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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Of Sluts and Stormtoopers: The “Controversy” of Hot Geek Chicks.

Jessica Mills, aka geekyjessica, wrote a short essay called When Geeks Become Bullies. Presumably she wrote this in response to the sometimes vitrolic rhetoric that pops up about various people, in particular the nebulous idea of  “hot chicks” who are geek poseurs. It’s an impassioned post, and there’s several points I agree with.

I’ve been a geek for a long time now, and “geek culture” has often been known for its divisiveness. Star Trek vs. Star Wars. Tabletop Gamers vs. LARPers. Everyone vs. Furries. Sure there’s always been crossover, but much as in academia, the infinitesimally small stakes of geekdom have resulted in battles of laughably epic proportion. To my chagrin, I’ve been a participant in the kind of exclusive, bullying behaviors that she highlights.I have, in my day, fiercely defended my little kingdom of fandom, like many before me I was geek red in tooth and pocket protector.

Of course the stakes aren’t so small anymore, at least in one respect, and unfortunately I think Ms. Mills, for all I laud her call for inclusiveness, overlooked an important aspect.

One of the reasons, and I suspect it might well be the main reason, that geek culture has increasingly bled into mainstream pop culture is a simple one: the almighty dollar. Companies have increasingly realized that when taken as an aggregate geeks have a lot of buying power, and that many geeks will cheerfully lay out large amounts of money in pursuit of their particular bliss.

On the one hand that’s a good thing. It has made more geeky bits and bobs available, which means more geeky stuff for us to indulge in. It has, as Ms. Mills rightly points out, also lead to people who otherwise might not have been exposed to geekdom, or might have shied away from professing their geekdom, an outlet for expressing themselves and finding their bliss.

However, it also brings a couple of problems. The first is the issue of pandering; of taking on the accouterments of geekdom, of presenting one’s self as a geek in order to secure the “geek vote,” or more accurately to tap into the revenue stream that is the geek dollar. If you’re female and a geek, “hot” or otherwise, that’s awesome. If on the other hand, you’re simply adopting the trappings of geekiness to try and open my wallet through both my dick and my fandom… I’m not so big on that. Sure, I like sex. I like sexy women. And while I’m perfectly happy to be jerked off, I don’t appreciate being jerked around. By anyone. When you do it with my fandom, over the fact that I am a geek, and that I grew up in a time and place where that was a source of both ostracism and comfort to me… yeah, I’m going to be a bit annoyed with you. I may not approve of some of the vitriolic rhetoric that gets thrown around, but I can understand the sentiment. I’m perfectly willing to give a corporation, or an individual for that matter, a hearty fuck you when they’re trying to manipulate me in this fashion.

The second element, and the one that touches more directly on what this particular blog is about, is the question of authentic selfhood. This isn’t separate from the issue I point out above. “Wear Brand X, or your friends won’t think you’re cool.” “If you don’t have the latest jPhone, jPad and jColonStimulator than you’re so last season.” Companies want us to buy their products. Fair enough, they’re out to make money after all, and if we’re going to allow any degree of an open market to exist we need to accept that. However, too often one of the ways these folks try to make money is by telling us that what we own, what we buy, is who we are. It’s not just in the form of status symbols either, though status symbol possessions are certainly part of the problem. Much as those cyberpunk sages warned us about, corporate branding has leaked into personal identity.

Geekdom also won’t be the first place where this has happened. Just think about tattoos and piercings for a moment. When I was growing up, tattoos and piercings were often regard as “edgy.” They were the domain of bikers and rockers. Now… now they’re not only largely part of accepted culture, they’re a corporate force, with TV shows, magazines, all the way through to the steaming pile of excrement that is the Ed Hardy franchise. It’s the mainstreaming of those places that were once out on the edge, with marketing designed to make these things seem like they’re edgy. Yet the truth is these things become increasingly homogenized so as to appeal to middle America, and in the process lose much of, if not all, their power to lead one toward an authentic expression of the self.

