How to Help a French Documentarian

Jean-Baptiste Peretie is a director working on a documentary about geek culture for Arte. (For my fellow Americans: it’s kind of like a European PBS.) You might have seen the documentary’s crew if you were on the floor at Wondercon this year. We were chatting today about how hard it is to get a good, broad sample of people to interview for a study on such a diverse group (and don’t I know it). I offered to help out by trying to put you, my good readers, in touch with him.

If you’re a geek or a nerd and you’d like to be interviewed—especially if you happen to be over 40 years of age and/or are living in Europe—drop JB an email at European interviewees will be easier for JB and crew to film, of course, but rest assured that you can get away with speaking in English if that’s your only language. (We got on just fine with that this afternoon, which is good, as I speak no French, and my Spanish/Russian/Old Norse skills are rusty at best.) And don’t worry if you’re camera-shy; they’re not only looking for people to film, but even just people to chat with on Skype to help with their research.

So, once again: email to chat about geek culture, and help a French documentarian today.

Wonks vs. Nerds

Inside Higher Ed directs us to a couple sites describing American University‘s new branding campaign around the word ‘wonk.’ American has a website offers a description of what the term means, suggests that there are many different kinds of wonks (policy wonks, science wonks, theater wonks…), and draws a connection between the word ‘know’ (which does happen to be ‘wonk’ backwards).

I find the campaign interesting because it’s very much like MIT’s “Nerd Pride” slogan, but even more official and widespread. The various ways that American has tried to lay claim to ‘wonk’ strongly resemble the ways that people have tried to define reclaim ‘geek’ and ‘nerd,’ down to claiming that there are many “types” of geeks, and explaining meaning through backronyms like “general electrical engineering knowledge” or “knurd” (for “drunk” backwards). Given that American University is based out of Washington D.C. and attracting many students who are quite interested in being described as “policy wonks” someday, the new campaign is a kind of way to signal that it’s producing a particular local flavor of geek.

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Scott Pilgrim vs. the Cultural Critique

For a movie that hasn’t made much of a splash in box office take, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World certainly seems to have people talking. The movie opened 5th in the box office last weekend. It was beaten out by two new movies, The Expendables and Eat Pray Love, and by two movies who’d fallen about 40-50% in sales (one being Inception, arguable another nerd-bait feature).

Cinema Blend offers “5 Reasons Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Failed to Find an Audience,” but its reasoning is somewhat suspect at times, and even the title seems like a misnomer to me. “Scott Pilgrim” is currently the top Trending Topic on Twitter. My friends have been talking about it for weeks; a bunch of us saw a free advance screening, and a bunch more saw it on opening weekend. The blogs I follow regularly have been generally gushing praise. The issue doesn’t really seem to be that it “failed to find an audience,” but that the audience it found wasn’t really big enough to promise the kind of box office take that you’d expect with a $60 million budget. The whole phenomenon feels strangely reminiscent of Snakes on a Plane: Everyone was expecting the hype to equal success, when in fact it might have been only enough to make sure the movie makes a modest profit in the long run.

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“Geeks vs. Nerds” Revisited

Back in 2007, I started a post titled “Geeks vs. Nerds.” After the Geek Studies home page, it is the most visited page on this site by about 3,000 pageviews—and to be frank, the next nearest contender gets a lot of its traffic from people who are probably looking for porn. When I get called to be interviewed for a newspaper article, or when I get linked by a major blog, it’s usually thanks to that post.

In other words, people really, really want to know what the difference is between geeks and nerds.

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Authentically Geeky

Once again I emerge briefly from the internet-silence brought on by teaching duties and heavy dissertation writing. I’ve got a bunch of posts on deck that I mean to get to sometime, but one link came in today that just couldn’t wait. Church emailed to call attention to an article titled “Is it time for a nerd army resurgence?” in Arizona State University’s student newspaper. Despite the title, it’s not quite a call to arms so much as a reflection on how our social norms have broadened a bit to make some kinds of nerdy, geeky folk feel more socially accepted, while still leaving some out in the cold. The author writes:

I’m a nerd. Not the “I was pretty popular in high school, but I loved those ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies” faux-geek, but the real-deal-Holyfield “I’ve seen every episode of ‘Stargate SG-1,’ and I openly dislike the taste of beer” Duke of Nerds.

I’m nearsighted, have terrible hair and get creepily good grades for comparatively little effort. Attractive girls still (kind of) make me nervous. I’m pretty sure my inner monologue is unabridged insanity.

I am, as my former kindergarten teacher put it, an “independent thinker.”

I’m fascinated by this concept of the “faux-geek.” The same concept comes up quite a bit in the material I come across in my research (such as in the analysis of the “fake nerd” in Ben Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People). And, for obvious reasons, it’s something I have to address in my own writing.

