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. 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?