Mainstream Acceptance

Geeks are the ultimate individualists. They move to their own choreography, selecting their tastes and actions not by what is popular or conventional, but by what truly moves them. They have nothing but the lowest contempt for the world of the mundanes, laughing snarkily to themselves at what the norms find relevant and interesting.

Or so they would have you believe.

The truth of the matter is, they crave the acceptance of the outside world, and revel in it when they have it. They need for the rest of the world to recognize and understand that their geeky interests are actually very important and meaningful.

The first piece of evidence to support this statement is the cottage industry that has arisen in pop culture “philosophy” books. These books assure the reader that, for example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t just a TV show about a teenaged girl who kicks vampires, it’s a work of organized thought on par with Kant and Kierkegaard. Other geek-related topics you can learn the philosophy of include The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Superheroes, The Matrix, Star Trek, The Legend of Zelda, and, of course, Monty Python (geeks never get tired of pointing out the college degrees of the Python members). As these books often consist of several essays by academic types, they are used to show that these things “are studied in college classes,” a boast that ignores the fact that, in the post-postmodern era, anything is studied in college classes. Every so often a call for papers will go out on some geek subject (Buffy the Vampire Slayer seems to be a perennial favorite) that will fire up geeks with excitement and pride over the fact that academia is seeing the true depths of the phenomenon. (Academia, incidentally, is not overly impressed with job applicants who have such presentations on their CVs.)

There is also a lot of commotion in the geek world when a previously “fringe” interest suddenly hits the mainstream news sources. A television show such as “The X-Files” will suddenly be hailed by a mainstream magazine, for example. Perhaps a well-known actor will reveal that he plays Dungeons and Dragons. If it’s a slow news days and the newspapers suddenly take an interest in one of the many universe-changing events going on in the comics, it’s evidence that comic books are still important to the outside world. Or it may be something as simple as a genre movie doing particularly well with a general audience at the box office. Geeks who dismiss popularity as a sign of mediocrity will be quick to cite that same popularity as evidence of quality if it’s something of their own.

mauspulitzerAnd if some kind of official recognition is involved, look out! Should The Dark Knight get nominated for an Academy Award, geeks will suddenly recognize how important and relevant an Oscar win is. And, in perhaps the most famous example of geeks accepting the judgment of the outside world, they never get tired of reminding you how the comic book Mauswon the Pulitzer Prize” (which is an oft-repeated yet somewhat sketchy claim.) If the outside world wants to hand an award to the geek world, the geeks will fall over themselves accepting it.

Geeks talk a good game about not caring what other people think, but even more than the acceptance of other geeks they crave acceptance by the mainstream. Other geeks sharing an interest in something they are into merely gives them someone to measure the lengths and depths of their fandom against. Acceptance by non-geeks assures them that not only do you like this thing I’ve devoted significant portions of my life to, but you like me as well. It’s often interpreted as some kind of conversion of the regular folks when in fact it’s a chance for the geek to breathe the rarified air of the conventional world.

Geeks desperately want the entire world to love what they love and to love them, and this is why geeks LOVE mainstream acceptance.

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10 Responses

  1. Speaking as a geek, I couldn’t disagree more. Nothing makes me groan louder than the things I’ve loved for years achieving mainstream acceptance. All it serves in the end is to dilute these genres — comics, sci-fi, fantasy, whatever — until they no longer resemble the thing I used to love. Case in point, comic book and sci-fi conventions are rapidly growing less fun, because too many mainstream people are interested in them.

    The only exceptions to this for me are: 1) it’s nice to know that my wife will now sometimes go to movies like Iron Man with me; and 2) genre TV shows obviously last longer before getting canceled if they get a mainstream audience behind them. But that second one is a double-edged sword — because by making a genre show more acceptable to the masses, odds are it will lose some of the hardcore qualities that a geek appreciates. Shows like Battlestar Galactica, which maintain their integrity in the face of popularity, are few and far between. Most fall apart under their own weight, the way Heroes has … or the Star Wars movies.

    Having said that, I can’t say that what you say isn’t true for other geeks besides myself … or maybe even most geeks. Maybe it is. Although I’m already starting to get a little bored with the humor of you lumping all geeks into one big uber-category and making generalizations. I’d find it funnier if you took the time to distinguish between the handful of different kinds of geeks, each with their own particular traits that make them very easy to poke fun at.

    It almost seems like what you’re doing is repaying the obnoxious geeks who have treated you contemptuously over the years by portraying them with obnoxious contempt. It’s mostly funny, but there’s no sense at all that it’s being done “with only the most profound affection” … your assurances on your About page notwithstanding.

  2. I’d find it funnier if you took the time to distinguish between the handful of different kinds of geeks, each with their own particular traits that make them very easy to poke fun at.

    Starting your own blog at WordPress.com is fun, easy, and best of all, free!

  3. I’d find it funnier if you took the time to distinguish between the handful of different kinds of geeks, each with their own particular traits that make them very easy to poke fun at.

    Stuff Geeks Love: Unnecessary Taxonomies

  4. Chris – Thanks, I already have a blog. But I’m sure it would bore you to no end.

    Max – You’re right. Taxonomies (nice SAT word BTW) are silly and unnecessary. I think I’ll start a new blog called “Stuff Humans Love” — that would be hilarious.

  5. Ha! You got me there, GB. Nicely countered, and I say that in all sincerity. I am, after all, the kind of geek who draws a disctinction between blackened, technical and progressive death metal.

    The SAT thing is just mean though. I’m all, like, lachrymose. Pen : Sword :: Beach Bullies : 90 lb weaklings, or something like that.

  6. Stuff Geeks Love: Pointing out spelling errors

    *Distinction,* dammit.

  7. [...] When discussing comics, proper homage must always be made to Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Maus (which, as you know, won the Pulitzer Prize.) [...]

  8. [...] For a geek, a movie is the absolute zenith of entertainment. No matter how good the comic book, novel, or television show is, if it becomes a movie, then it has reached the absolute height of success. Graphic novels are especially in need of becoming movies, according to geeks, even though they already exist in a visual medium (and, more often than not, were specifically created for that medium.) This is partly because watching Batman crash through a window is better in “real life” than in the comics because then they don’t have to use their imaginations as much, but it’s also because if the comic becomes a movie then there’s a better chance of it (and by association the geek) scoring some of that delicious mainstream acceptance. [...]

  9. “Max – You’re right. Taxonomies (nice SAT word BTW) are silly and unnecessary. I think I’ll start a new blog called “Stuff Humans Love” — that would be hilarious.”
    Stuff Beings Emote At

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