Inclusiveness in Geek Culture, part two.

This is a follow-on my previous post in response to Damien Walter’s piece in The Guardian, and assumes you’ve already read that. If you haven’t, go and read that first.

One thing that makes his piece confused is that among the sweeping generalisations he doesn’t make clear idea of what he actually meeds by ‘geek culture’, and seems to conflate a lot of completely unrelated things.

For a start, is there really a single “Geek culture”? I see a lot of overlapping subcultures centred on different things. Some of those a quite progressive, others can be a bit reactionary, and some are guilty of propagating bad ideas that ought to be challenged.

His reference to young white males being told that they’re going to be millionaires or rock stars sounds far more like shallow reality TV and celebrity culture than anything else. Not only are X-Factor and Big Brother not any part of any geek subculture, but they’re a part of mainstream culture that most of those who identify as a geeks explicitly reject.

There is no point trying to deny many geek subculture do contain a disproportionate number of socially awkward people used to being mocked and ostracised, who cling to their subculture as a “safe space” from a hostile and uncaring world. A lot of this may be down to the toxic nature of many US high schools with their endemic bullying and zero-sum popularity-based caste systems. Yes I know full well that those experiences are by no means universal, but they’re still common enough to have an impact on why some aspects of geek culture are the way they are.

Which is why having confident and successful people patronisingly lecturing to them about “White male privilege” and calling them losers provokes such a defensive backlash; it comes over as yet another round of the same sort of bullying they suffered at school. As one game designer I know of has stated, it’s akin to poking a wounded animal with a stick.

Yes, some people do need to grow up, and need to stop defining themselves by how they were treated at high school. But self-righteous lecturing laced with jargon that comes from critical race theory or academic gender studies isn’t the best way to do it. There needs to be a lot more empathy and understanding if the scenes are to be made truly inclusive.

This isn’t to excuse the racism and misogyny that geek cultures tolerates far too much; value systems created out of self-defined victimhood are never going to be pretty. The much-vaulted “all are welcome” inclusiveness of geekdom includes a failure to recognise that the crude bigotry of a minority is completely out of order. That is a major problem, and it does need to be addressed.

I have noticed that James Desborough has blogged about the same subject and makes a number of the same points. But I do think he’s badly wrong about sexism and racism not being a problem.

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8 Responses to Inclusiveness in Geek Culture, part two.

  1. Jake says:

    Good response. I read James’ response as well, and then went back to the original article again.

    Damien certainly didn’t score brownie points with me, and I am a female geek who was so nerdy that I didn’t even realise I fit the caste until I got older. As a female geek-nerd, I don’t feel under represented, and I certainly don’t need to be championed. I would like more games to offer female lead character options and armour choices that fit the gap between “exactly what the guys wear” and “two shells, a string, and a bit of mesh”, but that’s a different issue and I actually do understand why the choices are as they are.

    I think mostly I am struggling to understand the purpose of the article, beyond inflaming and making non-points.

    For one, I have a problem with any assertion that seems to want to impose an artificial structural change upon a culture. Western-world geeks are mostly white, middle class males because that is how it has evolved; other classes and races developed different interests or, as in the case of the impoverished, couldn’t afford the luxury of comic books and geek pursuits. Our heroes are mostly white, middle class males because our heroes come from a time when that was the standard, but they aren’t all that way. One of my favourite heroes is Drizzt Do’Urden, and he’s black and not even human.

    Then there’s that whole thing about young, white men being useless, being raised to believe that they’ll be millionaires, and that they are having a tantrum because they won’t. Where is this happening exactly, and how did I miss it? It’s gǒu pì. Being white, middle class, and male is not the lowest difficulty setting. Perhaps more doors open, but there are also a lot more expectations and obligations that come with that open door. White middle class men are under more pressure to ‘perform’, not less. Geek culture is their escape from that, and everybody deserves an escape, so stop pissing on it.

    And, don’t get me started on the writing “hard truths of the male identity” bit. Does Damien understand what geek culture is and it’s purpose? We don’t board Serenity, venture into Fangorn, or quest to become dragonborn to tackle hard truths, we do this to escape from them. Hard truths are for another time and place, and they will be shoved upon us without a doubt, so leave them the hell out of my SF&F.

