This is kind of ranty, so if that’s not your bag you don’t have to read on.
Last night, someone I follow on G+ made a flame bait post about fake geek girls. He prefaced with a girl in a snazzy costume and a snarky comment about how this fake geek girl, with her awesome cyberpunk cosplay, was taking away attention from real geeks who don’t have professionally made costumes.
It was typical fake geek girl flamewar crap, except that girl wasn’t cosplaying cyberpunk, she was wearing cybergoth dance gear. She was a graver.
I pointed this out and the poster got bitchy with me, challenging me on what makes me such an expert on geek culture. In short, he was mad about my derailing his beautiful hate thread, so he pulled out that “You’re not qualified to define geek culture!” card that is so well worn by people with axes to grind, demanding to know what gives me the right to differentiate between cyberpunk and cybergoth. Unfortunately for him, I don’t really give a shit about those kinds of arguments. A musical subculture doesn’t become a geek subculture simply because a geek wants to be inclusive, but if he wants to argue that he’ll have to do it with someone else. I’m not interested in letting him apply more meaning to my comment than was intended just so he could unload whatever moral point it was he was saving to be right about.
So he blocked me. For not arguing with him.
Later, I did realize I had gone into the thread with a chip on my shoulder – because I really do hate the fake geek girl argument. And I hate people who start arguments about fake geek girls. and I hate people who start faux-arguments just so that people who agree with them can jump in and post “Yeah! Me too!”
I started to realize that this was my whole complaint about the fake geek girl thing – it’s a quantum strawman only raised by people using it as a basis to debate other issues.
I started out putting down my thoughts on people who assume all cultures are geek cultures, but I ended up writing more about why I hate the geek girl phenomenon. So here it is.
But first, I want to start with a story about me.
I’ve been role-playing since around ’84 or ’85. My brother, many years my senior, brought me in on a game of D&D when I was 11, and I’ve been hooked since. Over the years, I’ve played many systems – from D&D to Bureau 13 to TWERPS. I’ve given Siembieda an undue portion of my income. I have a copy of the original Gamma World book next to a copy of Ray Winninger’s Underground that nobody would ever play with me. And, of course, I’ve always had my regular, predictable group of gaming friends who were mostly white dudes with tastes similar to mine.
Then something terrible happened around 1992. A new group of people appeared, calling themselves roleplayers but without any of the things that make a roleplayer. They played games that were more about talking than rolling dice, and involved absurdly angsty supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves with a ridiculous Jets and Sharks clan squabbling setup. And they minced about, acting spooky and carrying coffin-shaped clutch bags and wearing bat necklaces. They were horrible!
This was doubly a blow to me because prior to the vampire invasion I’d been part of a movement lovingly referred to by its detractors as “art fag”. I wore a black trenchcoat and black jeans. I listened to the Cure. I read Kafka and Lovecraft and Shohei Ooka because they confirmed my suspicion that life was a cruel, meaningless joke.
And here – HERE – were these goths co-opting our look and tainting it with their stupid fake fangs and clove cigarettes. And worse – WORSE – they tried to redefine our music, The Cure and Siouxsee and Joy Division – as proto-goth, as if this was our plan all along, as if we were a part of their thing, and they were ruining everything we stood for. I wasn’t sure what we really stood for, but it definitely wasn’t acting like Bram Stoker wrote non-fiction, that’s for damn sure.
I had a friend around that time named Kevin. Kevin became an Anne Rice devotee. He became convinced that he had been an Egyptian vampire in a previous life. He started wearing eyeliner and talking about “the Masquerade”. The more he became involved in goth culture, the less I had in common with him and the more I disliked him.
