“You’re not punk, and I’m telling everyone.
Save your breath, I never was one.
You don’t know what I’m all about.
Like killing cops and reading Kerouac.”
A few days ago Tara wrote a post for her Forbes column called “Dear Fake Geek Girls: Please Go Away.” Now you could read that title and jump to any number of conclusions, but that would literally be judging the book by it’s cover. Which clearly a lot of people don’t have a problem doing. Since I don’t know what the venn diagram of Forbes readers vs SBDC readers looks like, I’ll give you the short version – she notes that increasingly (often for marketing purposes) there are people claiming to be “geeks” who are doing that because they think it will advance them somehow, or give them an in with a certain crowd and opines that rather that trying to be something they aren’t, people should embrace the things that they are. She’s speaking directly about girls in her article as she has a bit of a women-in-technology theme, but the same could be said dudes just as easily.
What’s interesting to me is that this isn’t a new situation. There’s a repeatable pattern here that anyone who has been paying attention to any number of subcultures can clearly see.
It happened with punk rock – punk rock was not something cool. Kids who dared to publicly embrace punk rock were laughed at and beat up on the regular. People who were into punk rock were into it because it meant something to them, and was worth the ridicule. As more people started to self associate with a group of people no one wanted to be associated with, some marketing guys realized this was a potential paycheck. Bands were courted by major labels, promoted to main stream radio, and Hot Topics opened. Suddenly without spending years as an outcast kids could go to the mall and buy a Misfits t-shirt without the trouble of actually going to see them play. Serious bank was made, and a subculture was co-opted. You could argue that wasn’t a bad thing because now more kids were exposed to these great ideas or whatever and you’d be entitled to that opinion. I’m not saying it’s good or it’s bad, just that it happened. This resulted in people asking what makes someone punk? Does owning a Green Day record mean you are punk? Does having a shaved head or a tattoo mean you are punk? Is it just music? Is it just fashion? Some say yes, some will argue it’s much more.
It happened with skateboarding. Skateboards were not something the cool kids were into. Skaters as well were laughed at and beat up on the regular. “Lets pull over and beat the shit out of those skaters” was a really popular hobby for football players when I was in high school. Similarly to punk, the kids who skated didn’t do it because it was cool, again they did it because something about it resonated with them. And then, again, at some point the marketing guys came around and started doing the math. Eventually kids could now buy Airwalks without going to a skateshop, and could learn to ollie without knowing who Alan Gelfand is. Again bank was made by a lot of people as this previously looked down upon activity was marketed to the mainstream. Again, people asked – does owning a skateboard make someone a skater? What about having some t-shirts from skateboard companies or hanging out at a local skatepark? Or is it something more?
It happened with Hip Hop. It happened with grunge. It happened with mountain biking. It happened with fixed gear bikes. It happened with… well it happened with a lot of things. And it will continue to happen. And every time it does the people who were there first will make the argument that their culture is being co-opted – which it is, and the people who just showed up will argue that they have just as much right to play along – which they do – but that doesn’t mean everyone is happy. Some people will feel taken advantage of – that something they hold dear is being exploited, because they are in fact being taken advantage of, and something they hold dear is in fact being exploited. That’s what’s going on when someone takes something that only a small group of people are into and markets it to a larger audience with the goal of making a ton of cash.
And it’s happening with geek culture. 15 years ago there was nothing attractive about being a geek. There was nothing cool about being online. There was nothing valuable about having a web presence. Owning an Apple product wasn’t sexy. In today’s world there’s nothing sexier than new Apple products. Every company, celebrity and marketing team will tell you a solid web presence is invaluable. Everything cool happens online. And being “geeky” very attractive. And again, some people feel exploited. What % of people using the web know who Tim Berners Lee is? Does that even matter? Does having a twitter account mean you are a geek? What about an Xbox live account? What about writing your own web apps?
Wait, did I just say “happening?” I meant “happened” – you see this isn’t the first time this conversation has taken place within geek culture. Jump back to 2009 and see the Geek Advancement debacle that Wil wrote about here. There’s a difference between embracing and exploiting something.
But there’s also a difference between exploiting something and just learning about it. In all of these examples there has been some kind of controversy about “new people” – why are they here, what do they want, etc? But remember we’re talking about subcultures here, so outsiders are always going to be met with suspicion. And geek culture is in fact a subculture, so when new people show up it’s only normal to ask why. New people are not always bad, everyone is new at some point, but they aren’t always good either. There’s been endless conversations about how long someone needs to be into something or what qualifications they need to have to be fully considered a part of it – so many in fact that most people assume anytime you bring up the comparison that’s the motive. I’m not doing that because I think that kind of thing is stupid. Who cares? Honestly. Do you?
I think the bigger point, and the one I think Tara was making in her post is that pretending to be into something so other people will like you is dumb. It’s being a fake. The world is full of fake people, we don’t need anymore. And life is too short to be fake. Why not spend the time you have embracing the stuff you actually love. Whatever that is. Find the thing you like and put everything you can into that and stop worrying about what other people like, or what other people think about what you like.
* Quote at the top taken from ‘Boxcar’ by Jawbreaker