Geek Culture is destroying itself from the inside and the perpetrators have expanded their demographics to a diversity that would be inspiring, if it were not ultimately a force for fandom evil. Pettiness, deception and entitlement abound in the modern era of nerdery. We could joke about it with trite catchphrases like “this is why we can’t have nice things” or we can do something about it. But what?
The first step is to identify the problem. Such an endeavor is not just pointing toward others, but also a need to look in the mirror for a lot of us. Everyone, from extreme antisocial “incel” types to “woke” and radical “social justice warriors” have made the geek scene a microcosm of current affairs, in mostly only the bad ways. Too bad it can’t all just be fun and games, and we just allow humor to win the day and change minds. The stakes for our community are high and taking this head-on is worth it — otherwise there may not be anything left of geekery to speak of…
If You Build It, They Will Squander
First, a disclosure: I’ve been in the fandom game for 20 years. Every time I think I’ve seen it all, something comes along to surprise me. (That’s somewhat the normal daily trauma of being an American lately, and turning on the news, though, isn’t it?) My career in geek culture has been all over the map, and has been an interesting unpaid gig to say the least. There have been huge boons of success, and (yes, admitted) failures. Of course, there’s been plenty of drama along the way, as the icing on that many-layered cake.
The issue now, however, is that “drama” seems to be the goal and a sort of “briar patch” for many now. (Google “briar patch,” millennials…) We’ve seen fandoms shift from an uphill climb for legitimacy, to flourishing in the mainstream, to being so commonplace that such challenges would be considered normal if not set against such a problematic, blended chowder of maladjusted humanity.
There are those of us who’ve spent decades constructing the empire of both grassroots fan events/communities/clubs such as Dragon Con, Hypericon, MTAC and the plethora of other anime events — as well as the retail (profit-motive) players like Wizard, Reed-Pop and Fanfest. There are people whose life’s work has been fandom community-building, and in some of our cases — revolutionizing. The current, thriving empire of overall geek media and convention culture, nationwide, exists on the backs of some hard-working pioneers most people active in fandom don’t even realize they owe so much to.
Perhaps it is that lack of understanding of the building of Nerd Rome that makes it so easy for some to play recklessly with its longevity. Much of this seems to be about a lack of consequence in the background of those who are spoiling things. Perhaps, also, a lack of concern that any of it should remain. Everything operates in the now for the prevailing and vocal demographics in charge of the narrative, unless of course it is convenient to drag the past into things — like assaulting media creators with the deep resentment of “ruining one’s childhood” or re-engineering a past encounter with a famous person to defame them and spark scandal.
Used Up, Thrown Away
A fascinating trait of nerd culture that I had never realized was a “thing” until I was deep into the swamp of it, is the tendency for the personality types prevalent to it to be of the locust or succubus variety. When we’re young, if our mentors are astute, they teach us to be careful of people who will use us. You’re somewhat indoctrinated to be cautious of people who only want to take from you.
The precaution they often fail to teach you (or cannot ever make you understand till you’ve felt the burn of betrayal) is the capacity some people have to pretend to be your closest confidant or friend, to be endlessly loyal and in league with “the you” until they’re… not. And that “not” is almost never for a high-calling reason, despite them proclaiming they’re not being self-serving in the process.
Look at the way fans turned on George Lucas or, better yet, Rion Johnson, when their secret fandom wet dreams of Star Wars glory were not realized to every note and every beat of whatever out-of-tune personal symphony they’d presumed to be entitled to. (And bless him for hitting back at those sniveling shits, really.) The same happens with countless franchises. Nothing is academically wrong with the storytelling or media-making at hand, but an army of spoiled-brat fans will take their pitchforks to the streets of the Internet and declare how much better they could do with everything — yet lack any skill, background or (most key) funding to do it their way. So, they are left with the ultimate crybaby disposition and nothing but the never-ending background noise of impotent trolling.
The same goes for grassroots fan culture. Everything is roses when you’re the vehicle for people to realize whatever self-important actualization or celebrity-worship they have come to satisfy while in your orbit. If your own Z-list celebrity status in the grand scheme can make them feel like Y, or a solid W, they’re all-in. But if the revelation arrives that it isn’t all just a cliquey circle-jerk, look out. There is an implosion pending, and it’s likely to be ugly. My own experience in these sorts of fandom circles has made me forever ask deep questions about the circumstances behind any time I’ve ever learned of a convention splitting or an ouster of a leader in any fan group. The size of the grain of salt that must be applied is of boulder proportions. I’ve found myself doubting everything I’ve ever thought I knew about the notorious and epic con-divorces of turbulent garbage-fire regions like Ohio and Florida.
How many geek media properties or conventions have been ground zero for the morally bankrupt phenomenon of the locust swarm? We may never know.
