Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Geek Problem

In looking at the posts that people place under articles that have to do with movies, I am often struck by all the name-dropping, fact-dropping and utter lack of depth; not on this blog, but elsewhere.  I don't know why people even go on most internet chat rooms.  Internet chat rooms are merely a symptom of the problematic geek culture at large.  Geeks have been traced back quite a number of decades but are especially seen as ballooning in the 1980's.  While I genuinely enjoy many of the same pop culture pieces that geeks do, I consider geekiness to be more of a persona than a set of interests.  The geek culture's ideas of art, life and social interaction are very wrongheaded and problematic.


Internet sites and chat rooms bring together like-minded people who have similar interests.  This can create a positive brotherhood, be a helpful to professionals, be a learning experience to those involved or have a slew of other positive benefits that I have probably not even thought of.  In my experience, such positive things are not the outcome.  I have found that for the most part, internet chat rooms are where specialists go to show off.  They are forums of pedantry. Everyone has an interest area, hobby or talent, but now with the internet, we can spend all day "chatting" about our narrow hobby and pretending to be really smart, when we are really just engaged on the right subject.  Movie chat rooms are so often filled with people who look for any excuse to name-drop movies they've seen or fact-drop pointless things they know about movies.  Often, nothing substantial actually gets said and many people are not there to learn anything new, but they are only there to show off with other people who might actually care about their knowledge.

This brings me to the problem of movie trivia, which Roger Ebert has noted is "an avoidance of movie art."  It's missing the forest for one minuscule tree.  Art is no longer a transcendent experience of beauty and deep meaning, but a series of meaningless details to be memorized and obsessed over and randomly brought up for a false sense of superiority.  Art has been reduced to trivia knowledge.  Why even watch a movie when you can read about it on the web and "learn" more than watching it would ever tell you.  Memorizing facts does not make someone smart.  Computers and robots can memorize facts.  It is tying them together and using them as a springboard for meaningful new ideas that is a truly human function. Geeks are doing the work of a soulless computer, endlessly inputting useless information.  Showing off movie trivia knowledge doesn't even show that you know much about movies, either.  It only shows that you know a few specific things that you are conveniently laying out.  If someone doesn't get your reference, it is not necessarily that they know less about movies than you as much as you have a knowledge mismatch.  Movies are such a wide category of thing, part of what makes the cinema so exciting, that everyone knows something that someone else doesn't know and knowledge mismatches are everywhere.


As a Christian, I question the life priorities of some of the more serious Geeks.  I question their priorities in life and the hierarchy of values that they put on things.  The language some of these people use to describe there geekiness makes them sound like the philosophers of yore in search of eternal truths and life's meaning.  Being a geek is some sort of pseudo-, or perhaps not pseudo-, duty to them.  It's hard to measure in some cases how tongue-in-cheek this is but in many cases, I would guess it is not very.  They are the Thomas Aquinases of obscure, near worthless pop culture.  They "...aspire to better their lives so that they can be a better geek," as Harry Knowles puts it.  "The basic spirit and fire in the belly of a geek – is a desire for that which you do not yet have."  This of course refers to random things involving obscure pop culture. Some of what might have been the great intellectual minds of our generation are wasting their mental energy memorizing useless pop culture trivia.

The last problem of geek culture is the celebration of social awkwardness.  They engage with obscure pop culture, not because it is good, but specifically because it is obscure.  Their geekiness isolates them from humanity, both because it is an unshared interest, but also in its unreal and often trashy content.  Art is meant to unite people.  Also, this notion of awksomeness is terrible.  It is now considered "hip" to be awkward and to be purposely disengaged from our fellow man.  Social awkwardness is a weakness that many live with.  It's not the end of the world, but it is certainly not an ideal to be held up.  The movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was two hours of dishonest awksomeness.  While it can be good to cultivate interests outside the mainstream, we should not celebrate the idea that our hobbies are leaving us alienated.

Hollywood, of course, wants to cultivate this geek culture, warts and all, and bring it to the mainstream.  It can be harnessed to sell everything from DVDs of The Rocky Horror Picture Show to copies of the new Halo game.  You can also throw in sell-out remakes of everything geeks used to like.  Imagine an entire subculture built around intense, consumerist obsession with pop culture.  It's a surprise that Hollywood has taken so long to try to exploit this by bringing it to the mainstream, even though mainstream geek is an oxymoron.  Some worry that fanboys have created a disproportionate influence on what new movies get made.  It makes sense when you think of how many mostly terrible superhero movies have been coming out since the early 2000's.  Fanboys also create their own hype for movies by obsessing over projects years in advance of release, before the irony of the movie being terrible.

Hayao Miyazaki at San Diego Comic Con

The Geek culture is a bastardizing change in our conceptions of art and a huge waste of time for those who are in too deep.  I hope it will go away and a real connoisseurship of art will take its place.

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