I’ve decided to re-vise, re-name, and re-launch this blog as “Geek Theory.”
Since I’ve been focusing more on my fiction and my ambitions as a writer of speculative fiction, I’m re-branding this WordPress blog as my personal-professional blog, talking about writing, my life as an independent publishers’ book rep, and other fun things. There will be far fewer reviews and essays, and they’ll be in a more personal tone, rather than my pop-academic tone from before.
First up — a summary post on the awesome that was WisCon 35.
I’ve been quiet of late here, and not for lack of things to say.
However, the last few weeks I’ve been focusing more on my fiction writing. I sold my first short story (“Last Tango in Gamma Sector”) last week, which will be published at Crossed Genres on June 1st in their issue on “Gadgets & Artifacts.”
In addition, I’ve wrapped up line edits on my New Weird Superhero novel Shield & Crocus and have started working on a synopsis while creating a list of agents to query.
This 21st Century Geek is a maker as well as a consumer of culture, and I’m trying to find a better balance of input/consumption vs. output/creation.
More pop culture ramblings will come soon, as we’re amidst a variety of season finales in TV-land.
Battlestar is back, and the WTF? factor is high. Here’s my breakdown of the episode, Spoilers Galore.
- Starbuck finds her own wreckage, with her fin #, and a corpse with her dog tags.
- The Final Four all have memories of living on Earth.
- Dee breaks down and commits suicide after one last happy memory with Lee.
- Tigh flashes back to Earth and sees Ellen, leading him to identify her as the Fifth Cylon.
- Earth is uninhabitable, and the remains discovered there are all genetically Cylon, accompanied by Centurion-style Cylons unlike those made by the humans of the 12 colonies or the Cylons they made.
1. This fits in with the fact that the Raptor that Starbuck arrived with after her dissapearance was fresh-off-the-line clean. This leads us to believe that Starbuck is a Cylon, or that she was somehow cloned by the Cylons, based off of the tissue samples they could have taken during the time she was held at the farm during “The Farm.” This is of course all interpolation. Leoban is shocked by the revelation, as it disproves/disagrees with his visions. His religious certainty is shaken, and the connection between him and Starbuck is now in question again.
2. From Tyroll walking the marketplace to Anders remembering playing “All Along the Watchtower,” this fits in line with my reading that that the humans of Earth are descended from the intermarriage of Cylons and humans who settle on Kobol and then leave for the thirteen colonies, as a part of the cycle (hence “all of this has happened before, all of this will happen again”) — This would allow for our civilization as is now to be a part of this cycle, between when the 13th tribe reaches Earth and when nuclear war destroys civilization on the planet.
The Final Five would then be the people who remember their previous incarnations elsewhen in the cycle, who are ‘Cylons’ in that they are the descendents of the re-connected species.
3. Dee’s suicide is used as the personalization of the collective despair expressed by the fleet after being let down by Earth. The people had held up hope for years and years, thinking ‘if we make it to Earth, it will all be ok.’ — and now that Earth has been removed as the great hope, people’s defenses are down and they’re crashing. Everyone of the survivors have PTSD, first from the destruction of the colonies, likely again from the events on New Caprica, and many things in between and after.
Dee had already lost her connection to Lee, before that she lost Billy, on top of the destruction of the colonies. She showed signs of breaking down throughout the episode, from the return trip from Earth to speaking to Hera to the musing about the picture from when she was five. And then, after one more happy moment with Lee, she takes her own life. This is the personalized version of the despair rampant throughout the fleet that we can see on Galactica with people breaking down in the hallways and from the graffiti.
4. Ellen was originally suspected as being a Cylon because of her mysterious appearance in the fleet, then discounted because she was too human-ly screwed up. And by the time she let Saul kill her as they departerd New Caprica, she had achieved a measure of redeption. And now by revealing her as the fifth Cylon (confirmed in the ‘next episode’ preview), they open up the question of another instance of her being alive or able to be activated. It also makes for more of a reason to stay on Earth for archaeological excavation to uncover more information and/or unlock more memories of the Four that remain.
5. This supports my ideas from 2, positing that once humans and Cylons intermingle, they will just distinct enough from humans now so as to register as ‘Cylon’ (ie. ‘Other’) — But I imagine that Hera and Nicholas, our two known human-Cylon crossbreeds would register as ‘Cylon’ under the same analyses.
