Contributing to a Grand Literary Tradition

Publishers weekly declares that “nerds rule at the bookstore” with two upcoming releases: David Anderegg’s Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them, and Benjamin Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People. (Links via Hipster Please, via Church.) Anderegg’s book, released in late December this year, focuses on how “nerd” is still associated with anti-intellectual harassment among kids, ignoring the positive connotations of the term in the adult world. Nugent’s, released in March 2008, is part memoir, part journalistic account of nerd subcultures and the function of pursuits like Dungeons & Dragons.

Between these and Mary Bucholtz’s upcoming book, I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me. After I finish the dissertation next summer, I hope to find their good company on the bookstore’s increasingly full “Nerd” shelf.

Girls <3 Geeks (for Payment or Services Rendered)

Nothing seems quite as amusing to non-geeks as seeing a bookish misfit paired with a beautiful woman. And, outside of sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and movies like 40-Year-Old Virgin, some seem to think best way to arrange that scenario is to put some money on the table. Let’s check out today’s two examples.

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Whither Counterculture on the Net?

I recently attended a talk by Peter Dahlgren, a visiting professor hosted by the Annenberg Scholars Program in Culture and Communication. He presented some research on how teens of different political orientations in Sweden used the internet to explore politics and identity, raising the issue of what should be considered “political” behavior for citizens too young to directly participate in policy-making decisions. In the Q&A that followed, one professor suggested (if I remember correctly) that the internet is for the youth of today what sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll were for youth in the ’60s, and wondered why the youth of today aren’t as politically resistant as that counterculture. Someone similarly wondered where the sense of “we” was in all this—the sense of belonging, not just in personal interest as exemplified by Swedish kids opposing anti-file-sharing legislation.

It was interesting to hear people muse about these things, but after having a short while to mull over such things myself and chat with some classmates about them, I wish I could have spoken up earlier. Here is my attempt to redress that. (Please stick with me—it is eventually very much about geek culture.)

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Halo, Halo, Halo

Halo 3 just came out yesterday. Gaming fan sites have been abuzz with information about the game for awhile, but I feel like it hasn’t been as frequent and overwhelming as how flooded they were with Bioshock information (which seemed almost comparable with how flooded Mac fan sites were with iPhone info leading up to that launch). Anyway, two things from all this seemed particularly noteworthy:

  1. At Harvard University, the John Harvard statue dressed up as Master Chief, courtesy MIT pranksters.
  2. Excerpts of why Kotaku commenters argue that Halo 3 is (or is not) the best thing since sliced bread.

I just ordered Halo 3, so I’ll reserve further commentary for now. (And, sooner or later: reflections on Bioshock in light of its hype as formally/narratively innovative.)

Update: Genevieve sends me a couple more links about the hack, including from the MIT Hack Gallery and the Boston Globe. The latter makes special note of how MIT pranks are characterized by their “geeky spirit,” and how MIT is working to draft some ground rules for hacks to make sure they remain “playful” but not destructive. (I don’t think they’re suggesting this hack violated those rules. Had more to do with a B&E on the Faculty Club.)

Geekifying the “Vast Wasteland”

In an article titled “Sci-Fi, Freaks and Supergeeks Take Over TV Screens,” Wired notes:

A memo saying “geek chic is going mainstream” must have circulated among network TV execs as they concocted this fall’s prime-time lineup.

Hoping to woo coveted geek eyeballs, they’ve put their money on nine new shows focusing on — or catering to — nerds, freaks and outsiders of every type.

“Geeks are the new cool,” said Teri Weinberg, NBC Entertainment’s executive vice president. “We are all gravitating towards the underdog.”

Geek TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, The Sarah Connor Chronicles and a retooled Bionic Woman make up roughly 20 percent of the major networks’ new prime-time programming for the 2007-08 season. They join returning geek favorites that include ABC’s Ugly Betty, NBC’s Heroes and the SciFi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica, which blasts back with a two-hour made-for-TV movie later in the year and a fourth season beginning in ’08.

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The XKCD Event

A couple days ago, Jordan sent me an email linking to a forum thread for the popular geek/nerd/stick-figure webcomic XKCD. The forum thread discussed some coordinates and a time noted in a recent strip, which had been changed from a location in upstate New York to those of a small park in North Cambridge (42.39561 -71.13057 2007 09 23 14 38 00). This quickly turned into a discussion of who was going to make the pilgrimage to this park on September 23, 2007, at 2:38 PM local time (or 10:38 AM, which is 2:38 GMT). Fans started meetup threads at the XKCD forum, Livejournal, and elsewhere (just google “XKCD event”).

The original strip ends with a person explaining that he went to the coordinates revealed to him by a woman in a dream, where he discovered that “It turns out wanting something doesn’t make it real.” This makes for a sad and touching sort of ending, but also left the door open for something much grander.

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The Geekstudies Flickr Feed

I just created a photo site for the photos I’ve been (and will continue to be) taking at the geeky events I attend. It is at

I’m in Massachusetts now, so I won’t be able to post updates from past travels until sometime after I return to my desktop computer in Philadelphia. Very shortly, though, I will be posting 70 photos from an unexpected event I stumbled into yesterday, thanks to Jordan.

Male Perspectives on Women, Geekery, and Mastery

Dan refers me to a Slashdot link to a ZDnet story about how the “inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has called for an end to the ‘stupid’ male geek culture that disregards the work of capable female engineers, and puts others off entering the profession.” From the ZDnet article:

Berners-Lee said that a culture that avoided alienating women would attract more female programmers, which could lead to greater harmony of systems design. “If there were more women involved we could move towards interoperability. We have to change at every level,” he said. […]

One academic went through a sex change, submitted the same papers [for publication] under both identities, and found that papers were accepted from a man but were rejected when they came from a woman, said the web inventor. This bias is unaccountable, but adds to institutional bias, he said.

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Blurring the Lines Between Hipster and Geek

Due to the law of conservation of boredom, when I am too busy to blog much, Jacob putters around on the web until he finds something for me to blog. (Thanks, Jacob!) Today’s IM:

» microbrews + arcade games = not a bad bar?
» located in the fuzzy area between hipster and geek
» “even though this sounds a bit like an uber-hipster joint, the arcade games might help to give it a less self-important, murky vibe than, say, union pool. i’m looking forward to checking it out.”
» “It’s a fun bar, perhaps ‘hipster’ish… but it is Williamsburg. Much less pretentious feeling than most Williamsburg bars, because you can’t really act like hot shit playing Pac Man.”
» how’s that for gaming culture’s social position
» murky!

Quotes are from this article on the bar’s opening back in 2004, which Jacob stumbled upon after reading that the owners of Barcade are opening what will be Brooklyn’s only bowling alley. That, too, seems very aimed at the hipster set.

What I find particularly interesting here is that it’s the hipsters (not the geeks) who, in the above quotes, are described as the annoying subculture. Playing video games and bowling are apparently ironic enough to be hip, but still embarrassing enough to be unpretentious. Considering that nearly all of my free time over the weekend was spent either bowling or playing video games, I guess that makes me … murky?