yogurt has culture, but what about geeks?

I keep thinking about the idea of geek culture, and I’m increasingly uncertain that it really exists. This started a little while ago, and I blogged about geek culture as some sort of nebulous, all-inclusive community for everyone who loves… geeky things. And the more that I consider this, the less sense it makes to me. I’m going to turn to Wikipedia for a fairly standard definition of culture (one of its meanings, at least): “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.” I’m sure that some geeks do have “shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices,” but are they specific or deep enough to really define a culture in the traditional sense?

I started thinking about this even harder during the fallout from Penny Arcade’s dickwolf comic. In the angry blogging that followed, there were a lot of criticisms made of “geek culture” (especially in the comments of these posts) as a culture supportive of misogyny and bullying, among other things. That hasn’t been my general experience in my little corner of geekdom! There are assholes (I prefer to call them “dickwolves”) everywhere, of course, but I’ve generally enjoyed a community of geeks who are supportive and friendly. I don’t want any part of a culture that’s full of dickwolves, whose “shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices” are cruelty towards others and especially towards women. That’s not my geek culture.

People have noted the negative experiences they have experienced within specific aspects of geekdom – rape jokes in WoW, dismissal of women in gaming, bullying in forums, etc. First of all, those things exist everywhere. They are not a defining characteristic of geekiness, or a shared practice among all geeks. They are bigger than geekdom. I suspect they’re more prevalent among specific geek communities, which illustrates my next point – I think geeks have become too diverse to be grouped into a single “culture.” The MMORPG geeks are different from the Trekkies, the cosplayers, the comic book fans, and all of the other people with niche interests that are considered “geeky.” Sure, they have things in common. They like… something. A lot. ย And they may like it enough to let it become a major part of their lives, to define them a bit. But I can’t think of any overarching “shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices” between all of these groups (and more) that would really define them as a single culture. If it’s passionate interest, then hockey fans and hotrodders would also fit into geek culture. If it’s being interested in non-mainstream stuff, then some of the people we’ve considered geeks should be kicked out as previously geeky things become mainstream.

I’d welcome discussion about this, because it’s really intriguing. I started thinking about this as if this culture really did exist, and now I’ve basically flipped my position. And I guess my next question is: does it matter?

4 comments ↓

#1 Maggie on 09.08.10 at 1:45 pm

You’re right that fanaticism doesn’t just have to extend to geeky pursuits.

Actually, you should check out this book. It addresses just this – and covers things from furries to pigeon racing to “Grobanites”. (FYI, I found the Grobanites to be the most alarming of the fandoms she covers!)

http://www.amazon.com/Who-Are-You-People-Fanatical/dp/1569803048/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1283961214&sr=8-3

I do think some of the geekier pursuits have more in common with each other (like gamers and larpers) than say football fans and furries.

I think geek culture might consist of different fandoms that aren’t socially accepted.

If you never miss a home game, travel great distances for away ones, paint your face, wear a jersey and a cheesehead hat, you’re a normal football fan. But if you dress up like a Jedi and go to a Con, you’re a freak.

So I think the sort of more socially unacceptable fandoms have banded together under the geek flag.

I think some of the shared attitudes would be knowing that what you’re into may be persecuted outside of fandom. Maybe a shared past of bullying. Acceptance of others. This is theory if not in practice anyway. But I think largely places like DragonCon are pretty accepting of people who don’t fit in elsewhere.

The flip side is that not everyone in fandom is a misfit outside of it, and there are always different levels of involvement in fandom and geekiness.

Hard to really put a finger on such a diverse group.

I have more thoughts on DragonCon, but that will have to wait for after my meeting! ๐Ÿ™‚

#2 saram on 09.08.10 at 2:04 pm

@Maggie – Thanks for the book recommendation! That went straight onto my wishlist. Grobanites… sounds painful.

When most of the pursuits referred to as “geeky” were fairly underground and weren’t socially accepted, I could see there being a culture bringing those geeks together. But it begins to fall apart, in my mind, as more geekery becomes mainstream and there’s an increasingly large divide between the upper geeks and lower geeks (so to speak) that dilutes that idea of a geek culture that protects from persecution.

I keep coming back to the thought that there could’ve been (in the past) a much clearer single geek culture… and the growth and acceptance of geekery has killed that. The diversity of the group is the biggest issue for me. I can’t find the common thread if I consider the widest variety of geeky groups. Give me any small handful of geeky pursuits, I can generally work out a potential culture among them. More is… more!

#3 Mokele on 09.30.10 at 5:42 pm

I’ll use my own geek-area to possibly help with classification: What if, rather that relying on extant traits (“mainstream”, etc.), you look at it from an evolutionary POV?

For instance, much of the original geekdom centers around Sci-Fi & Fantasy, with descendant geekdoms such as Computers, RPGs, Fanfic, Anime, Comics, etc. A knitting geek might be considered a “geek” due to a line of descent including SCA and, prior to that, Historical RPGs.

I think of geeks like birds – not all birds sing, not all birds fly, and not all flying, singing things are birds. But all birds *are* the descendants of a common theropod ancestor. The aforementioned knitting geek is a geek in much the same way a penguin in a bird, while the rabid hockey fan is not a geek in the same way that a bat is not a bird.

#4 yogurt has culture, but what about geeks? โ€” Of the Bad :: FreakyGeeky.com on 10.10.10 at 4:07 am

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