Next episode — Vice President Zarek makes another power play, looking to divide the fleet. Meanwhile, people try to figure out what the hell to do now that Earth is no longer the safe End Point. Cavill’s fleet is still out there, meaning that there will be more chances for explosions and dogfights and such.
In case you haven’t noticed, geeks are big. Geek culture is big, geek subculture is ascendant, being mainstreamed and both ideologically and commercially incorporated by said mainstream. This trend is not entirely positive or negative, but is complicated, like most things.
For this post, I’m going to be looking at two new TV shows that debuted during the WGA-strike-shortened 2007-2008 broadcast year. Those shows are NBC’s Chuck and CBS’s The Big Bang Theory. Both of these shows star characters who I call geeks, though in the shows, they are often known as nerds rather than/in addition to geeks.
First, let’s talk about geeks vs. nerds. I’ve been reading Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People, which is a cultural studies history of the nerd. For me, Geek and Nerd are sometimes synonymous terms which refer to substantially overlapping subculture groups.
Here’s the important overlap — Geeks and nerds are conceived of as intellectually inclined, socially mal-adjusted individuals with intense commitment to non-majoritarian hobbies. Geeks are more associated with fandoms, computers, and media, wheras nerds are more associated with academia and scholarship.
Geeks were the kids who played Magic: the Gathering during lunch. Nerds were the ones with their noses who spent afternoons at Science Olympiad/Academic Decathalon. In high school, I was both a geek and a nerd, since I did all of the above. Geek has become the more dominant term, and is also the one with the greater cultural cache at the moment, given things like Best Buy’s Geek Squad, The CW’s Beauty and the Geek, and the like.
We’ll be bouncing back and forth between nerdiness and geekiness pretty quick here, which is why I wanted to define terms before diving in.
Chuck — Meet the Lovable Geek
In Chuck, the titular character is Charles Bartowski, the head nerd of the ‘Nerd Herd’ at a ‘Buy More’ — TV-world versions of the Geek Squad from Best Buy. Chuck was an engineering major at Stanford, but was expelled from the school due to the machinations of his former best-friend, Bryce Larkin (who also stole Chuck’s girlfriend away from him). Five years after his expulsion, we meet Chuck in his aimless path working in the Nerd Herd and hanging out with his even-geekier friend Morgan Grimes.
Chuck is depicted in an archetypal role I’ll call the Lovable Geek. Chuck is handsome in a goofy way (because everyone important on TV is pretty), kind and intelligent, but awkward around women who aren’t either related or under-age. For Chuck, being a geek is about being smart and technically adept and interested in things like Batman and Dune and Call of Duty 4. Morgan serves as a counter-point to Chuck, the Uber-Geek to Chuck’s Lovable Geek. In Morgan, we see what Chuck could/would be if he had less social acumen. Chuck is our protagonist geek because he is more accessible, less esoteric in his personality and interests.
The Big Bang Theory — Four Flavors of Geek
In The Big Bang Theory (shortened as TBBT) we find a similar configuration, but with more variants of the geek archetype. The characters in TBBT are more firmly nerds than Chuck and Morgan in Chuck, but they are also most certainly geeks (they all dress up as the Flash for a halloween party, they play Talisman and Halo, they geek out about acquiring the original time machine prop from the 1960 film The Time Machine. The four geek/nerds in TBBT are all faculty at and/or employed by Caltech.
The Lovable Geek lead in TBBT is physicist Leonard Hofstadder, PhD. Leonard is the most socially adept of the four, and frequently acts as the group’s interpreter to the rest of the world (most frequently the neighbor Penny, who Leonard has a crush on). Leonard and his roommate/friend Sheldon Cooper, PhD are the host for the geeky/nerdy antics of their circle of friends, including Howard Walowitz, an engineer and Rajesh Koothrappali, an astrophysicist.
Leonard’s romantic interest is Penny, a classically pretty bleach-blonde from the midwest who moves in next door to the geek/nerds. Penny works as a waitress while trying to break in to show business, and is completely ‘Normal.’ She’s Everywoman, frequently the straight woman to the geek’s jokes.
Sheldon Cooper is the Uber-Geek for the show, manifested more properly perhas as the Uber-Nerd. Sheldon has the highest IQ of the quartet of geniuses, and the complete social incompetance to go with it. Sheldon is an instance of the double-edge of genius that makes it harder to communicate effectively with the rest of the world. Sheldon was a child genius, and looks down his nose at those less intellectually capable than he. Sheldon is the standoffish insular and hermitish geek/nerd, who pulls Leonard away from the rest of the world and more into the realm of calculations and formula and speculation.