The “nerd army” article quoted above doesn’t explicitly define what divides a real geek from a faux-geek, but it does offer some characteristics that the author considers self-evidently authentic: The real geek can’t achieve or actively dislikes that which is considered popular, mainstream, or adult (beer, ability to talk to the opposite sex); s/he embraces that which is denigrated (Stargate SG-1, good grades which are apparently “creepy”); and s/he sees some (undefined) connection between these characteristics and being “an independent thinker.” It’s clear that this author believes that the difference between the real geek and the fake has something to do with rejecting and/or being rejected by others according to certain cultural norms, but I’m not sure how some of these conditions (like “terrible hair” and nervousness around attractive women) might be connected to intellectualism and free thinking.

I’m curious, then, how people reading this blog might (or might not) draw the line between real geeks and faux-geeks. Certainly there are people who affect a trendy, nerdy image but wouldn’t call themselves nerds—but are people who actually call themselves geeks who you’d have to disagree with? If so, how can you tell that difference between the real and the fake? Even if you don’t make such clear judgment calls, do you find yourself acting differently around some geeks than you would around others? Personally, I’m more interested in keeping track of other people’s definitions than in declaring any one definition to be “right,” so I welcome any and all to chime in here—even if you’ve already put in your two cents on the subject of defining geeks vs. nerds.

Geeks vs. Jocks

One of my posts from April, “Sexism and Misogyny in Geek Culture,” saw some really long and detailed comments a few weeks back. (If it’s a topic that interests you, I encourage you to go check it out.) I had to step away from blogging for a while to focus my work efforts elsewhere—and I’ll probably have to step away for another few weeks as I prepare to move from Philadelphia to Boston—but for now, I wanted to pull out one particular tangent that developed in the course of that aforementioned discussion. Specifically, I had brought up the long-standing hostility and resentment toward male athletes among geeks, implying at the time that it might be comparable to the negative attitudes exhibited by some geeks toward women.

In that discussion, Jordan commented that he doesn’t see geeks harassing jocks online as much as he sees them harassing women, and Aenna noted that geeks’ harassment of jocks seems to be mostly in the form of weak, homophobic insults. I’ve actually noticed much more pervasive, vitriolic, and even creatively involved responses, though. I wanted to make note of a couple examples and invite others to chime in with their own thoughts on the matter as well. I sat on this post for several days as I worked on other things, but now, with the release of Joss Whedon’s geeky supervillain musical, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, it seemed like a particularly timely issue.

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Nerd Girls, Sex Appeal, and Stereotypes

I’ve just returned from several weeks of traveling—ICA in Montreal, a couple weeks in Boston, and a week in Madrid, where I gave a talk on my gaming research—and found a flurry of emails from folks who quite rightly knew I’d be interested in reading about Nerd Girls. (Thanks CTW, Church, Dan, Paul, Tony, and anyone I missed!) The latest issue of Newsweek has an article about this group of female engineers at Tufts, focusing on their attempt to revise the nerd image to have some room for femininity. I’m not sure how much of the group’s mission is concerned with promoting nerds as sexually attractive—it seems like the kind of thing that might get mentioned in passing and then blown out of proportion by a journalist—but it’s clearly the major concern of those commenting and blogging on the article.

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Sex and the City “Geeks” (and Geek Studies) in the News

If a television show turned cultural phenomenon spawns diehard fans who recite dialogue by heart, wear costumes inspired by the show and buy all the tie-in products, are these devotees nerds? If the show in question is Star Trek, The X-Files or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the answer is certainly yes. But what if we’re talking about Sex and the City?

Mark Medley, a reporter writing for the National Post, asked me this question a couple weeks ago. Now, it kicks off an article titled “Female Trekkies.” (Another version, sans my brief quote, made it to the Victoria Times Colonist under the title “Sex and the City Fans. Geek or Chic?”)

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Sexism and Misogyny in Geek Culture

I wrote a post yesterday exploring how girls and women identify themselves or get identified as geeks. In the course of doing that, I thought it was important to point out some of the sexist and misogynistic behaviors that seem unfortunately somewhat common in some geeky circles. That post spawned some very interesting comments, but I was concerned that we were going down a different avenue of conversation, focused more on why male geeks mistreat female geeks than on how female geek identity is formed. I hope nobody minds too much that I figured that conversation deserves its own post.

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How People Explain Female Geeks

A question that comes up a lot in the course of my research and blogging, both implicitly and explicitly, is why geek culture is typically described and understood as a male phenomenon, and why female involvement needs some sort of special explanation. This has been on my mind a lot lately for a few reasons, not least of which being the articles that occasionally cross my screen.

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