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.