Howard Walowitz, the engineer, is the Annoyingly Extraverted Geek. Howard has no problem speaking to women, in fact he does so all the time, and thinks he’s awesome at it. However, his confidence comes off as arrogance and the obvious attempts lack any natural charm. Howard knows about charm and how it’s supposed to work, but is incapable of implementing the techniques he sees from others.
Rajesh Koothrappali is an Indian astrophysicist and the show’s Painfully Introverted Geek. Rajesh is incapable of speaking to women without either alcohol or experimental drugs. He represents the ethnic geek, those geeks from recently-developing countries like India, China, South Korea, etc. who are lumped in with the geek world.
Nerds and Race
At this point, I’ll interject with some of Nugent’s theory. Nugent constructs a continum of racism with regards to nerds/jocks and ethnic stereotypes. Nugent identifies a Animal<->Machine spectrum, where peoples of different types are conceived as being more animal-like or more machine-like. Caucasians get to be the ‘norm’ in the middle (yay racism!) with Jocks on the animal side of average and nerds on the machine side. Africans go further towards the ‘animal’ side due to racist conceptions of Africans and African-Americans as being more animalistic, associated with physical endeavors, etc. Asians are opposite Africans, placed on the scale towards the Machine side, due to racist conceptions of Asians as being less feeling, more mechanistic and associated with the technical.
Looking at the Flavors
In TBBT, Leonard and Sheldon are conceived as one pair of geek types: Leonard is capable of walking in the ‘average’ world, though his intelligence and geekiness sets him apart. Sheldon is mostly incapable of walking in the ‘average’ world, cleaving to the world of his hobbies and profession. Howard tries to court women but is unsuccessful because his confidence is untempered by empathic understanding/skill, while Raj is a ‘great listener’ (he once gets picked up by a girl at a party without ever talking — in bed, she praises his skills as a listener.) who has a mental/emotional block to actually conversing with women.
TBBT portrays four flavors of geek, and it’s no surprise who our romantic male lead is: Leonard makes efforts to reach out beyond the geek community in initially attempting to pursue Penny romantically, then inviting her into their social group when his initial efforts fail (and by fail, I mean fail to happen at all). Leonard is the geek interpreter, the middle ground between Penny’s Everywoman and Sheldon’s Uber-Geek. Normality and Geekdom seem to be portrayed as a continuum like Nugent’s Animal<->Machine spectrum. As Leonard reaches out towards Penny, his fellow geeks see him moving away from his geek roots. The show seems to be trying to work out the possibility of a geek dating a non-geek, reaching across the subcultural divide without losing your identity.
On the other hand, Chuck’s interest in Sarah Walker, the CIA agent assigned to protect him, is also a question of identity, but one determined by the Spy Show genre association of Chuck. Sarah’s cover is as Chuck’s girlfriend, complicated by the fact that Chuck is interested in Sarah and suffers through the fake relationship that he wishes was real. This shows an uncomfortableness with the world of fantasy and make-believe–of course, for Chuck’s life, the make-pretend life is the boring cover and the real life is the dangerous adventure of a James Bond film directed by Judd Apatow. Chuck has to keep his spy identity secret from those he cares most about, his sister and his best friend. The secret makes him closer to Sarah, and if he were to leave the spy business, it’d mean leaving her as well.
Chuck, like TBBT tells a story of a geek coming out of his shell and becoming more confident. His sister hopes that Sarah will help Chuck regain his confidence and gain some momentum in life. The spy experience moves Chuck from the role of geek slacker and moving towards the geek-chic Analyst/Field Agent. It’s a kind of geek fantasy — we have to pretend we’re slackers to protect those we love because we’re actually so cool that it’s dangerous, our technical/cultural knowledge is actually highly important to the world.
California — The Land of Geeks
Another notable similarity between Chuck and The Big Bang Theory is that both shows take place in Southern California. This makes sense, as California hosts many of the centers of geekdom — San Diego ComicCon, Silicon Valley, Hollywood. Geeks are a predominatly urban and suburban subculture, thriving in places with a preponderance of hobby stores, technological infrastructure, and media entertainment. A number of other big cities are also geek-tacular, like San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Austin, etc.
