Geek Merch (and Geek Studies) in the News

Church clues me in that I’ve been quoted in an article for Canadian publication The Star: “It’s Hip to be Square: Nerd Merch Brings in the Bank.” (The nice thing about having a poor memory is that you can give an interview and still be pleasantly surprised later to see your own name in print.) The article describes the geek merchandise market, and includes profiles on a few retailers—some quite familiar to shoppers on the net, and at least one I didn’t know about, the Geek Chic Boutique in New Brunswick.

On a somewhat related note, I stumbled upon a post on Star Trek cufflinks, titled “Not Just for Geeks,” describing how geek fashion can still be quite elegant as well as a philosophical statement. (Despite noting that this fashion statement is not just for geeks, the author does describe himself as a geek and a nerd, in case you were wondering.)

Personally, I find myself stocking up on less geek apparel ever since I took on the assistant professor job and cut back on convention visits following the dissertation research. I just have fewer situations to wear the stuff, now. (That said, I wouldn’t mind replacing my old “Magneto Was Right” t-shirt, my original homemade one since destroyed in the laundry. Maybe without the text this time, for the love of cryptic imagery.)

Links: From Closet Geeks to Sexiest Geeks Alive

Christmas was typically geeky (for me) in the Tocci household this year, netting one Mario brothers t-shirt, two comics, four Xbox 360 games, one PS2 game, one DS game, and the new They Might Be Giants album. I also had the opportunity to introduce my girlfriend’s family to the Guitar Hero series, graciously lent by my brother Stephen. Now I am turning my attention back to papers, the dissertation, and taking stock of the links I’ve gathered to clutter up my browser lately.

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Glancing at the Numbers

I use Google Analytics to keep track of my site traffic. It’s fascinating to me to see who and what brings people here. For the sake of reference, I had about 2,100 pageviews from about 850 unique visitors in the last 30 days, the period analyzed in this data. My biggest month so far was a little over 1,000 visitors. From talking to other bloggers I know, I get the sense that this is pitifully small for a blog that makes money (never the plan for this one), decently large for a blog that you only expected to be read by friends, and maybe still even a bit on the small side for a blog maintained by someone who’s reasonably popular and interesting (e.g., one of the top Emily‘s on Google).

Google Analytics keeps a list of what your top-viewed pages are. These results generally don’t surprise me because they tend to correspond with incoming links from notable bloggers I already knew about. Today, though, I noticed something on the list that seemed unlikely to have garnered about 5% of my total pageviews from such a source: posts tagged as “Apparel.”

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“Nerd Clothes for Thugs in Training”

The title of today’s post comes from a comment on Kotaku in response to pics from the upcoming Nintendo by Torrel clothing line. (More on Torrel and the line at this article from Black Enterprise.) In the words of Kotaku writer Michael McWherter, “Torrel LLC has taken the best of Nintendo, run it through the ‘urban market’ filter with plans to provide thousands of clothes-conscious gamers with over-sized and wildly tacky Nintendo authorized gear.”

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Shirts 2.0

Last Monday saw the opening of a new Threadless brick-and-mortar store in Chicago (link via Tcritic). In case you’re not familiar with Threadless, this is notable because it used to be an online-only venture, a sort of odd union between traditional consumer capitalism and brand-spanking-new Web 2.0 collaboration. The site was founded on the premise of having users submit designs and vote on which designs they like and would buy, though recent years have seen it introduce special lines of shirts not voted on by the audience.

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The Saga of Ball

For many, the highlight of last year’s Penny Arcade Expo was entirely unplanned: A crowd of people made the best of their long wait in line by knocking a big, blue ball around. Later, while Gabe drew a strip onstage and Tycho fielded audience questions, someone requested that the ball be included in the strip, and the artist happily obliged him. (See lower left corner, third panel. An old character made it to the second panel by special request, too. I’m blanking on the relevance of the still-beating heart and the crowned hot dog, but those were last-minute additions too.) After the convention, the event apparently became somewhat legendary, with “ball footage” posted around the web and references among my interviewees. One of these people suggested that this illustrates the heart of gamer culture: Geeks just wanna play.

I’m fascinated to see now that Penny Arcade has made an “All hail BALL” t-shirt, announced the week before PAX 2008. This strikes me as a fairly brilliant merchandising/marketing technique. The only ones who will really be interested are those who have fond memories of the ball at last year’s PAX, which drastically limits the market for such a product. That’s okay, though: PA has its own venue where their most fervent fans are sure to appear, and some of those people seemed intent on getting the ball somehow included in the annals of PA history. The reference will be completely opaque to outsiders, so the shirt basically functions like a secret handshake with other fans. And, as I realized at Comic Con this year, some people buy fannish and geeky apparel just to wear at other cons—as a button on one person’s backpack said, “Being a fan means never having to ask, ‘Where would I wear that?'” When I go to PAX next weekend, I’ll be surprised if I don’t see dozens of people wearing this shirt.

This move really helps characterize Penny Arcade as an outfit that takes its cues from its own fans, while still doing projects in their own style. Kudos, too, for having the restraint to let the subject lie dormant awhile and suddenly announce the shirt the week before the next con.

For the Ladies

Dan took my call for links to heart, and has sent me yet another I cannot pass up: Shiny Shiny, “A Girls’ Guide to Gadgets.” Specifically, he referred me to some Pac-man accessories (perhaps knowing that I may be willing to challenge gender norms if it means getting to wear Pac-man jewelry), though that in turn led me to a Zelda map belt dubbed “Geek chic of the week” and also a post on top geeky slogan shirts. I’ve noticed that most geek-oriented shirt sites tend to offer only a portion of their inventory in “girl sizes,” so it’s interesting to see what sorts of things get pulled up by a girl-oriented geek site.

Band Geeks Get Their Due on J!NX

One kind of geek that I’ve not seen represented on geeky apparel websites is the band geek—until now. J!NX has a band geek t-shirt amidst their dozens of shirts about computers, role-playing, and FPS gaming. And what’s the first comment by one of their members? “[Y’all] should mix muisc and computers together in a shirt for us computer and band geeks.” I guess that’s probably what you should expect your audience to say when you sell shirts over the internet.

It’s Okay to Be a Role-player

When I interview people, one topic that often comes up is what interests are “too geeky” even for the self-identified geeks. Usually, it’s some form of role-playing game—massively multiplayer RPGs for some people, pen-and-paper/tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons for some of those who are comfortable with MMOs, and live action role-playing for most of those who will admit to having played D&D. As one of my interviewees said, “I have to be wary about what I admit to people I play.” I’ve often wondered what it will take to make the role-players feel like it’s okay to admit to what they do, or for other gamers and geeks (and heck, non-geeks too) to feel comfortable role-playing.

I see some signs that make me wonder whether this change is underway. The New York Times Magazine has a slideshow up of people with their online avatars, though I suppose it’s as easy to read it as “see, these are people too” as it is to read it as “weirdos are fascinating.” Also, a couple weeks ago, I noticed that the Newbury Comics CD/comics/kitsch store in Harvard Square was selling Dungeons & Dragons t-shirts. And I’m not just talking logo shirts here, though they had those—they had a shirt with the art from the cover of the Dragonlance rulebook, which features a half-elven man with a sword and some demon thingie behind him. I’m not sure, however, if these are being sold/worn mostly as a retro/ironic thing or if the pervasiveness of games like World of Warcraft is finally making D&D seem more socially acceptable.

(And yes, I know enough about Dragonlance to tell you where the art came from and that one of the guys pictured in it is half-elven, but apparently not enough to tell you what the demon thingie is actually supposed to be called. I’m doing my best here, though.)