Related to the vast self-serving character flaws of the current mainstream fan culture is the reckless level of social crusading that has been tearing apart anything which used to be a dependable pillar of geekdom. Our society is generally in a state of total chaos with constant pitfalls and traps of political correctness, the flimsy phenomenon of “triggering ” and so on. People are so busy falling all over themselves to be “woke” that they are living in something of a disconnection from reality — and it is as if that fact of modern life is a sun beam, focused through a magnifying glass. Almost every aspect of fandom has seen a disruption by this socially greedy clamoring for everyone and everything around these fragile people to bow down — often clairvoyantly — to their complicated array of “special needs.”
It is no wonder these behaviors result in millennials being called out for all their problematic impossibilities or entire groups ending up labeled “snowflakes.” The level of obnoxiousness from them is making those on the opposing extremities of the opinion scale lash out and become deaf to them. This is truly sad, as many of us feel trapped in the middle, and may very well agree with the noble aims of the topic at hand and just cannot sign on to the methods.
Such is the case with media creation or cultural placemaking. There is always some loud minority trying to ruin a publication or show for not making this or that character brown enough, gay enough… “woke” enough. Or mundane notions like convention policies are being held hostage by those who demand complicated and verbose solutions to issues where “Don’t be a dick” used to suffice to keep the masses in line. Vast, complicated, legalese policies concerning harassment have become the norm at events held under the thumb of the perpetually offended Tumblr crowd. (Of course, that was before Tumblr itself betrayed these wishy-washy wet noodles with new content standards, the debate about which has shown Tumblr fans’ hypocrisy in a glorious bright light.)
The other side of the social disposition in fandom which has contributed to the overall flaming dumpster is, of course, the brash and high-volume minority of extreme right wing goons (emboldened perhaps by the presence of Donald Trump in American politics). The reality of one-third of America somehow getting lucky and getting their ideal film flam artist elected is one thing, but these people have always existed in fandom. They were just much, much quieter before (as were their ilk in daily life).
But now, as the media attempts to be more inclusive and more progressive, you have a squirming and flailing population of self-hating, overgrown toddlers — typically men — who are responsible for heinous and unforgivable blights on geek history — like the waste of carbon who shot up a game tournament in Florida. They’ve run off countless women from social media. They’ve spewed racism over the ethnic choices made regarding characters who should be colorblind examples of the universal appeal of geek media. They’ve thrown tantrums about the concept that a female team of heroes might dare to manifest within a genre that nobody would have foreseen as a “boys club,” if not for these “men” taking their phallic inadequacies full-term.
The term “deplorables” may have become a standard no-no in national politics, but within fandom it is a demographic which needs to be shut down with a vengeance, and those whom they attack need our support — whether it be on a personal front, or our combined resistance in the form of buying their products and consuming their arts. When brands know the actual majority is on their side, they will display the balls to tell the haters where to go.
Slamming back against the other guard rail is the recent hot mess of the Chris Hardwick story. Fandom “activists” nearly tripped over themselves in a blind panic to be the first and loudest to vilify the man based on the loosest of vague claims. Chloe Dykstra, in a takedown piece, didn’t have the spine to name names, but referred quite clearly to Hardwick when she supposedly decided to “confess” to the story she was hiding. You know, maybe Hardwick is a total asshole. Maybe he’s a controlling and manipulative, insecure prick. Maybe it’s all true.
Maybe it’s not true.
And on that possibility, the only correct thing to do would be to investigate and seek the actual, provable truth. That is, despite the bleating cries of weak-willed and easily conned millennials; the only acceptable course. That was not good enough for Nerdist, however, as they immediately moved against Hardwick in the harshest of ways, seeking to erase him from their lexicon as quickly as possible. AMC, too, moved hastily. They removed him as host of Talking Dead and opened an investigation. At least they were on course for justice, instead of simply embracing Internet rumor and hype.
Dykstra would refuse to participate in the investigation. This, of course, snatched the rug of any credibility out from under her.
In the end, AMC would turn up nothing reliable and restore Hardwick to his role as host. His emotional address on the return episode could be the work of of a master-craftsman in manipulation, or it might be a legitimate addressing by yet another man who has been a target of something less about helping women (who are very much real and very much in need), but a hijacking of that movement as a weapon to settle old scores.
It’s a tall order to argue that dating Hardwick isn’t what put Dykstra on the map. It is also entirely unreasonable to characterize her as not having her own huge personal brand during and after that time. I’ve always felt she launched from their time together into her own very independent presence in geek culture. Also, I met her in a Nashville coffee shop once, doing many of the things she claimed in her piece to be forbidden from doing. It is one of the many holes in her story that I cannot ignore — and neither should anyone else. An entirely separate piece could be written here in The Stump to examine all the potential for exaggerations, lies, narrative-control, lament over a career she professes never to have wanted, and other holes in her story and subsequent choices, but that’s not what we’re tackling here.
