There was a time when geek culture wasn’t cool. Superhero comics, Dungeons and Dragons, video games, computer coding: they were all the domain of the sweaty, socially awkward nerds that loved the material. Today, however, the world seems to have verifiably changed. Cultural artifacts once limited to geeks are now shared and recognized by the population at large. Indeed, many of the largest film franchises in the world are based on source material once beloved by geeks. What gives?
What is Geek Culture?
Let’s take Star Wars as a canonical example. These sci-fi movies were known by all, but beloved by only a handful. And they were very beloved. But today, to be a Star Wars fan is to enjoy one of Disney’s largest properties. Star Wars merch is available almost everywhere; I just bought a Star Wars button-down shirt at Target. The movies are hugely popular, and cannot be said to be the domain of any kind of subculture. They’re just far too large now. Star Wars has irreversibly become mainstream culture.
Superheros and video games have followed similar trends. To be a fan of comic books or Xbox games is no longer special or unusual. It’s like enjoying cooking or movies, a hobby like any other. And we should celebrate this! Being in an isolated sub-culture absolutely sucks. No one wants to be isolated and bullied over their interests or identity. So now that “geek culture” has been mainstreamed, we can all breath a sigh of relief.
But there’s also been some drama. Those who once defined themselves as geeks find that label no longer meritable. It’s no longer a badge of honor, an indication of membership in a hardcore society of interest-sharing men. Some see this as “theft of the things they once identified with. Take the reaction from the Internet when a woman is prominently featured in a video game: scorn, frustration, and disappointment. It’s hard not to see this as a reaction to a once shared secret subculture becoming mainstream and common. There’s no exclusivity or honor to being a gamer or a Star Wars fan any longer. That’s been a major blow to some folks, and they’ve taken it hard.
Does Geek Culture Still Exist?
So, geek culture doesn’t exist in the way it once does. But does that mean it’s been completely wiped of the cultural landscape? Not so! There are definitely still domains of geekery floating around in the world around us. But instead of being about specific topics, it’s about the intensity of interest in an idea. Today, it’s common to hear someone say that they’re a “music geek” or something similar. What does that mean? They’re deeply interested in the material, know a lot about it, and spend a lot of time learning and talking about it. It’s a major interest for them, and a large part of their lives. Does that mean they’re a smelly loser? Certainly not.
However, the idea of “geek culture” having exclusive domain over specific topics has likely bit the dust. Simply maintaining an interest in Batman or fantasy novels, for example, isn’t the sole quantifier of geekhood anymore.
Why did this happen? Part comes from the reboot-centric nature of today’s culture, movies especially. Original stories don’t get as much traction as they used to, so storytellers are leaning on old material and tropes to make money.
We’re also seeing a steady degradation in the insistence on stereotypes. The Internet gave everyone a voice. And it’s hard to listen to someone talk without gaining some degree of empathy for them. Sure, there are still negative stereotypes out there. But they aren’t as rigid or all-encompassing as they once were.
Look to the young people of today. By and large, they’re far more accepting of difference among their peers. They’ve absorbed the messages of diversity in culture today. They’ve seen the celebration of other cultures and ways of living. They respect other people’s viewpoints and opinions. Today, you’re less likely to be judged for your interests, but for your behavior. And that feels like a definably more fair system than isolating sci-fi fans.