Nerd Life: A Question of Authenticity

Greetings esteemed readers! My apologies for the gap between posts. Every three months work transmutes from a manageable, if occasionally disobedient, shoulder dragon (+5 for Munchkins out there) to a Elder Hydra in all its regenerative horror. Though much of the past few weeks and the majority of the rest of this month will be spent battling said beastie, all efforts will be made to maintain something of a regular posting schedule.

Anyhow, onward to the topic at hand! This weekend the city of San Diego assumed its annual role as figurative Mecca as legions of nerds around the world made their storied pilgrimage to the San Diego Convention Center to indulge in a myriad of attractions designed to appeal to nearly every aspect of Geekdom. SDCC is ongoing as of the writing of this post, but the announcements and developments that have been made public thus far are fairly brilliant both in scale and potential quality. (Topless Robot does a superb job of summarizing these)

While SDCC shimmers with the glamour that has accumulated after more than four decades of expectations, fanaticism, and hard work on the part of both organizers and attendees, the convention also stirs up a number of less effervescent sentiments to the degree that kvetching about SDCC has become a sort of tradition in itself. Is this another 'example' of petulant nerds expostulating about perceived wrongs and inaccuracies that may not, in fact, exist? While that may be true to a degree, the ring of complaints that orbit SDCC have a mounting gravitas that appear, by multiple accounts, to have legitimate basis. The latter is multifaceted and, at first glance, is derived from largely logistical concerns: the paucity of available hotel rooms, a general lack of organization, specifically with regard to highly anticipated panels (which met with tragic results this year), a poorly functioning online registration system, and the extremely high costs of attending. These are all symptoms that we recognize as part of the modern marketing machine and are arguably no different than the exorbitant costs associated with attending a concert or a sporting event. You're paying for the experience and that cost follows the same general principals of price determination as any other limited commodity. Sort of. As a demographic that features a propensity to make conscientious but thorough use of our disposable income, we nerds tend to be more willing to cough up our hard-earned dollars when it comes to beloved properties and limited editions. This, in conjunction with the supply pressures derived from the sheer mass of individuals attending SDCC for professional purposes creates a monstrous amalgam of limited resources at ungodly elevated prices. Such a heinous combination has absorbed most of the blame for the 'transformation' of SDCC from epic nerdy gathering to a corpulent, grandiose monstrosity: a barely-veiled money grab on the part of toymakers, publishers, movie and TV studios.

This alleged 'transformation' has been raising more than a few geeky hackles for many years now, particularly as a growing number of would-be convention attendees find their way barred by any number of the issues listed above. Ostensibly, it's these logistical concerns that put the kibosh on hopping a flight out to San Diego, but the crux of these woebegone roadblocks centers around the causes thereof, namely that SDCC morphed into its prohibitively costly state after the additions of features from non-nerdy, but very commercially successful properties. The crush of fans of said properties came out in droves, snatching up badges and exacerbating the bottleneck described earlier. Thanks to the increasingly blurry line between movie studios and the major publishers of comic books, SDCC 2012 has been able to feature a substantial amount of content that actually corresponds to the convention's original intent but the overarching trend of appending blockbuster non-nerdy properties to the event is not going anywhere until doing so magically becomes unprofitable. Thus the question/rant will linger: Has SDCC, like the Burning Man festival, jumped the shark and boxed out its original fanbase in favor of catering towards the mainstream?

And that, my friends, is what differentiates grumbling attendees of overpriced professional sporting events/concerts from the legions of our fuming geeky brethren. All of the aforementioned individuals are willing to shell out their monies for the thrill of an experience, but the former are more likely to get what they paid for. Even if someone managed to wrangle their way into SDCC, the probability is high that they may walk away from the con disappointed. Some, perhaps most, of this melancholy could be attributed to the often impossibly lofty standards we nerds tend to hold, but the majority of these dizzying expectations are honed from sheer adoration and the precedent of earlier, more authentic experiences thatspoke to the essence of what we, as geeks, truly are.

 This question of authenticity underlies many of the major nerdy outbursts that we've seen this year and is certainly the motivation for some of the less savory behaviors that we, as a subculture, are renowned for. Authenticity here is more of the existential, rather than the literal, variety, speaking to that which are 'correct' courses of action as discerned by your truest self. 

Avengers: enough said.
It's something that we are struggling with as the Nerdaissance brings our beloved hobbies, characters, series, and stories to the forefront of the mainstream. For better or for worse, this is what is popular at the moment and with popularity comes the desire to capitalize upon such. As mentioned in previous posts, this sort of phenomenon is cyclical and will ebb in time only to surge anew in some future decade. What I posit is different about this present iteration is the age cohort most invested, financially and emotionally, in the outcome of the Nerdaissance has more tools at their disposal to gather information and voice their displeasure. The properties being plumbed for the sake of the almighty dollar/euro/pound/yuan renminbi are those from the childhood of Generation Y and are already rife with collective nostalgia and creative girth. From this we've seen successes on a scale that we scarcely believed possible but also, and unfortunately more commonly, failures that embitter and enrage.

Instances of the latter have hewn fault lines within our community, particularly within the gaming subset. As each fresh travesty is unleashed upon we consumers our tolerances for said behavior are tested. Do we protest or do we buy the game/see the movie/attend the convention? We are being bifurcated according to our choices when presented with this question and it is rapidly undermining our community as a whole. Those that partake are labeled sellouts, lemmings, and willing accomplices in the systematic violation of the properties and industries we love while those that protest are seen as tantrum-throwing elitists, naive-but-doomed champions of a far-flung past, tragically mistaken idealists or hipsters.

Let's make one thing perfectly clear: hipsters are stereotyped by their distaste for the mainstream and that trope is what forms the basis of labeling someone a hipster. While this may comprise part of the MO of the Dissenters described above, the majority of their beef stems from the efforts of various organizations and corporations to exploit, modify, and fundamentally change the meaning of any given nerdy property. This is obviously not the same as disliking something merely because it became popular and it's incredibly frustrating to see fellow nerds undercut one another by employing this inaccurate and highly dismissive term.

Our choices are ultimately our own, of course but, instead of lambasting one another for these decisions, we would be better served if we exchanged our ideas concerning these rather than passing quick judgment. Introspection and communication may not be our strong suits, but critical thinking and the ability to leverage the internet for all it's worth certainly are. Our internal squabbling will only result in further weakening the collective voice of our already tenuous community, leaving the proverbial door wide open to further raids on that which we once held dear.

The response to the ever-changing colossus that is SDCC is already well in hand as numerous other, smaller conventions step up their efforts to cater to disillusioned geeks. Some major studios have taken pains to deliver masterful products that accurately capture the spirit of the source property. There is hope that an authentic experience may be obtained and even preserved. We, as a collective, simply need to be willing to articulate our needs and make the effort to seek out those things that deliver on that which reverberates with our truest nerdy selves.

No comments :

Post a Comment