obsession with costume contests and their ridiculous ideas about who should wear what, and the Tumblr users who can’t stop tagging their hate and generally just being internet bullies have made me facepalm I don’t know how many times.

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But the thing is, I’m 30 years old, and I can look back and remember how ashamed I felt of my interests when I was younger. And I can look at now and understand that things that were once considered the epitome of uncool – because they were “geeky” – aren’t so uncool anymore. That being into those things and having vast amounts of knowledge about them isn’t looked down upon quite as much. Which means that kids out there may not have to feel ashamed for loving Tolkien and wanting to learn Elvish, for loving Star Wars and devouring the EU novels, for loving gaming and spending their free time playing everything from D & D to WoW to Halo without worrying that whether it’s okay to talk about one but not about the others.

And if they shouldn’t have to worry about being judged for being geeks, they sure as hell shouldn’t have to worry about being judged by fellow geeks for being “fake”, simply because they don’t have to (or don’t feel the need to) hide away the way other geeks did (or do). Think back on that time when you were made fun of for your interests, for being a geek – and remember that we’re all on the same side.

Truth be told, this so-called “mainstreaming” of geek culture is really going to make geek life a hell of a lot easier for all of us. So put on your big boy (or girl) pants and stop complaining about something that doesn’t effect you personally in the slightest.

spiderman deal with it

Author: Tara Lynne

Tara Lynne is an author, fandom and geek culture expert, and public speaker. She founded Ice & Fire Con, the first ever Game of Thrones convention in the US, and now runs its parent company Saga Event Planning.

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9 thoughts on “The “Mainstreaming” of Geek Culture

  1. First, I don’t want to hang with the douchebag jocks that suddenly decided that geek is cool. They made my life hell for a long time, and I don’t care to associate with them…. ever.

    Second, you brought up Big Bang Theory several times, and I’d like to take a moment to talk about that. BBT has gone “mainstream”, and for the most part has abandoned it’s geeky roots to “appeal to a bigger audience”. It has become “Friends” with glasses. I have the feeling that you are going to see this anti-geek creep move into all geeky genres as the mainstream begins to lose it’s interest in geek. Eventually it will all be transformed into something you wouldn’t even recognize anymore, and when the new cool trend comes through, they’ll abandon it completely. The people/companies/groups that made their money from appealing to our niche interests will take an enormous hit, and frantically try to get back to their base consumers. You are already seeing “hey the con would be even better if it also had [insert non geeky thing]”. Last year at Dragon Con it was BDSM classes ala “Fifty Shades of Grey” ffs.

    People aren’t just accepting geek for what it is, they are making small changes one at a time to try to make it more palatable. Look at Syfy. They decided to completely disassociate themselves with their CORE AUDIENCE. It is now the redneck/idiot channel. Also, will someone seriously tell me what the hell WWE has to do with scifi or fantasy?

    If I had to sum it up, I feel like someone has taken my favorite toy and drawn a mustache on it, and glued a bunch of crap on it to make it “better”. The people that always owned the toy don’t want it “better”, they want it how it was when they came to love it.

    1. Personally, I don’t get the whole jocks vs. geeks thing to be an oversimplification. People can have multiple interests. They can be interested in sports AND nerdy things. I know many people like that. And I have never been picked on by jocks. In fact, there have been a few that I talked to at least casually. That’s not to say that I was never picked on or bullied, but it had nothing to do with my interests. Maybe it has to do with my age? I’m turning 23 this year.

      And would you not say that WWE is redneck or stupid. I have many friends and family that love it and I was into it for a short time when I was younger as well. It’s not any more redneck or stupid than super heroes or action movies. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean that you have to insult it or the people who watch it.

      1. Hi Rachael,

        First, thanks for your comment 🙂 Second, I agree that the idea of “jocks vs. nerds” is an oversimplification – my school had a population of “sporty” students but I honestly wouldn’t have called most of them (if any of them) “jocks” like what we see in the movies. And to be honest, while I was *definitely* bullied, I don’t recall it being any of those sporty people who could have maybe been considered jocks, anyway 😉 I do think that the “jocks vs. nerds/geeks” situation existed, of course, but yeah, definitely an oversimplification.

        I was into WWE quite some time ago as well…back when it was still WWF, in fact! I agree that SyFy isn’t what it used to be when it was SciFi and I don’t know as if I think that WWE has a “place” on that channel but I also don’t think that it being on there makes SyFy redneck, either.

    2. Evening Bob,

      I think something everyone needs to realize, is something so often, so easily overlooked – this is more than just you. I can’t honestly say I associate with one group, I associate and can identify with a number of groups, jocks included. As someone who was teased for the interests I took in middle school and highschool, I was also well adjusted enough to realize they aren’t representative of their respective ‘groups.’ While its easy to stereotype, realize I hung out with what you would label geek/nerds. I was also on the football, wrestling, track team. Which means I interacted with both and in more ways than one.

      I’ve met jocks who thought of me as nothing but a ‘nerd.’ But when this ‘nerd’ got a football in his hands and ran over the opposition, they quickly realized stereotypes don’t define a person. Or a group of people. Because you see, something like a ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ is nothing more than a label, a box if you will. And instead of boxing people within that moniker, I’ve always tried to turn it right side up and contribute to it. Not worry about what other people are putting into it, because in the end, its about having fun. Being with people who share the same desires as you NO MATTER their background.

      Fake, poser, pft. I agree with Tara. Get over it. Go back to your thing and remember why we all sat around a table and pretended to be someone else. Because it was fun. Whether that guy was a ‘jock’ or a ‘prep’ or a [insert next label] … You could all come together, laugh, make some good memories. I haven’t lost that, even with the influx of people.

      Just my two cents.

      1. Hi Hosh,

        Thanks for your comment!

        I’m the type of person who is friends with many different people. Don’t get me wrong, I am most comfortable, have the most in common, and tend to enjoy my time with my fellow geeks more than anyone else (shhh don’t tell my non-geek friends! haha). I wouldn’t say that I belong or identify with many labeled “groups” outside of my fellow geeks, but at the same time, the point that I hoped to make with this article is that it’s not okay to cry out that the “mainstreaming” of geek culture is producing a bunch of “fake” geeks. I have friends who are into, say, one or maybe two of the same geeky things that I love – but they don’t think of themselves as geeks or call themselves geeks. Not because they aren’t comfortable with the label, but simply because it in actuality doesn’t fit them. I guess part of the “problem” here is that folks like you and I – because of our current lives and respective histories – can’t understand why there’s apparently a base need for some geeks to stomp around calling others fake 😉

  2. My point here was partly that those who insist on calling out anyone they deem “fake” or “poser” in terms of geekiness need to *stop* acting like those jocks (or whomever picked on us for being geeks/geeky) we all knew in high school.

    However, as the title insinuates, the other point that I was trying to make is that while there are certainly some negative consequences to this mainstreaming thing, there are also some very positive ones. There has never been a change made in the history of the world that was downright, out and out *perfect* – but many times people can come to terms with the negative effects because the positive ones are very much worth it. Personally I think that we are far enough into this particular change – and it happened so gradually for such a long time and merely sped up (rather than exploding onto the scene) throughout recent *years* (not weeks or even months) – that if some sort of insanely awful backlash were going to happen, it would have done so already.

    Also, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on Big Bang Theory 🙂 While I do agree that it has gotten worse in later seasons, it was always about geeks who are completely socially awkward and are constantly poked fun of by their coworkers and neighbors and whatnot. It was never a well-rounded show, and when it turned out some people were up in arms about it, someone involved clearly decided to take it to the next level in the worst way possible :-/

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