Then, one day, Kevin and I were sitting in the McDonalds at the Frankford Terminal and I was listening to Kevin drone on again about some goth girl he was going out with and what tapes he was making copies of for her and blah blah blah – and suddenly, like a house of cards collapsing, it fell into place – Kevin was getting laid. Kevin was having fun with friends who did things with him and liked him and shared interests with him. And these people were completely different to me. Their roleplaying hobby had nothing to do with me because it wasn’t my roleplaying hobby, it was theirs. What they were doing only superficially resembled what I was doing.
Ok, I know, at this point you’re thinking that this is the kind of revelation that only a teenager or someone completely self-absorbed could have. And you’re right. And at that point I was very much both.
But, sadly, there are still a lot of people involved in geek hobbies who haven’t thought about this, or reject it outright. In roleplaying circles, they still complain about LARPers. They mock narrative forum-based games. They argue about miniatures and grids and quantum ogres and party agency and anything that’s not exactly how they game. And yes, they rage against pretty girls in fake, thick-rimmed glasses who are ‘acting geeky for attention’.
And that’s why I hate this debate, because it’s not about geek girls, real or imaginary, it’s about homogeneity, it’s about trying to make us all one big group of hobbyists, bound together by our common obsessions.
The people that argue that fake geek girls exist need this homogeneity because defining who can be a member gives leverage for removing people who don’t fit the mold.
The people who argue that fake geek girls don’t exist need homogeneity because by not defining who can be a member they have leverage for removing people who don’t accept everyone who doesn’t fit the mold.
They’re both wrong.
First, yeah, sure, there are girls who say “lol! I’m such a nerd!” while clubbing to Justin Bieber and not actually doing anything traditionally associated with being a nerd. Yes, those girls exist. But so what? Saying that these girls are somehow a threat to geek hobbies is like saying a pretty girl who wears her boyfriend’s team jersey because it looks cute on her is ruining professional football. And there are pretty girls who wear football jerseys that look cute on them who are also huge fans of football.
And second, by arguing that nobody can define what being a “geek” is, you are, in fact, defining it as being open to every person who touches their breastbone and says they feel like a geek, in here. If the only qualification for adopting a label is declaring it so, then I feel like a Japanese schoolgirl, in here. Am I kawaii yet?
Is there sexism in geek hobby culture? Without a doubt. Are geek hobbies being adopted by people who don’t fit the traditional image of a geek? Absolutely. Is there a certain level of white male privilege in geek circles? Name me a place in the world where there isn’t. But none of these issues address whether or not pretty girls in fake glasses who post Tumblr pictures of themselves in Batman underwear holding GameBoy Pokemon carts diminish the value of geekness – and yet threads about fake geek girls are usually about these other things instead.
I want to end by proposing that being a “geek” is a thing of the past, it doesn’t exist anymore. Having a hobby is no longer a defining personality trait.
Yes, there are geeky hobbies. And, yes, there are geek cultures surrounding comics and video games and anime and roleplaying games. There are conventions and forums and hobby clubs for these interests. But these hobbies have grown beyond their underground status and have joined model railroading and knitting as hobbies that now draw in people from all walks of life. The people who read those forums and go to those conventions and clubs hold many different views and statuses. Fratboys read comics. Teen girls play video games. White collar dads watch anime. Gun-loving southerners play OSR games.
When I look at my G+ feed I see flaming liberals. I see one dude who quotes FOX News and sometimes complains about liberals. I see a couple cantankerous Brits who see the world through imperialistic white guy viewpoints. I see polyamorous girls who frequently fish for compliments and I see socially maladjusted guys who white knight for those girls. I see guys on antidepressant medication. I see women with advanced scientific degrees. I see homebrewers and artists and poli-sci majors and sports fans and programmers and people who obsess about American politics and people who don’t give a shit about American politics. I see Germans and Koreans and Australians and Brits and one Canadian.
In many cases, the only thing I share in common with these people is an interest in roleplaying games. I follow them because they are talented and contribute to the hobby I enjoy, but that commonality doesn’t make us friends. It doesn’t make us the same. All it means is that we are people who happen to like the same thing.
We are not all geeks, we’re just people.