Enabling Play

The new issue of Wired has a couple articles I found interesting, covering the Rock Band video game and Robot Chicken on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. To me, both of these cases represent new ways of making old media more accessible, so to speak. In the case of Rock Band, Alex Rigopulos, the CEO of Harmonix, compares the product to early MTV:

“Sitting down and watching music was a new thing — it changed the mass market’s notion of what music entertainment was,” he says. As we sit in his office, he describes how Rock Band could be the next stage of evolution for the music industry, as well as the game industry. […] “In five years, this is how people are going to consume the music they love.”

And in the case of Robot Chicken, we go from playing with toys to watching other people play with their toys:

“The show looks like what nearly every kid did: You got out your cars and G.I. Joes and smashed them together,” says Chicken fan Mike Johnson, codirector of the 2005 stop-mo blockbuster Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. “The show works because it captures the joy of playing with your toys.”

In both cases, these products are about enabling us to do things we weren’t otherwise able to do as adults. “Playing music is one of the most blissful feelings life has to offer,” Rigopulos says, “But it’s too fucking hard to learn how. Almost everyone quits after six months.”

The barrier to playing with our toys, however, is one of social acceptability rather than difficulty level. We’re able to play with our toys, but perhaps we don’t feel we’re allowed to—unless it can be done through appropriately adult media. This means television in the case of Robot Chicken, or even video games in the case of Lego Star Wars, thanks to gaming’s new status as an adult pursuit. (Something tells me you’ll be hearing me describe a paper about this in a couple months.)

Geek Music Links

My main sites for researching geek culture over the last couple years have been conventions for fans and techies. This year, though, I aim to be even more of a nerdy nomad, moving between large and small events alike. This means going to local geek events, such as those for Geek Night Philly, Nerd Nite Boston, Nerds NYC, and local chapters for Dorkbot and Make. It also means attending some shows for nerdcore hip-hop acts, wizard rock concerts, and geeky performances in general.

My big question now, then, is whether there’s a handy RSS feed or mailing list out there that will tell me when I can expect such groups to come to town. If you know of any such resource, please do let me know. For now, here’s what I’ve been able to compile on geeky music that you may find interesting.

Nerdapalooza: A (postponed) music festival to feature geek rock and nerdcore hip-hop.

Rhyme Torrents: A nerdcore forum frequented by artists and fans, also hosting several compilations of nerdcore mp3s.

Nerdcorehiphop.org: Supposedly includes a listing of nerdcore gigs, but I’m not finding much that seems recent. Lots of other links off that page, though.

Nerdymag: Online magazine about the nerdcore scene and culture.

Also check out Wikipedia entries on nerdcore hip-hop, geek rock, and wizard rock.

More Research on Nerds and Race

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 Cooker—which has a comment thread worth checking out—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 duality—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.

Party in the Stacks

Cleaning out my mailbox, I came across a New York Times article forwarded to my from Lee S. several weeks ago about how librarians are hip now.

How did such a nerdy profession become cool — aside from the fact that a certain amount of nerdiness is now cool? Many young librarians and library professors said that the work is no longer just about books but also about organizing and connecting people with information, including music and movies.

Continue reading “Party in the Stacks”

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?

Continue reading “Nerds in the News”

Do Rejuveniles Listen to Toddlerclash?

MSNBC has an article up about how “adults are clinging to childish things” (link via The Comics Reporter). The article turns to Christopher Noxon, author of Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up, for an expert opinion.

Plenty of the items mentioned here (and in Noxon’s book) are just generally associated with childhood, though I checked the book out of the library in the first place because a lot of this (including comic book collecting) seems also implicated in geek culture. I’ve often posed a certain question to people as I try to explain what it is that I’m studying: Why is it that certain interests (like collecting comics or playing video games) get stereotyped as geeky, while other interests with fans who are no less fervent (like sports or soap operas) do not? One reasonable answer is that many geeky interests (save for computers) are associated with childhood. This “rejuvenile” stuff presents me with a fair follow-up question: Why is it that certain childish interests get stereotyped as geeky, while other interests do not? Maybe there just haven’t been kickball leagues around long enough to really accrue that kind of meaning yet. Plus, kickball might be a source of unhappy memories for many who were called geeks as kids.

As an aside, hearing about “rejuvenility” reminds me of something I saw a few music bloggers writing about a few years ago. Writing about playful bands like the Go! Team and others prompted one blogger to suggest that a new music movement was underway, which he called Toddlerclash. (Music for Robots also gushed about the Go! Team’s childlike wonder, but didn’t suggest any greater movement). Could be totally unrelated phenomena; blogging about a dissertation kind of feels like putting together big puzzle a few pieces per day, knowing full well that some of the pieces belong to other puzzles.

A Couple Music Links

The Guardian reports that Prince will be giving away a free album in a daily newspaper, and the music industry is none too happy (link via Slashdot). The Entertainment Retailers Association threatened: “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince should know that with behaviour like this he will soon be the Artist Formerly Available in Record Stores.”

Also, head on over to the New Scientist Blog to help identify the “Top 10 Science Pop Songs” (link via Boing Boing). Suggestions on the table already include songs by the Beastie Boys, Kraftwerk, comic book artist/rocker James Kochalka Superstar, and a handful of nerdcore hip-hop artists.

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.

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.

Continue reading “Wizards Throw the Best Parties”