Geek authenticity and its symbols

Tade suggested I write about “geek authenticity in a world that has appropriated the symbols for commerce“.

I am not sure I am really qualified to write about this, because I am not sure what geek authenticity means. But assuming it means, like, being a geek by genuinely doing or watching or owning the things that geeks do, I wonder whether it isn’t the other way around. Because —

Doing geeky things: I am not sure this can really be appropriated for commerce. Something like reading comic books doesn’t have to be a geeky activity — in the sense that doing it makes you a geek — unless you want it to be. And what you do and how you feel and how you think can’t be appropriated or taken away from you by Commerce. Commerce can try, but it can’t do it if you don’t let it. That is why resistance is possible even within systems that treat people and cultures like things. It is why art and community are important.

Owning geeky things: All the things I can think of as being symbols of geek authenticity are things like … um, I don’t know, nerdy-looking glasses? T-shirts with Green Lantern symbols on them? Those pocket protector things geeky characters in US sitcoms used to wear? These are all pretty culturally specific, but I don’t think the idea of a geek culture[1] or geek authenticity makes sense outside a couple of cultures. Anyway, the point is, these symbols are all things. Why should a particular kind of T-shirt say anything meaningful about your identity? Because consumerism, basically.[2]

So I guess what I’m saying is I am not sure it is the case that the world has appropriated the symbols of geek authenticity for commerce, and now geeks have to figure out how to preserve that authenticity against the brute forces of capitalism. I think the symbols of geek authenticity were always owned by Commerce, and people just adopted those symbols and gave them meaning.

I don’t mean to say that geek culture lacks meaning or validity. I think fandom is a valid and valuable response to media culture. But I am wary of concepts like authenticity in this context. And I sort of think the only thing people can really build an identity[3] on is: how they act. What they do. How they treat other people. Not what they watch or read or listen to, what they like, what they find funny, what allusions they get. Those things are preferences. They are not character.


[1] You can probably debate whether geek culture actually is a thing, but there are enough people who find that language a helpful self-identifier — a genuine reflection of their lived experience — that I am not too bothered about arguing about it here. [back]

[2] I totally buy and wear T-shirts as a means of self-expression, so it’s not like I’m knocking it as a practice. I’m just sayin’! [back]

[3] Well, I actually think the Buddha is probably right and there isn’t really any such thing as the self, but for the sake of argument! [back]


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