A couple more long(ish) posts soon to come. For now, here are some links.
Just came out of a very busy weekend leading into a very busy week, but I wanted to drop a couple quick links before they fall off my radar:
I wrote a post a few weeks ago about Lori Kendall’s most recent article on nerds and race. If you’re interested in learning about what other people have to say about her earlier nerd-oriented research, check out some reviews of her book Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub, online through the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies. (Thanks to Bill Herman for passing along the link, and reminding me I need to sign up for the cyberculture listserv!) Ben Kruger and Molly Swiger contribute reviews, followed by a response by the author.
One of the interesting things about Lori’s book is that it challenges the popular joke that “On the internet, nobody knows that you’re a dog”â€”or, for that matter, a man, a woman, a teenager, etc. Check out this thread at the XKCD forums, too, for some personal responses to a recent comic about how men often treat women as sex objects (or boys pretending to be girls) on the internet.
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.
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 thisâ€”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 meâ€”it is eventually very much about geek culture.)
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.
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.
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.
I had two or three windows full of tabs sitting open in my web browser. Most are closed or bookmarked, as I gave up on reading them anytime soon. Here are the rest.
At Media in Transition 5, I had the good fortune to be placed on a panel alongside Lori Kendall, associate professor of library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She’s one of very few academics devoting significant attention to the cultural role of the nerd. Her MiT5 presentation was called “White and Nerdy: Current Meanings of the Nerd Stereotype” (conference abstract here). A version of that paper has recently been accepted to Journal of Popular Culture. The journal has a long backlog, though, so she’s given permission to link to a prepublication version now titled “White and Nerdy: Computers, Race, and the Nerd Stereotype” (which is pretty close to what you’ll see in the journal).
The Times article on Mary Bucholtz’s research seemed to get people pretty interested in talking about nerds and race (both here and elsewhere, including Journalista, Newsarama, Power Word: Blog, Angriest Rice Cookerâ€”which has a comment thread worth checking outâ€”and others), so I thought it might be worth reviving that conversation through another person’s take on the matter. Overall, I got the impression from the commentary on Mary’s research that people denied (maybe even resented) the implication that nerdity is a “hyperwhite” identity, as it implies an oversimplified black/white duality. People also seemed to think it hurt her credibility to claim that nerd identity is always actively chosen, as opposed to some combination between actively taking on a role and having a role assigned by school hierarchies or culture at large.
I’m interested to see how people respond to Lori’s paper, then, considering that she’s analyzing cultural forms created by nerds and geeks themselves, who quite clearly invoke a black/white dualityâ€”namely, nerdcore hip-hop and Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy” rap video. You can argue that hip-hop is mainstream enough that it’s no longer a “Black” phenomenon, but let’s be honest with ourselves here: Nerdcore artists frequently rap in an affected “gangsta” persona, and the overwhelming majority are White. Why should nerdity be connected to whiteness in this way, and is this connection problematic? Please feel free to check out the the paper and let us know what you think.
I’m defending my dissertation proposal today at 1:00, and then I leave for Seattle tomorrow for a week. I’m headed to the Penny Arcade Expo, and I won’t be bringing my laptop, so things will probably be pretty quiet here for a bit. Here’s a few last-minute links to check out in the meantime:
Game ratings: Eurogamer (link via Game Politics) reports on how some developers feel that the ESRB is veering a little too close to McCarthyism. The examples offered hereâ€”which include seemingly arbitrary guidelines, the complete proscription of sexual content, and quashing even satirical resistance to authorityâ€”seem pretty reminiscent of the Comics Code, which arguably stunted that industry for decades.
Women in IT: Slashdot features a link to a Computerworld article about how women in the IT industry cope with the men’s-locker-room atmosphere. I link directly to Slashdot to begin with because it actually refers back to one of its own posts as an example of the men’s club attitude.
Almost casual gaming: Kotaku reports that European Xbox 360s are seeing some price cuts and some renaming; it’s unclear to me whether the US consoles will be similarly renamed. The high-end “Elite” system will keep its name. The “Premium” (which Kotaku recently referred to as “the standard,” as it seems to be the bare minimum for playing games on actual disks) will be renamed the “Pro”; it recently dropped from $400 to $350 over here, and comes with a hard drive, a wireless controller, and a headset for online voice chat (though the online service is an extra $50 a year to actually play games on it). The “Core” system, which will be renamed the “Arcade” version in Europe, recently dropped from $300 to $280, and has always included a wired controller, with other peripherals extra.
The “Arcade” version will be coming with a memory card preloaded with five Xbox Live Arcade games, perhaps including Pac-man. This sounds something like the strategy I suggested in a recent postâ€”that is, making a cheaper Xbox system more explicitly aimed at casual, downloadable gamesâ€”but it’s still priced way too high for actual casual gaming. Even when Microsoft is trying to go “casual,” it still sort of veers toward “hardcore.” (Can I coin “hardcasual”? “casualcore”? Maybe I should just stop trying.)
That’s all for now. Feel free to drop me an email if you feel like saying hello at PAX!