More on Beautiful Geeks

I’ve got some links today following up on the other day’s long post about auditioning for Beauty and the Geek and attending Nerd Nite in Boston over the weekend. I called it “Polar Expeditions” because of the differences between the events, but the real polar expedition was made by my fellow geek “Karen”—LeDiva on Livejournal—who emailed me after reading my post and referred me back to her own post on the audition. Her journey also included some time spent with the women auditioning for beauties, which sounds like a whole other world right in the same room.

While I do often get to compare my field notes with other bloggers’ posts about events like Comic Con in a broad sense, this must be the first time I’ve been able to compare notes on such specific situations at such an event. I was pretty amazed to see how similarly we described it all. (However, I totally made up the part about her being a grad student. We agreed that we got along with one another, though, and more than half my friends nowadays are grad students, so somehow I just filled in the blank on that one for myself.)

Additional reports on the casting call come from Bostonist (link via Church in my last post) and BU’s student newspaper (which I remembered to check because I saw a guy taking photos and asked where they’d be). That rapping fellow with the MIT chains and LED belt buckle sure made an impression on us all, apparently.

Now, back in Philadelphia, I’m finding that “I auditioned for Beauty and the Geek” is a great conversation starter with people. I also find it both kindly complimentary and vaguely unsettling that people keep telling me that I’m clearly not geeky enough to make it on the show. I’m doing a whole dissertation on geek culture here. How much more geeky can I get? This, along with my lack of interest in running Linux, is another reason why I have trouble explaining to people whether I can consider this project a “native ethnography.”

Thanks to LeDiva for emailing and giving me permission to link her post, and thanks also to Ben from Nerd Nite for commenting on “Polar Expeditions.” Interviews can be fun, but It’s especially exciting to have people contacting me to volunteer information about the events I attend for research.

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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October Link Madness Continues: Comics, TV, Academia, and More

Got some more links to burn through today, and even more after this. And I still owe Z. a reply on why the “games as art” question is worth asking at all. And I’ve got half-finished posts lying around about video game genres and Nintendo’s “urban” clothing. I’ll address these in more, all in good time. For now, lots of links in no particular order.

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There Are Indeed Women on the Internet

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”—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.

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.

Breaking Down Academia

I’m in the process of revising the categories on the site a bit. Before, I was lumping a bunch of things under the “Academia” category that really didn’t belong there. Now I’m dividing that category up into three different categories:

Research: For academic research and conferences related to geek culture and various traditionally geeky media. (I’ll also tag posts about my own research with this because I still can’t bring myself to make a category titled “Me me me,” though I admit I’m especially interested in getting feedback on my papers.)

School Culture: For items pertaining to school culture as lived by students, such as clubs and social hierarchies.

Education: For issues pertaining to teaching and education at all levels.

Honestly, this is mostly for my own convenience as I go back through old posts and collect thoughts for papers and such, but I figured I might as well let everyone know.

Update: Going through my bloated “Miscellaneous” category to categorize them more specifically, I noticed a definite thread of posts tallying up people’s ways of defining the boundaries of geekdom—geek vs. nerd, art geek vs. science geek, and so on. And so I figured I might as well go ahead and also add a category for Defining Geekdom. Sorry if this brings up a bunch of old posts on people’s RSS readers (the way I believe it does with mine).

CMS Theses

Boing Boing links to a batch of grad student theses by year from the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program. None of these are specifically about geeks or nerds per se, but a lot of this material is probably relevant to those who are interested in academic inquiry into traditionally geeky media. Examples include Kristina Drzaic’s thesis on “secrets” in video games, Philip Tan Boon Yew’s thesis on the MIT Assassins Guild, and Nadya Direkova’s thesis on bilingual toys. Sam Ford also offers some additional information on this year’s batch of theses on the C3 blog (post numbers 1, 2, and 3).

For those keeping track: I’m finishing up a little addendum to my own dissertation proposal to give to my committee this week. I hope to share more information about this soon.

How People Are Defining ‘Nerd’

Journalista links to a recent New York Times Magazine article by Benjamin Nugent, “Who’s a nerd, anyway?” The author has a book coming out next spring titled American Nerd: The Story of My People, though this piece focuses on the core thesis of Mary Bucholtz’s nerd research, who has a book of her own on this topic in progress. Bucholtz’s thesis is that nerd identity can be understood through linguistic practice, and it is a “hyperwhite” identity, rejecting the slang of Black culture.

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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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Checking in from Paris

I arrived in Paris yesterday, after about two weeks in Lisbon. I will miss Lisbon’s tile and cobblestone, hilly streets that challenge those of San Fracisco, humble strangers who speak more English than they think they do, and especially our hosts from Universidade Católica Portuguesa. For more info and for images of our visit to the Presidential Palace, see the page for the Annenberg Scholars Program and the official page of the President of Portugal (photos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Photo #6 features the whole group, and photo #4 has a closer shot of me and Mike (my roommate here in Paris) with the First lady.

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