Geeks and Cybercultural Technophobia
Why are more geeks being depicted in leading roles in mainstream TV/film? Here’s a possible reason that you might not have thought of. Geeks are the stand-in for the technocratic citizen of the possible future, a future where everyone is plugged-in, technically adept without trying, communicates predominantly through non-embodied media. Ambivalence about geeks is ambivalence about technology. Returning to Nugent’s Animal<->Machine continuum, geeks are cyborgs–with Bluetooth phones and PDA exo-cortexes, we’re becoming increasingly disentanglable from our technology, and not everyone is happy about this. Sometimes you want to turn off your phone, put up an away message on G-mail and just go run around in the park.
Leonard is negotiating between the romantic subsection of socialization, the scary embodied world of emotions aka ‘real life’ and the insular world of technology, science, and the mind. It’s a false Cartesian dualism, but it’s one that continues to be propagated and used as argument against cyberculture. There’s the fear that if we rely too much on machines, become too technically adept and cybercultural that we’ll lose our humanity, and so we use geeks as the testing grounds for those possible futures, trying to see how we can use the power of technology while remaining human. It’s cyborg identity theory with geeks as the metaphorical (and sometimes literal–I mean, Chuck has a super-computer in his brain — even though it’s all still a flesh-and-blood brain) cyborgs for society to work out its issues. And Leonard/Sheldon/Howard/Rajesh are test cases for the different ways that becoming technocrats/scientifically adept might affect our social/emotional capabilities.
Of course, I fall on the pro-geek side, but it’s interesting to see Geekdom not only being commoditized, but also used as a testing ground for us to try to resolve our ambivalent relationship with technological development and the growing role of mediated cyberculture.
Here’s a mostly comprehensive of the scripted shows I watched this last year and my commentary. More in-depth hashing out of individual shows will likely follow soon.
I watched the pilot to this early, sometime last summer, and expected to cherish the four or so episodes I’d get of it before it got canceled for being quirky, brilliant, and completely unappealing to the majority of TV audiences. Instead, it received rave reviews and had sufficient ratings to earn a full season order early on and then a second season order by the time the short season was done. It would have only been more miraculous if it had been on FOX (for that miracle, see the Terminator comments).
Pushing Daisies takes Bryan Fuller (of Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls)’s quirky morbidity and brings to life the most believable and charming contemporary faerie-tale/folk tale aesthetic that I’ve seen on TV. The omniscient VO narrator should be annoying, trite. But luckily narrator Jim Dale could read the phone book and make it charming. The writing is smart and distinctive, with turns of phrase and repetitions and other elements of a consistent voice that lends to the show’s appeal. The romantic dynamic between leads Lee Pace and Anna Friel provide the ongoing subplot for the series while the duo plus unabashedly profit-centric detective Chi McBride solve murder mysteries in order to collect the rewards, using Lee Pace’s gift for re-animating the dead.
If you are a fan of Fuller’s other work, like faerie tales, appreciate quirky murder mysteries, or have a soul whatsoever, give this one a try.
It’s getting crowded in the police procedural world, what with your CSIs and your NCISes and such. Life sets itself apart from the pack by using an ongoing mystery (Who framed the lead character, and why?) to provide a backdrop for the weekly mysteries solved by leads Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) and Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi). Crews is a police officer who was falsely imprisoned for 12 years, then released with a huge-and-undisclosed cash settlement and a job as a detective. His partner Reese is a disgraced former undercover agent trying to get back in the driver’s seat of her own life.
But really, the best part of Life is that Crews was saved from going mad/evil in solitary confinement by turning to Zen Buddhism, thanks to his lawyer, played by Brooke Langton. He approaches his investigations with an uncommon and charming perspective, focusing on intuition, reading people, and questioning common convention. All of this goes on while he struggles to keep his cool while investigating the conspiracy that put him in jail. Damian Lewis puts in marvelous performances, and the ongoing arc shows the ways in which shows are learning to balance a LOST-inspired long-term mystery while maintaining tension episode-by-episode so that casual viewers can hop in and enjoy.
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
This show was supposed to suck. Easy money said that it’d be a trite, second-rate attempt to cash in on a once-successful franchise. Terminator’s technophobia is soo late 20th century, I mean, seriously! Fans were lining up to get their hate on.
Too bad for them that the show is awesome. Lena Headey is a powerful and compelling Sarah Connor, a rival to Linda Hamilton’s portrayal according to some. Thomas Dekker, beloved as almost-certainly-gay sidekick Zach to cheerleader Claire in Heroes turns in a strong performance as the young John Connor, coming into his own as a warrior and a leader. And Summer Glau, while in danger of being typecast, is a fine counter-point to Arnold’s oversized overbearing menace as Cameron, an advanced terminator sent back from the future to protect John Connor. The show is true to the tone and material of the first two Terminator films, and completely ignores the plot of the third while stealing some of the more useful material. Brian Allen Greene shows up later on, and surprises those who knew only his 90210 teen-heartthrob-y-ness by being solid-to-good.