No matter what, the most reasonable summary of the whole mess may just be this: Chris Hardwick and Chloe Dykstra had a potentially flawed relationship due to mutual personal failings, and a very ugly break-up. None of it was ever anyone’s business, but because toxic fandom insists on fanning flames and taking sides in petty controversy, entities like Nerdist may have been painted into a stressful corner with no good answers.
They chose one of the bad answers, and placed their bets.
It’s On You, Too, #MeToo
Of course, the Hardwick issue and all the other inexplicable and inconsistent “controversies” regarding well-known men exist in the “Me Too” bubble. Recent revelations that this hashtag was hijacked by extremists and media shills from a movement intended to help children have mitigated the popularity of the lynch mob concept of the “movement.” Accusation after accusation falling apart regarding the poster-boy for the phenomenon — Harvey Weinstein — has demonstrated the impurity of it even more. Still, the geek world wrestles with ridiculous and unfounded accusations based on selective or altered memories, vagaries and exaggerations by women, such as the recent, likely fictitious, tale of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, which he has addressed in a masterful note of discussion on Facebook.
Of course, the huge problem with the Hardwick situation and any similar tale is the destructive and dangerous notion that women should be believed, automatically, with no proof whatsoever. Instead of society agreeing the accusations should be “taken seriously” and perhaps kept in confidence until known for sure, we’re being told we just have to take it all as gospel. This seems to be a notion expected to be uniquely endowed upon women, as we didn’t exactly see an outcry about the accusations against George Takei, which have since been exposed as a blatant lie.
Naturally, this reckless trend of empty hashtag activism has seeped into fandom culture, with the now-standard hypersensitivity to anything and everything from any man’s past being used against them in a modern context, from community groups to local conventions, to the crucifying of men who should be proud examples of geeks who elevate us all — like Tyson. The blind embrace of slander has worked in all directions at once to destabilize and break the scene. Everything from the noble effort to clean up the act of “Sci-Fi Speed Dating” to the disgusting and misguided story of self-serving organizers rallying to shun those who had pushed back against harassment by the Anachrocon chairman. It has all become background noise, resulting in nothing logical, fair, reasonable or lasting to be done in the culture — just the coveted eruption of “drama” and a selective application of a movement that has squandered legitimacy and noble aims in its inevitable failure in the hands of those whose intentions were never to help anyone.
A Game Of Socially Stunted Thrones
Why would people who are otherwise intelligent and deep thinkers, creative and visionary artists, imaginative and thoughtful patrons, and fortunate recipients of the spoils of decades of hard work and creation of a culture in which they can finally belong allow all these heaps of failure and distraction? What would make it square in these people’s minds that they can continue on this course and not irreparably destroy everything they love?
Because it is hard to break through the delusions of people who were never particularly skilled socially, who taste a small sample of power and see the acceptance and celebration of deep flaws by others who are similarly broken.
These sociopathic sub-breeds of geek are incapable of contemplating the potential for altruistic motives held by the alphas among them. To them, there simply must be something else to the vision of their forebears aside from simple placemaking. There must be an invisible profit motive. There must be a secret sexual cult. There must be some nefarious plot to springboard off the faith of fandom into something else that would benefit whoever it is they’ve decided should be vilified, betrayed and discarded. (It has recently been called “excommunicated” by certain pompous elements of fandom who fathom themselves important on something of a faux-religious scale, I suppose.)
Somehow, these individuals imagine a great and powerful ego to be only present in the target(s) of their ire, but never in themselves. The laughable irony in the hubris of their assault on the powers that be is lost on the insurgents who will use any scandal, deviate from any governance or organizational responsibility, and lie, cheat or steal to take what they were never willing to seize by the virtue of hard work and dedication. Common among these types of predatory and disloyal manipulators is a willingness to stand next to power, but never to volunteer for the top jobs in fandom — be it con-running or media-production. Once a stumble at the top occurs, however, they are happy to forward it to Armageddon and then act as if cleaning up the nuclear dust they conjured up is a heroic feat, which has earned them a place of legend.
We’ve seen this story unfold time and again, in regions where fandom upheaval results in splintering of fandom groups and events, only to see none of the resulting forms of either achieve the success of the empire they sought so hard to overthrow and install themselves into. The phenomenon plays out like a fantasy drama starring the most dweeby and inept leading ladies and men, emerging as a darkly comedic self-parody.
To Be Continued…
This topic is so large, we’re splitting it into two pieces. Keep an eye out for Part Two, in the next couple of days!