Hello world

Welcome to 21st Century Geeks, an academic blog focusing on geek cultures and media convergence.

Here are the stakes:

We are entering and/or are already in a golden age of geek culture. Geek movies continually rock the box offices (Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, Transformers, Iron Man), video games have become an immensely profitable entertainment medium embraced by the mainstream, and techno-culture is in.

Fan culture has grown and diversified, and convergence media allows for consumers to become cultural producers with wide distribution of their works, with intensely complex and thought-out works that bring into question the validity of IP and cultural ownership which is very visibly bringing copyright and IP into question. Harry Potter slash-fiction may prove to be one of the primary factors that leads to the downfall of copyright and IP laws as we know them. People who grew up in slash-writing communities move into college and go to law school and become IP lawyers years down the road. Each generation re-works the social order in subtle and not-so-subtle ways to fit their generational worldview/zeitgeist.

When the Napster Generation/Gen X/Y/Insert Catchy Generational Label Here hits the age of being able to dictate policy on these matters, we very may well have a sea change on our hands. Music distribution is already changing, especially as stockholders check the numbers and move to handing over the reins to younger execs more in tune with Web 2.0 and other 21st century marketing/business models, where attention is the commodity to be cultivated by a company. In a world where you can watch the whole first season of the smash hit Heroes online and watch one add five times instead of ten adds five times, the advertising paradigm has to change. Combine that with the rise of DVD-sales and direct-to-DVD cultural properties and we’re already in a transition.

What does that have to do with geekdom, though? Well, if we look at things like the short-lived show Firefly which was re-lit for a feature film because of intense fan engagement and DVD sales, or the direct-to-DVD Hellboy and superhero films, we’re seeing that geek media is in the foreground of these transitions in marketing strategy and cultural production. Where geeks go, the technology follows. Or where the tech goes, the geeks follow. It’s a perpetuating cycle of technological advancement and commoditization of cultural production.

As geekdom continues its ascent and moves towards the mainstream, it’s also manifesting more and more distinct subcultural markers. T-Shirts seem to be the primary display of geek style, with obscure video-game references, coding jokes, and markers of affiliation with comic characters providing the canvas for geeks to display their subcultural affiliation. Recognizing and obscure t-shirt is one of the secret handshakes of geekdom. It’s one thing to compliment someone on a Greatest American Hero t-shirt, it’s another thing to identify the Blue Sun logo and greet a fellow Browncoat and reminisce over shared love of Firefly. Geek culture is being marketed top-down and bottom up, with Geek Magazine, Hot Topic’s t-shirt lines, and in situations like online dating, with www.geek2geek.com and www.sweetongeeks.com – where the early adopters of the internet, dissatisfied with the mainstream inclination of most online dating sites, have moved to create geek-friendly dating sites, where the ability to have an intense discussion about time-travel physics or partition a hard drive are the turn-ons, and Mac vs. Pc (with/without Linux) or X-Box 360 vs. PS3 vs. Nintendo Wii are sorting questions for potential partners.

Geek culture has long been decentralized, fractured but interconnected, with cultural properties bringing their fan bases across media, across subcultures. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer follow the tv show, then pick up the collectible card game and move into another geek subculture, then stop by the comic store every other week to buy the comics. Geeks move between the member subcultures of what I call the ‘geek subcultural complex’ – basically a bunch of overlapping subcultural groups that draw from similar sources and have developed interconnections while remaining sufficiently autonomous such that one can be a geek without necessarily participating in any one of the groups, as long as they participate in others.

A superhero comic reader who plays MMOs need not be a programmer or play Dungeons and Dragons to be a geek, but their D&D playing comrades are no less geeks for eschewing MMOs and not being able to tell Captain Marvel from Captain Mar-Vell. There are many ways to be a geek, and they feed into and out of one another. Convergence culture and transmedia storytelling (ala Henry Jenkins) means that these connections are being strengthened as they are commoditized, with IP crossing media with properties like the Matrix series, which had films, anime, video games (console and massive online), comic books, and more. A fan of a world/universe will follow that cultural property across platforms and into various groups, under the rubric of their own fandom, and thus, the groups cross-pollinate. Follow the money. Or, follow the fandoms. It’s another cycle, a feedback loop.

There is lots of geek culture out there. And lots of people talking about geeks. What I hope to facilitate with this community is a place for scholars of geek culture to meet, collaborate, and draw together disparate threads of geek studies as the subculture grows and changes in the age of digital convergence and massive wars over IP/DRM/revolutions in distribution and commercialization.

2 thoughts on “Hello world

  1. Chad

    I’m coming off a little antagonistic in both these, but I don’t mean it that way…

    I’ll skip the copywrite ramble, but I think, reading through your postings we have at our core a difference in world view.

    First, I don’t think technology has yet to radically changed anything but music. The other arts, in my mind especially something like writing, have yet to be able to cast aside the corporate mass-market shackles the same way music has. Now, a musician doesn’t need the big record companies. He can have a viable career on his own through the internet, through music downloads, through youtube.

    I also, have to disagree with the notion that somehow seeing more geek things in the mainstream means that geek cultural has become broader. To me, it’s just the corporate structure recognizing a previously untapped market. I don’t think there’s acceptance there, I think there’s just commodification of culture.

    We’ve had this discussion before, but — I also, don’t think fans of a tv show are necessarily going to drift into other things related to that tv show. The vast majority of fans of Buffy are just going to be fans of Buffy. I don’t think they’re going to go by the card game and the role-playing game and the comic. The few people who do, they would have found geekdom anyway. That’s already who they are.

    Have you watched that show Big Bang Theory? It’s funny, it’s well acted, and it’s well written. All the main characters are geeks in geekfields. I like it and you should check it out if you haven’t; however, to me, it still shows geek cultural negatively and represents a lack of understanding.

    The characters are all defined by being a geek. They represent every stereotype. Smart. Socially awkward or out-right socially retarded. Gamers. Comic book readers. Talking in things no but there little group can understand.

    That to me, doesn’t show a broader acceptance of geekdom.

    -Chad

  2. Chad,

    I had enough to say in response that I’ve gone ahead and made a whole post.

    http://geektheory.wordpress.com/2008/05/25/tech-transmedia-and-geek-acceptance/

    Thanks for your provocative responses. πŸ™‚

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