In addition to the fact that this show was supposed to suck, it was also supposed to get canceled right away once people discovered it was awesome. SF/F fans mumbling something about a space western are prickly around FOX and genre shows, but this time around the people calling the shots had their brains on straight and were paying attention to the opportunity they had in bringing the show in during the no-new-scripted-shows drought of the WGA strike, and pushed the HELL out of the show as it was starting up, to great success. The first season only got 9 episodes, but in that time they established a good serial rhythm with building plots, continuous tension and interesting character development, especially with regards to Cameron’s emotional development/learning and the 4th dimensional war being fought between future John Connor and Skynet.
Also, it had the 2nd best use ever of a Johnny Cash song in the film/tv medium, implementing “The Man Comes Around” in the season finale to remind us all how much of inexorable juggernauts Terminators really are.
The Big Bang Theory
The first time around, I didn’t like this show. I watched the pilot and took it as comedy making fun of geeks/nerds without the core of compassion for the subculture(s) that is necessary to not offend me. I allowed myself to be convinced to give the show another try, and found that over time, the show finds the right balance between laughing at nerds for being different and laughing about nerdy things because they’re funny.
This show, with a catchy theme song from the Barenaked Ladies (major geek cred, there), stars four nerdy geeks who work as faculty at USC—in physics, engineering, and whatever Raj actually does. Johnny Galecki is the romantic lead male as Dr. Leonard Hofstadter, who is the most socially capable of the gang, alongside neurotic super-genius Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and their buddies, would-be-ladies’ man engineer Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar), who can’t speak around women without alcohol or experimental drugs.
Their nerdy equilibrium is shattered when blonde beauty Penny (Kaley Cuoco) moves in next door. Penny is an average gorgeous woman who moved out from the Midwest to start an acting career and ended up moving in next to Leonard and Sheldon. Leonard is instantly enamored, and the season unfolds as Leonard negotiates between his crush and his friendship with Penny while she acclimates to the area while learning how to understand and befriend the clatch of socially-awkward geniuses.
The show’s stance on the maturity/lack therof regarding geekdom/nerdiness isn’t exactly revolutionary, it refuses to outright condemn the nerds/geeks, and over the season builds towards a bridging of the cultural gap between everywoman Penny (TV everywoman, that is, ie super-hot) and the nerdy quartet.
Oh, LOST. You lost your way in season three, then found it once more thanks to Desmond “Ulysses” Hume and a realization that while the slashers and shippers love the Jack/Sawyer/Kate triangle, the rest of the audience wants to know what the frack is up with the island.
Season four brings us to a crossroads, with flash-forwards to some of the survivors off the island juxtaposed with the arrival of a mysterious freighter of would-be rescuers who of course turn out to have their own agenda with the island.
LOST season four continues to develop Benjamin Linus as one of the best TV villains of the era, and does a much better job of moving forward the plot and explaining things about the island even as the questions continue to pile up.
How I Met Your Mother
I was actually expecting this to be the last season of the show. A lot of the momentum of the third season seemed to be of the ‘lets get things settled so we can wrap up’ variety, but there’s at least one more season to go, wherin I imagine we’ll see the dynamic of the five friends change around once again as they move from being the people of first season towards the versions Older Ted speaks of them speaking to his children. Barney really gets to shine in this season, and we see Lilly and Marshall dealing with the conflicts of being young married adults trying to make it on their own, while Ted flails about trying to find The One.
A lot of shows have a moment that serves as the hook, the moment where you turn to your friend and realize that ‘Holy crap, this is going to be good.’
Chuck’s moment comes before the end of the teaser of the pilot episode when Chuck’s former roommate drops to the floor to the caption of ‘Bryce Larkin – Not an accountant’
Chuck (Zachary Levi) is a mid-twenty-something slacker geek who works at the BuyMore (Best Buy)’s Nerd Herd (Geek Squad) with his best friend, the even-geekier Morgan (Joshua Gomez). He has a loving and supportive sister Ellie (Sarah Lancaster), who is dating fellow doctor Captain Awesome (Ryan McPartlin). Chuck opens an e-mail from former roommate Larkin and inadvertently downloads the entire coded contents of the NSA/CIA data intersect. This makes Chuck a human computer in possession of national security secrets. CIA agent hottie Sarah Walker (Yvonne Strahovski) and stone-cold badass NSA killer John Casey (Adam Baldwin) are assigned as his handlers, and the show follows Chuck trying to keep his life together while acting as an unlikely secret agent when he gets flashes of the intersect’s information.
