Geek Chic (and Geek Studies) in the News

Jeremy Jacobs has written an article for the Columbia News Service (destined for other venues, such as The Columbus Dispatch) about “geek chic” as “the new brand of cool.” The article takes the Mac versus PC guys from the Apple ad campaign (played by Justin Long and John Hodgman) as its starting point. Dan, a friend of mine who works for Macworld/Macuser, IMed me the link because of the apparent relevance to my research. Then he said, “Gahh,” because shortly after pasting the article for me, he got to the end and saw that I was quoted.

I suppose I won’t say much in the way of analysis, but I will say that is fun to talk to a reporter (at least one who is nice) and to feel like you’re writing about something interesting enough to be quoted in a newspaper. I am also pleasantly surprised to see that my blog has somehow been elevated to the status of “Institute.” I only regret that I have had to turn down one esteemed colleague‘s request for grant funding.

Notes on David Anderegg’s Nerds

I just read David Anderegg’s new book, Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them. It’s a very quick read—I got through it in two sittings, taking notes—but rather interesting and engaging. I noted in an earlier comment here that it seemed to lack academic references, but in fact these are at the end, with no superscript numbers in the text to indicate which claims have corresponding endnotes. As a result, it reads much more like a journalistic account than an academic book (though the author certainly employs his own observational data and theoretical background). Basically, this book is meant to convince parents to help eradicate the nerd/geek stereotype among middle schoolers, and to give some helpful tips to parents of beleaguered nerds and geeks in the meantime.

Dr. Anderegg analyzes a variety of statistics and cultural objects in attempting to come up with a comprehensive account of what behaviors get kids labeled as geeks and nerds (sometimes reaching conclusions very similar to those of my own dissertation!). This includes discussion of things like nerds’ interest in “magic” and fantasy fiction, but focuses most of all on why kids might feel like they can’t (or shouldn’t) be good at science and math. His strongest arguments, I think, are those that draw upon his direct experience and knowledge as a child psychologist. His discussion of the connection (or lack thereof) between geek stereotypes and Asperger syndrome is the most compelling I’ve read, and all the quotes from conversations with kids and parents really help give a sense of how non-nerds go out of their way not to be seen as nerds.

With the exception of a brief note in the conclusion about a 17-year-old who considers herself a member of a “Geek Club,” the book mostly considers “nerd identity” as synonymous with “the nerd stereotype”—something negative that we need to do away with. This means, perhaps unsurprisingly, that there isn’t really much consideration of geek/nerd identity and culture as something celebrated among adults; it’s something kids mostly grow out of, the author suggests, before they go on to make tons of money. In some ways, though, this was just a necessary limitation in scope, and I’m hoping to help fill in the gaps in this area myself.

If you happen to read this book yourself, I’d be very curious of your take on it. Please feel free to leave comments on this post or shoot me an email at jason at geekstudies dot org.

Culture, Community, and Nerdy Music

Church emailed me yesterday (at Matt S.‘s prompting, I think) to invite me to check out an interesting conversation. The whole thread started with Z.’s year-end wrap-up post at Hipster, Please!, which reflected on how the nerdcore hip-hop scene has long seemed less community-oriented than the wizard rock scene. Nerdcore artists seemed to move past that in 2007 to help a fellow artist in need, leading Z. to conclude that for him, 2007 “will be remembered as the year we came together, if only for a minute and if only under the worst of circumstances.”

The conversation that followed the post, however, was mostly concerned with why nerdcore hasn’t had that sense of community more often, or in a more sustained fashion. Noting that the post was getting so many comments that it looked like a forum, participants moved over to the Game Music 4 All forum to continue. The conversation touches upon a number of related points, such as what “nerdcore” really means, what binds the various interests related to nerdcore, and whether nerdcore and wizard rock are better approached as genres, scenes, or movements. It’s very interesting reading, and I encourage you to go check out the whole thread yourself.

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Is the Web Overrun by Geeks, or Is Everyone Geeky Now?

Awhile back, I read about a Pew study on sites like Digg and Reddit. According to the BBC, the study found that “Seven out of ten of the stories selected by the user-driven [news] sites came from blogs or non-news websites with only 5% of stories overlapping with the ten most widely-covered stories in the mainstream media.” Also, “In a week dominated by stories about Iraq and the debate about immigration, users were more interested in the release of the iPhone and the news that Nintendo had surpassed Sony in net worth.” One of the authors admits that the “technology bias” was probably due to enthusiastic “early adopters” of such sites. I think that’s kind of an understatement. I think the sites they were looking at in the study were geek-dominated sites, and what they’re seeing is—to some extent—a geek-driven news agenda. You know me, of course—maybe I’d have called you a witch in Salem if I had been doing my dissertation on witches back then—but I doubt this is my imagination. I dropped by a Reddit Meetup on Halloween which seemed overwhelmingly male and sported a disproportionate number of people dressed as video game characters.

Not long after I read about the Pew study, I came across a link that keeps track of the most visited Wikipedia pages in a given month. As of when I’m checking it now, the top 10 include Naruto, Guitar Hero III, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Heroes, and Transformers (film), among others. If you don’t count generic pages like the entry page, pages about stereotypically geeky media products (anime, video games, fantasy literature, superheroes, robots, etc.) account for over half of the top ten results. Sex-related and Xbox-related pages figure prominently in the rest of the list. Sure, you occasionally see something like 50 Cent or America’s Next Top Model, but what we’d typically consider “mainstream” seems pretty outpaced here by what we’d consider “geeky.”

Continue reading “Is the Web Overrun by Geeks, or Is Everyone Geeky Now?”

Black Nerds vs. Nerds Who Happen to be Black

Awhile back, Sam Ford wrote a post questioning whether “the black nerd” could be a stereotype that “breaks” stereotypes. I dashed off a quick comment and then went on to read the post that inspired Sam’s words: filmmaker Raafi Rivero’s “Black Nerds: The Revolution No One Could Have Predicted.” (I was interested to see that Ron Eglash, whom I noted in my comment on Sam’s post, commented on the original post himself.)

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Polar Expeditions

Yesterday, Dan (who has requested to be referenced as my “partner in crime”) ushered me around the greater Boston area for an ethnographic adventure. First, we went to an open casting call for Beauty and the Geek near Boston Common. Later, in the evening, Genevieve joined us and we moved on to the Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain for Nerd Nite. In the span of a single day, I feel like I visited two poles of the geek culture spectrum. Here is that story, adapted from my field notes.

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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:

» http://www.barcadebrooklyn.com/
» 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?