The other day, I saw this exchange between two friends on Twitter.
@joelduggan I’ve also never read Enders Game or seen any Doctor Who. I’ve lost so much geek cred I can now throw a perfect spiral.
Now, these are obviously long-time friends being tongue-in-cheek with each other, and clearly Ryan is being affectionately self-deprecating (and getting in a subtle dig at sports jocks *grin*). But it got me to thinking again about the entire concept of “geek cred”, and why it bothers me so much: geek cred is an othering construct that was invented by people who really ought to know better.
The thing that was so affirming about the discovery of science fiction fandom was the sense that I belonged there. I had found my tribe. It didn’t much matter to me then that I liked a particular kind of SF and someone else liked a different kind. We were brought together by our shared love of similar things, and where our experiences did not overlap, that just meant we had things to share with one another.
The Internet changed the landscape of geek culture in much the same way it changed the landscape of everything else. Where we once had to wait until the next con or monthly club meeting to connect with other geeks, now we could build communities online and have those conversations constantly. And this was a tremendous gift, because no matter how niche your particular subculture might be, you can find your community out there on the net. As a result, many people who had never discovered conventions and local clubs found their communities for the first time in the glowing amber text of an Usenet group or the black and grey boxes of some web forum.
In his novel Life, the Universe, and Everything, Douglas Adams described the reaction of the people of Krikkit, when they piloted their first spacecraft past the dust cloud which surrounded their planet and which had led them to mistakenly believe their world was the only place that existed in the entire universe:
They saw the staggering jewels of the night in their infinite dust and their minds sang with fear.
For a while they flew on, motionless against the starry sweep of the Galaxy, itself motionless against the infinite sweep of the Universe. And then they turned round.
“It’ll have to go,” the men of Krikkit said as they headed back for home.
On the way back they sang a number of tuneful and reflective songs on the subjects of peace, justice, morality, culture, sport, family life and the obliteration of all other life forms.
In much the same way, certain fans reacted to this inrush of new people with a certain amount of horror, and quickly set about devising ways to telling the difference between “true fans” and interlopers. (This isn’t entirely an Internet era phenomenon, of course. Literary SF fans looked down on media fans, for example. But I feel it’s become a more widespread problem in the modern age.)
Along with this inrush of new fans, however, something else was happening: SF was becoming mainstream, on its way to becoming ubiquitous. This meant that not only were a lot of <shudder> normal people flocking into our chatrooms and forums, but there was more and more material to consume. It’s no longer possible for any one person to watch every TV show, view every movie, read every book and comic book, listen to every song, and play every video games. It’s no longer even possible for any one person to watch all of the best of what’s on offer, and that’s just what’s out now, not counting the years of collected material the pre-dates the current boom.
All of this isn’t even addressing a more important point: taste is subjective, and not everyone’s going to like every thing. I’m a fan of Game of Thrones, but I can certainly understand why it’s not to some people’s liking. One of my best friends is completely disinterested in the whole Marvel Universe series of movies that are currently dominating the box office. Some people don’t like Star Trek, and some people don’t understand why the phrase “50 DKP minus” makes me giggle. And yet all of these people can be geeks — real geeks. There’s not an asterisk by your name if you didn’t enjoy the Star Wars films. You can still play in our reindeer games.
The only thing required for full geek status is to love something passionately and want to share that love with others. Period, full stop. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know..