The show’s appeal is in its charming humane depiction of the characters, who all grow and react in a way that transcends the easy formula (even when the plot actually follows formula). Sarah’s cover is as Chuck’s girlfriend, which is complicated by the fact that Chuck is actually falling for Sarah and Sarah has commitment/job issues regarding former partners. The supporting cast of Morgan, Ellie, Captain Awesome and the other characters of the Buy More lift the show above where it might otherwise settle, and the show is at its strongest when both the Spy and Buy More elements of the story are running on all cylinders.
The show probably has a built-in expiration date, as eventually Chuck will learn how to be a competent agent and be no longer the fish-out-of-water slacker geek. But as long as they keep the balance right and stay true to the characters, it’ll be a great ride.
The remake of Bionic Woman was supposed to be this big thing from BSG co-executive producer David Eick. Take the popular 70s girl-cyborg-power show and re-do it in a contemporary setting with a new gloss and the Battlestar treatment.
It flopped. Michelle Ryan was uninspired and bland as Jaime Sommers, the writing never really clicked, and the hidden darkness paramilitary world-saving group angle just didn’t work for me. Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar fame provided some edgy menace as cracked first bionic woman, but the show just never really came together. Think of this as the failed counterpoint to Terminator, showing how you do and don’t make a super-enhanced ass-kicking female character work in a TV show.
CW favorite Supernatural continued to deliver solid road-trip action-horror goodness, but also faltered some due to the fact that the network noticed the show’s popularity and did you guess what — Pandered.
PANDERING IS BAD! Write for your audience, sure, but there’s a clear distinction in most cases between knowing your audience so you can write for them and trying to cash in on demographic desires. The introduction of Bella and Ruby was an attempt to put more of a female presence into the show, but neither of the characters registered with (many) fans the way I imagine CW brass intended them to. Each added to the dynamic of the season, and ended up as not quite the characters you imagined them to be, but their addition felt blatant, sometimes forced, when really all you need to make the show great is putting Sam and Dean in a room together and have them be brothers while kicking ass.
The metaplot kicks into high gear in season three, evolving the mythology in cool ways that make the moral landscape of the show even more gray. The ending of the season was the right kind of infuriating cliffhanger, the one that makes you demand the following season immediately.
Heroes was last season’s ‘OMG this show is actually good, and popular too?’ genre hit, and it had a not-insignificant sophomore slump, exacerbated by the writer’s strike. Instead of keeping the Heroes together as a nascent super-team, they split up again and return to a status-quo while secrets about the previous generation of supers emerges, Hiro galavants around in feudal Japan and Peter Petrelli gets a much-needed haircut and a much-less-needed Irish damsel in distress girlfriend.
Adam Monroe makes a great character, and the Hiro in Japan stuff was wonderful, but there was the stench of pandering on some of the plotlines, as well as some serious duds in others – the Wonder Twins plotline turned out to be little more than a vehicle for another character’s arc, and not really in a good way.
The show also continued to slip into objectionable ideology regarding people of color, though it also snuck in some encouraging queerness with the Mohinder/Matt Parkman/Molly family unit.
Heroes has lost some of its luster, but it gave us some very strong episodes and I’m hoping Kring trusts his own voice (and that of Loeb and his other staff) more than thinking he needs to pander to the loudest fans’ voices. I’m all for interplay between creator and fans, but, y’know, done well.
Though, really, just keep putting Masi Oka into dangerous and funny situations so he can say things like ‘Gureto Sukotto!’ and I’ll be there until the show gets canned.
I imagine that in the future of media studies, we’ll look back at the 2007-2008 season and talk about the effect of the WGA strike on shows, which ones survived because of or despite of the strike, which shows were killed by it. Despite the drama on the production side, several gems managed to emerge from the mass, and get enough notice to earn themselves a second-season chance. And that at least is encouraging, especially considering the continuing success of some Spec Fic shows, even as the networks try to re-hash every tired trope they can get their hands on trying to replicate Battlestar Galactica and/or LOST.
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.