On a philosophical level, this isn’t opening the doors so that people can find their own bliss; it’s locking the doors and telling people that this is who they should be if they want to be valuable people. As a geek, as someone for whom these things have made up who I’ve been and who I’ve am, it does in certain respects feel like an aspect of myself has been lessened. People who’ve visited this blog before will realize that doesn’t sit well with me on either level.

Still, we should neither reflexively reject the mainstreaming of geek culture, nor should we lash out and create a culture of divisiveness. To do so does mean we lose those positive aspects. At the same time, uncritical acceptance is no healthier that reflexive rejection, and in many ways could be even unhealthier for geek “culture” such as it is.

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Posted by on June 21, 2011 in Philosophy, Pop Culture

 

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Dear Scott Adams, are you once again going to try…

Your “people who read my blog have a higher level of analytical reasoning ability than people who don’t, so you’re just not capable of understanding what I say,” gambit? Are you going to try more posting as a “fan” to tell everyone what a genius you are, and how the rest of us just can’t understand your “enlightened” intellect?

For those of you who don’t know, Scott Adams, creator of cubicle-dweller favorite Dilbert has said some pretty stupid shit. I mean really stupid shit, particularly about women. He’s also spent time on the internet pretending to be a fan of his, and telling everyone how brilliant he is; a habit he also has when he’s not pretending to be someone else. A lot of the stupid shit to come out of his mouth has been related to women, the latest of which can be found over at Comics Alliance.

The comments of the above linked article already include various people claiming that Adams is not linking rape and male instinct, and bleating how much as when Adams said that one should deal with women in the same fashion as one deals with children or the mentally handicapped, Adams is being taken out of context. Well Adams and crew, I have a higher than average level of reading comprehension. I’ve also been trained as a philosopher, and I can smell bullshit at 500 paces.

It is true that Adams never explicitly says, “Rape is a natural male instinct, and those nasty, nasty faminazis shame us for a thing we can’t help.” Because we all know that if someone doesn’t say something explicitly then they couldn’t possibly be saying it, right? Right? Hmm… maybe we should look at Adams’ claim through the lens of those analytical thinking skills he says we lack, yes?

Adams starts out by talking about lions, zebras and that whole circle of life they sang about in Lion King. Fine, lions eat zebras, and we shouldn’t really blame either the lions or the zebras, they’re just obeying their natures. In his next paragraph he goes on to talk about various “powerful men” who have been in the news for their naughty behavior. Naughty sexual behaviors like rape, and showing one’s wang on Twitter in particular (not that showing your wang on the net is anything like rape). He claims that blaming and shaming these men is good, that it’s one of the way society keeps order. He almost has a kernel of a point here, but should probably go read Foucault so that he can have some idea of what he’s talking about. In the final of the three paragraphs in question, Adams talks about how men are taught to see their natural urges as shameful things, while women’s natural urges are celebrated. Other people have taken Adams to task for the ignorance and misogyny he has shown with these kinds of comments, so let’s move on to the central, contentious claim around this piece.

We start with a paragraph about natural instincts, move on to a paragraph about blame attached for certain sexual behaviors, and then close with a paragraph about how men’s natural instincts are considered shameful. Now, if we magically read these paragraphs as being entirely independent of one another, sure, we can pretend that Scott Adams is not drawing a link between rape and the natural male instinct. Of course if we do that, we would have to lack anything resembling reading comprehension or analytical thinking skills. Adams’ sentences, and the paragraphs in which they rest, do not have some magic power to divorce themselves from the ideas which surround them. The shit that comes out of Adams’ mouth also does not magically divorce itself from the other shit he has spewed.

Adams’ choice of words, and the way in which he structures his claim make it quite clear that he is in fact linking rape and sexual aggression with male instinct. Any claim to the contrary is at best disingenuous, and at worse an outright lie.

