The mainstreaming of geek culture
15 March 2011, 11am
2 / 5
The Facebook film, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings - what used to be at the fringes of culture has been co-opted by the mainstream along with the rest of the technology industry. This rambling discussion would have benefitted, like most of SXSW’s lower-profile specialist panels, from clearer talking points rather than unfocused reminiscences about the geek days of old. The panel, of course, asserted their geek credentials by kicking off with various references to Dungeons and Dragons, World of Warcraft, early affairs with Star Wars toys and comic culture.
• Austin resident and journalist Brendon Boyer said the first 15 yeast of his life was about seeking out people who liked the same stuff, and when he did it was “like a ray of sunshine”. He got his Mum to drive him to a night where he could find other kids in ‘Halo Benders’ t-shirts. “I used to write 20-page letters to people because I needed that feeling of connection and there was no electronic way to do that yet. We [geeks] were stranded geographically until 1997, but found pockets of zine culture. The internet can let us define ourselves purely by our interests and that can get into weird dangerous fetishy things if you only stick to those things.”
• Isn’t mainstreaming geek culture just making it more accessible to people with money? Games, phone, merchandise and gadgets are expensive, but that said much geek credibility comes from DIYing gadgets, plus smartphones are relatively cheap these days. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, but geeks find a way,” said Sanders.
• Microsoft community director Kathleen Sanders looked like she realised she was being a bit too candid about Microsoft’s management: ”Look at the senior leadership of Microsoft and they’re not modern geeks - more classic geeks. You see people saying they want your ideas, but the fact they have to have one day like that a year rather than an entire culture of innovation is telling. As the company becomes more profitable, the more it’s the dollar signs they are interested in.”
• Sanders asked whether the mainstreaming of the geek would result in better geeks; will they continue to develop and evolve, or will that culture get diluted? Geekdom is a lifestyle, rather than a culture, said one questioner, who asked whether the mainstream geek references might be more about patting homage to its new credibility than carelessly jumping on the bandwagon; if the mainstream is going to try and talk geek though, it has to get the details right.
• Does mainstreaming just mean Chatroulette? It should mean that geeks find it easier to get other people interested in things like gaming, where it had been hard to find other girls, said Morgan Romine of Ubisoft. “We want more women making video games - diversity benefits new genres, not just shoot-em-ups and platform games. Like Kelly Santiago and Flow - that was a different groundbreaking thing that came from a guy and girl working together.”