    In my opinion, geek culture is still predominately white, middle-class male because that is the class/gender/race that it appeals to most. As the appeal widens, the dynamics will change. Artificially imposing that change will destroy the culture.

    I guess the bottom line is that I just don’t see a purpose in shaming the average geek for being what he is. Other than clicks and infamy for being a dick, what purpose does it serve?

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Thanks for that comment. Glad to know it’s not just my white male privilege showing and there are women who aren’t impressed with Damien Walter’s clumsy attempt at white-knighting.

    I see a lot of stories online by women who have had really shitty experiences within geekdom, with the implication that those experiences are near-universal, and there are places that are very hostile environments for women. Then I think of the gaming conventions I attend and the women I know through them, and wonder if it’s the same subculture at all.

    Maybe there are all sorts of horrible things going on outside public spaces that I’m just not aware of.

  3. 1) I usually say there’s geeks (a group who are essentially “applied intellectuals”), geek culture which is a loose mixture of media, technology, games, and to an extent DIY.
    2) The young-white-males as millionaire thing is not part of geek culture more than any other part of larger culture. In fact I encounter the same thing you saw that desk do not (in the loose unifying elements of culture) distinctly identify with this – and when I see said identification with an ez-riches approach I don’t see it as gender-bound.
    3) The socially awards space is an issue, but over time I have found that is not a dominant identifier in geek culture any more. Geek is hip and geeky things are popular. The people I encounter in geek spaces younger than I (I’m 45) don’t seem to have this as a dominating experience (though it happens).
    4) The idea that people need to “grow up” sounds suspiciously like the critiques targeted at millenniasl, who are busy trying to deal with a terrible situation economically and culturally.
    5) The self-righteous lecturing always fails.

    My experience is that, yes, sexism and racism is a problem, period. It is a problem in geek culture but also in our culture. Right now geeks are in the spotlight and they’re getting some attention, but in general (and this is in general) I have found geek culture overall less sexist and racist than larger culture – but the areas that do exist can go just as deep as mainstream culture. Merely taking a look at how we tolerate sexist and vile activities in the sports community, or from entertainers, shows we have problems.

    That being said, I think geeks can and should address the sexist and racist problems in our culture – that’s our responsibility and we’ve got those “depths” that get pretty vile. This guy just didn’t help.

    In fact, to be brutally arrogant, I want to see us do it because maybe we’ll set a good example.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    Good point with the comparison with sports fandom. Football across Europe is marred by endemic racism and actual violence from a knuckle-dragging minority, up to and including murder.

    Has there ever been a brawl at an SFF or games convention?

  5. Hey, we geeks don’t fight at conventions! It’d ruin our cosplay!

    No seriously don’t recall it.

  6. Jake says:

    Like with any other culture/subculture, there are those who would taint it with positioning. Geeks were at the bottom of the feeding pool for a very long time—bullied, mocked, ridiculed, dismissed—then, suddenly, we found our culture held up as something cool kid worthy. So, in a way it makes sense that, with some, this newfound power is asserting itself by transforming the persecuted into persecutors. That being said, I firmly believe this is very much in the minority; most geeks are quite welcoming of all comers. In fact, instead of belittling the fuzzie wuzzies, most of us are eager to show them our worlds. Instead of mocking someone who gets the costume all wrong, we’re eager to help them fix it, explaining [in sometimes agonising detail] the history behind the character as we go along. I know that this is true of me, and I know that this has been true of all of my male geek friends over the years. Stick a toe into our world, and we’re ready to take you on a marathon cruise if you let us.

    There is also basic sociology to consider. Geeks are often socially inept; I mean, most of us are introverts who spend a vast amount of time in other worlds. So, intentions can be easily misunderstood. Women mistake good-hearted flirting or awkward comments for something more nefarious. They take things personally when that’s not the way it was intended. Men then feel rejected or attacked, and they take it out on the whole gender.

    I am not saying that bad things don’t happen, or that these reports should be minimised or dismissed; I think we have a responsibility as a community to weed out sexism and racism whenever it appears. I am saying that I don’t believe it is a fair assessment to say that this negative behaviour is the norm or to paint all of my fellow geeks—middle class, white, maleness aside—with the same, tarred brush.

  7. John P. says:

    I misread the title when I first saw this and thought it said “Greek Culture” … oh well

  8. Tim Hall says:

    It’s all Greek to me ;)

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