Does “geek culture” need defending?

If you are one to follow such topics, you might have noticed a recent kerfuffle between actor Simon Pegg and, well, what one could call the “wider geek community”.

Said kerfuffle revolved around a recent interview Simon Pegg gave to Radio Times where he was quoted as saying that society has grown more “infantilised by its own taste”. He went on to say that:

Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously.

Well, I for one can certainly understand how much of my tastes and likes might be perceived as “childish” or overly “escapist”. Because they kinda are, but that’s ok!

Yes, you can argue about the subtleties of how sci-fi/fantasy movies, video games and comic-books address political or social issues in a more or less obvious ways but a lot of that is lost in a general audience.

How many original viewers of George Romero’s zombie movies picked up the political and social satire ingrained in those plots? Were a lot of viewers coming out of movie theaters in 1977 discussing the similarities between the Empire and the Rebellion with the Vietnam War and the finer notions of asymmetrical warfare?

When playing the computer game Dragon Age: Origins, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the idea of “elvish discrimination” and how elvish ghettos (or “alienages”) were set up in major cities, especially considering how elves are usually depicted in other aspects of fantasy. I’m sure a lot of people were also interested in this, but for most players this might not have mattered that much.

Examples like this are endless…

Overall, this is what I love about popular culture and to an extent so-called “geek culture”. It’s discussing all these little snippets of information someone else devoted time and energy to create. In a way, all this “dumbing down” can actually lead you to research, discuss and even argue about very “adult” topics and in that way, Simon Pegg maybe went a bit overboard. His “post-backlash” post on his blog was a bit more thoughtful and raised some additional valid points, namely how this explosion of pop culture-related TV shows, movies, etc are now pretty much just another (increasingly wider) niche market to be exploited. This part is particularly relevant, I think:

In the 18 years since we wrote Spaced, this extended adolescence has been cannily co-opted by market forces, who have identified this relatively new demographic as an incredibly lucrative wellspring of consumerist potential. Suddenly, here was an entire generation crying out for an evolved version of the things they were consuming as children. This demographic is now well and truly serviced in all facets of entertainment and the first and second childhoods have merged into a mainstream phenomenon.

For all the talk of George Luca’s raping everyone’s childhood with his prequels, I think stuff like Transformers or the more recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie did a lot more in that department, than poor ol’ George.

Anne T Donahue, in the Guardian wrote “in defense of geek culture”, following Simon’s interview, that

For some of us, escapism through pop culture provides an outlet that we need to keep our brains healthy and functioning. For others, it creates a sense of community. For most, it stimulates the last remnants of imagination left over from our years convinced we too could live off pizza in a sewer, fighting a giant rat.

In that sense, Pegg’s remarks didn’t “betray” anything about “geek culture”, on the contrary!

Now, all of a sudden everyone started writing about it, how right he is, how wrong he is, what geek culture “actually mea…oh wait.


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