Nerds in the News

I turned in the first full draft of my proposal to my advisor this past weekend, and I will be defending on August 20th, just before leaving for PAX. I’m still quite busy getting back to people I met in San Diego, Lisbon, and Paris, in addition to revising papers for journals—but I can’t pass up two explicitly geek/nerd articles in the New York Times posted in one week, can I?

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Checking in After San Diego

I’m finally home after three weeks of travels, having just returned from Comic Con International in San Diego. I’d like to blog about the con a bit more soon, though I suspect I’ll be playing catch-up and contacting potential interviewees for awhile. Here are three items of particular note, at least:

First, this year’s theme seemed to be “waiting in line.” I know that you’ve had to schedule line-waiting time into things for awhile now, but this year was particularly ridiculous, especially because the big events of 2007 were TV-related but the absolute biggest ballroom tends to go to movie-related panels and showings (neither of which, you’ll note, necessarily have anything to do with “comics”). I arrived over an hour early to wait in line for the first event of the day Saturday, a screening of the new Bionic Woman pilot, and I was roughly 5,000th in a line that snaked outside the convention center.

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Histories of Fandoms

I’m trying to find an article or book that explains the process or timeline along which so many seemingly disparate fan groups found themselves at the same conventions and reading the same fan-oriented (even if not fan-produced) publications. An academic source would be preferable, but beyond Wikipedia, I’ll take what I can get; I’m surprised that there seems to be so little on this, from what I’ve found so far using Google Scholar.

There’s been a lot written about individual fan groups, like mainstream comic fandom, Trek fandom, and SF fandom (focusing around SF fan zines and World Con between the ’30s and the late ’70s), but I haven’t really found anything illustrating how and when these things started to overlap. Have there always been people dressed up as Storm Troopers at comic book conventions or playing D&D at SF conventions? I’m mildly concerned that I may have to write this if nobody else has yet, though it’s obviously not my strongest area of expertise. Any resources you can send my way would be much appreciated.

Geeks in the News

Today, at the recommendation of Penn library staff member Andrea, I searched through the recent archive of New York Times articles for any references to “geek” or “nerd.” I was looking for an article she saw about “making geeks hip” with regard to TV and movies. Not only did I find a few articles worth blogging about in greater detail, I also found that these terms have found their way into common use even more than I expected.

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What Sparked the Birth of Geek Culture?

The question posed in this post’s title has been at the center of a debate I’ve been having lately. This person, whose opinion I generally value greatly, suggests that “geek culture” as a concept didn’t exist prior to the 1980s; it was born, he suggests, out of the credibility accorded to geeks through their mastery of digital media. Therefore, digital media should be considered at the heart of geek culture as a whole. From my perspective, I do think that digital media have been key in transforming what we know as geek culture, but I have some reservations about the line of reasoning that places such media as the initiator of this culture in the first place.

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Penguicon: Neat, But a Little Late

I’m actively looking around for conventions that I should be attending, favoring those that actually bill themselves as “geeky” or “nerdy.” This leads me to Penguicon, a convention for science-fiction and open-source programming. The web site mentions geeks aplenty, but sadly Penguicon 2008 (in Troy, MI) isn’t until April—and if I haven’t finished collecting data by then, I’m in trouble. If anybody reading this has been before, feel free to comment or drop me an email to let me know how it was.

Wizards Throw the Best Parties

Fellow Annenberg student Paul Falzone sends along an article from Salon: “Potterpalooza,” one journalist’s take on a Harry Potter convention in New Orleans. The author’s outsider perspective is interesting, describing it as something of a geek paradise:

Despite my quibbles with overzealous fan-fic authors, this was one hell of an accepting crowd, one in which a teenager was as welcome to weigh in as a professor, where discussion of philosophy was as compelling as discussion of technology, where it didn’t matter if you were from a Christian fundamentalist or Wiccan background, and where even the fiercest debate could teach an ardent fan something new.

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Another Kind of War Gaming

The Ping Pong room will be set up for RPGs (Role-Playing Games, not to be confused with the rocket propelled grenades which share the same acronym), and the DVD Movie room will be playing Anime Movies all day in support of the event.

Ziggurat Con, Iraq, 2007: quite possibly the world’s first war zone game convention.

Which Blogs and Cons Should I Be Visiting?

As of now, my dissertation will probably be focusing on some of the various cultures surrounding computers, video games, comics, and sci-fi TV/film. I’ve definitely had interviews (or have them lined up) with appropriate people for these topics, but I need to stay more continually plugged in to these industries and cultures than a few interviews allow for. That means attending some conventions and following some blogs, hopefully including the best trafficked of each.

In terms of cons, I’ve already attended the Penny Arcade Expo, the San Diego Comic Con International, the Big Apple Con, the Come Out and Play Festival (where I shot a short movie), and the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (no movies or music for me.) Depending on how certain things shake down, my travel plans for this year potentially include Wizardworld Philly (June), another trip to San Diego for Comic Con (July), Defcon in Vegas (August), the Tokyo Game Show (September), and the Small Press Expo (October). If some of that falls through and I could actually afford to go to PAX again, that’s another possibility. (I’ll also be going back and forth to Boston to visit friends and family, heading to San Francisco in May for the International Communication Association 2007 Conference, and doing research with Annenberg’s Summerculture program in Lisbon, Portugal for about half of July.)

As for web sites, I regularly sift through feeds from Joystiq, Kotaku, Game Politics, The Comics Reporter, and a number of sites maintained by academics I admire, such as Henry Jenkins’s Confessions of an Aca/Fan, Nancy Baym’s Online Fandom, and Jane McGonigal’s Avant Game. More recently, I picked up the feed for Slashdot, plus subscriptions to the print editions of Wired and Geek Monthly. I occasionally visit a number of other sites, including The Escapist, Journalista, and MacUser. (And that’s all on top of the design sites, traditional news sites, and web comics, which I won’t even get into here.)

Clearly, though, I’ve been more deeply involved with the comic book and video game scenes than the others. So I turn to you: got any suggestions for cons and web sites I should visit to get a better angle on what’s geeky about TV, film, and/or computer culture and industry?