I don’t blame lions for eating zebras, Mr. Adams. However, I do hold you responsible for your own words. I also  hold those “round, turgid pegs” responsible for their own actions. Human beings are neither lions nor zebras, but are beings capable of things like reading comprehension and analytical reasoning, even if you yourself show a deficit in those departments. We are capable of showing judgement, and of choosing to act against our impulses. Maybe you should bear that in mind the next time you feel the urge to share some more of the unexamined prejudices you mistake for enlightenment with the rest of us.

 
 

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“This is how the world ends…”

“… not with a bang, but with a walrus mustache.”

Of course before I continue on with the thought contained in the subject line I suppose I should engage in the obligatory apology for the lack of updates. I’ve spent the past couple weeks devoted to largely doing nothing. I’ve kicked around a few ideas for posts, but none of them really seemed like anything worth following through on, at least not in their current forms. This prolonged period of slack has involved a fair bit of the game playing, Fallout: New Vegas playing a rather prominent role in said gaming.

I’ve always been interested in post-apocalyptic settings. Maybe it’s the anti-authoritarian in me, that sneaky little voice that longs to see outdated, inept, and corrupt systems brought to a screeching halt. Maybe I’m intrigued by the possibilities for building something new that the end of the world might offer (which is not incompatible with point number one). Could be it’s another reason entirely. Regardless of the source of my post-apocalyptic affections, it’s the second of these two hypotheticals that is currently bouncing around the old gray matter.

I suspect it was the work of Alan Moore that first made me start musing about the end of the world. I’ve talked before about how a Nietzschean reading of Watchmen casts Adrian Veidt in a less than flattering light; which is putting it rather mildly since a Nietzschean reading of Veidt, or at least my Nietzschean reading of Veidt, leaves him pretty unambiguously painted as a villain. This is less because of the fact that Veidt killed a bunch of people to save the world, and more to do with how he went about the killing of a bunch of people to save the world.

A similar strain runs through Moore’s V for Vendetta. In this case the offending party is Norsefire. In the case of Norsefire they respond to the end of the world through an ultra-conservative return to pre-apocalypse values. The narrative that Norsefire spins for the people of post-apocalypse England is one which claims that it was not the values themselves that failed, it was the moral fiber of the citizens that failed.  As Nietzsche, Sartre and others have argued when the alternative is recognizing the meaninglessness of the world, of being forced to stand on our own with no transcendent support, being told that it was we that failed, rather than the things we believe… it’s an attractive way out.

Which brings me back to Fallout, and the post-apocalypse in general. While it is not a universal truth, it is generally safe to say that for all the faults of society as it existed before the apocalypse, post-apocalypse society generally tries to rebuild itself in the image of the pre-apocalypse. From where I sit, I find this to be troubling in the Nietzschean sense. Nietzsche’s death of god, and the ensuing nihilism that would come in its wake, was in a metaphorical sense a type of end of the world. In that sense it was an eschaton, rather than simply an apocalypse. I would that when confronted with a more physical sort of eschaton, an event that wipes away the old world to allow something new, would present the ideal opportunity for engaging in Nietzsche’s revaluation of values.

Yet often, too often, those who tell stories of the post-apocalypse tell stories which feature protagonists, and societies trying to return to what was, rather than forging ahead to create something new. Admittedly even writers who might be using the post-apocalypse to comment on our world as it is face some difficulties; trying to imagine a post-Nietzschean society is not an easy thing, particularly since Nietzsche didn’t leave us with a handy roadmap. However, by remaining locked into the old ways of thinking, I feel that post-apocalyptic stories ultimately suffer. Not simply as on a philosophical level, but on a story-telling level. The strength of science fiction is that it allows us to examine our own culture, our own time, at a distance; opening up possibilities for critique that readers might not otherwise have been open too if confronted in a more direct fashion. Yet when we present post-apocalypse narratives that adhere to the old ways of thinking and being, we lose much of the strength otherwise inherent in the genre.

 
 

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