I am perhaps a little guilty of this on the gaming side of things (see this old BeefJack piece), but in the past few months I have decided that I’ve had enough of “geek gate keeping”. It has to stop. And this is a bit of a rant.
Now, I know people who have been even more guilty of this than me. People I’ve tried to be friends with and it’s one of the things that really annoyed me about them: them actively gate keeping geek culture, to try and put people down and say that they’re not a geek due to x, y, z. Hell, they tried to deny me the chance to identify with this subculture, but it’s not just me being affected by this.
Now, there’s the angle of the issue raised during the whole Tony Harris thing last year, which was an unpleasant journey into the thoughts some people have about cosplayers, especially female ones.
But the main angle that so-called “geeks” use against other people declaring that they’re geeks too is to put them down when they appear to have a lack of in-depth knowledge (and it’s questionable just how far down the rabbit hole you need to know every intricate, innate groove of earth for) about shows, comics, films, games and books that they like. This especially happens when the individual declaring themselves to be a a geek happens to also be female and said declaration is being done in the company of those who are male.
Similar situations arise when people try to associate themselves with the term nerd. And this is also all related to notions around fandom/being a fan.
First-up, despite dictionary/Google searches for the definitions of the terms geek and nerd, I would say that people have an alternative idea as to what they mean:
You see, I’ve noticed that people tend to describe themselves as a geek (at least) when they really like particular entertainment formats and genres e.g. comics, videogames, Doctor Who, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Batman, Final Fantasy – and so on.
So, if we take geek to be someone who is predominately occupied with SF, fantasy, superhero genres with perhaps a dabbling in something like horror, plus crossing nerd in here with someone who has some tech experience – does it matter how much they know about what they love?
Because, seriously, the problem with the whole geek gate keeping phenomena is that the goal posts for how much you’re “supposed” to know about geeky pursuits – those goal posts keep changing. And I’m guessing that the reason they keep changing is because these interests, these texts, these genres are becoming more and more popular.
And so we have the remnants of a subculture trying to cling on to some kind of identity that is exclusionary in quite a detrimental way.
Gone are the days that weekly comic books sold in their millions. Videogame sales are down. Box office receipts aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. Book sales aren’t great either. Geeks can’t afford to put down people who want to join them. If there aren’t enough people buying, companies aren’t producing.
Beyond the financial side of things, it’s bully-esque to say to someone (and often aggressively) that they can’t be so-and-so due to so-and-so. And considering the reputation of self-professed geeks in childhood having hard times at school due to being bullied through activities like exclusion from social groups – you’d think they’d know better from experience.
Look again at that second definition of geek: “A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest.” Now, let’s look at the definition of eccentric:
And if we spent some time looking at words like unconventional, strange or peculiar, then we’d be looking at a list of words that is heavily defined by the cultural mores within a language. After all, there are plenty of behaviours from the past that would today be seen as eccentric. Today, however, geek culture is being seen as more and more mainstream and so not really unconventional.
There are also plenty of geeks out there that don’t see their devotions or obsessions as eccentric. Now we’re back to the level of knowledge issue again, due to that devotion angle, because it is “knowledge” that too many so-called geeks use as a sign of devotion in order to put down other professed geeks. What if that geek shows their devotion through cosplaying as a Death Note character, but doesn’t know what exactly happened in episode seven of Death Note?
It doesn’t matter that they don’t know. They like Death Note enough to dress up as L at a convention.
You don’t need to know the complete history of the world to be acknowledged as a historian, so why should someone only be considered a fan of Superman when they know everything to do with him since the Golden Age onwards?
Devotion doesn’t mean “knowing lots of stuff about stuff”. I’d be more inclined to say that devotion means that you like something enough to do something about it:
The gate keeping needs to end.