Too Popular Culture? Exclusivity In Fandom

So, it’s apparently “geek week” on YouTube, and, as yet another indication that geekdom has become more acceptable to the general public arises, I can’t help but contemplate certain…territorial tendencies of those geeks who are now seeing their passions gain wide-spread acceptance.

Take for example this meme, which, as some may recall, caused a small uproar last year.But seriously, what the hell is a gigawatt?

But seriously, what the hell is a gigawatt?                       (Image from Know Your Meme)

Oh, hello “Idiot Nerd Girl.” (And, no, the whole post isn’t going to be about this, nor am I going to subject you to my 20+ academic page paper on this subject.)

This meme and her twin sister, “Fake Geek Girl” caused a bit of an uproar last year when their popularity, coupled with idiotic comments made by people like comic artist Tony Harris, offended many geeks/nerds of the female persuasion (and some empathetic men).

Some of the response was to remix the original meme in one of two ways.




I'm sorry to whoever this guy is.  (Image from quick meme)

I’m sorry to whoever this guy is.
(Image from quick meme)

The first meme is a defense of women accused of being fake geeks. The second is a counter-attack pointing out the existence of fake geek guys. Both of these memes address the inherent sexism in the “idiot nerd girl”/”fake geek girl” concept, yet both largely fail to address another underlying issue.

Why are we so obsessed with the authenticity of geeks/nerds?

I’ve mentioned before that much of geek culture revolves around knowing every detail and scrap of minutia about their chosen fandoms. This knowledge is often utilized in debates, spun out in random bouts of trivia, and, on occasion, used as a weapon against less knowledgeable or new members of a fandom.

The thinking often seems to go something like this:

If a person wears an Avengers shirt, but has never read the comics, they are a fake fan.

If a girl cosplays as Princess Leia in the metal bikini, but doesn’t know anything about the expanded universe, she’s a fake fan.

If a person claims to love Batman, but can’t name everyone in this drawing (code name and real name):

Drawing by phil-cho

Yes, there are three Batmans (Batmen?) in that picture. How could that possibly be confusing for a new fan?
Drawing by phil-cho

they are not a true Batman fan. They are a fake fan.

Now, as I’ve come to understand from reading the thoughts and comments of fans/geeks older than I am, this phenomenon isn’t totally new. However, in my experience, these opinions are becoming more widely shared, and those sharing them seem to be becoming more vocal about it.

I think there are several reasons for the swell of calling out “fake geeks.”

First, there’s geeky commercialization.

I remember what Hot Topic was like 10 years ago. The store was targeted towards teens and young people who fell into certain subcultures with affinities for spiky jewelry and black clothing. And their logo looked like this:


These days, however, going into Hot Topic is a bit different, as is their logo.hottopic2

There’s still plenty of spiky jewelry, but, at least in my local Hot Topic, the store has been almost completely overtaken by pop culture. Any movie/TV show/comic that has merchandise and a following with money seems to be represented.

There are also sites online like Think Geek which seems to be doing pretty well for itself profiting off of popular geek culture.


Then there’s this:

For some reason, Penny's pose here is hilarious to me.

For some reason, Penny’s pose here is hilarious to me. Also, hay two other female characters shoved way in the back!

So, I’ll start by saying this. I do not hate The Big Bang Theory. I find its reliance on homophobic jokes and stereotypes a little grating, but I tend to like it more than I dislike it. This is not the opinion of many people in the geek community.

Some who hate the show hate it because they don’t think it’s funny. Others hate it because it relies heavily stereotypes. And others hate it because it is viewed as a leading cause of fake-geekiness.

After all, why watch Star Trek when you can just quote something you heard on Big Bang Theory? And who knows whether someone’s wearing a Green Lantern shirt because they’re a die-hard fan of the comics or because Sheldon’s wearing one? (I think we can assume they’re not wearing it because they were such huge fans of the movie)

All of a sudden, everyone apparently thinks being a geek is the coolest thing ever, and they’re apparently polluting our previously pure pool of gratuitously nerdy awesomeness!

Well, no, not exactly. I mean, I hate to break it to people, but there’s a reason most subjects over which geeks and nerds drool are called “popular culture.” As stated by the source of all earthly knowledge that is Wikipedia:

Popular Culture is the entirety of ideasperspectivesattitudesmemes,[1]images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging globalmainstream of the late 20th and early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society.

Now, many geeks fully embrace fandoms that lie somewhere outside of popular consciousness, but many of the tentpoles of geek culture are very much in the mainstream. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people growing up in America today knew the (misquoted) line “Luke, I am your father” before they ever saw Star Wars. The same can be said for the other (misquoted) line, “Beam me up Scotty.”

Let’s take a look at the top grossing movies, according to Wikipedia, from 1991-now.

Look at the cost of the movies (the $ amounts on the right)! Remember when Titanic was the most expensive thing ever because it cost $200 million? The good 'ol days.

Look at the cost of the movies (the $ amounts on the right)! Remember when Titanic was the most expensive thing ever because it cost $200 million? The good ‘ol days.

On this list are Terminator 2Star Wars: Episode I, two Lord of the Rings movies, two Harry Potter movies, 4 animated movies, and two comic book movies (not including Iron Man 3 as the year isn’t over yet). In fact, most of the movies on this list appeal to some fringe of geekdom such as the two Pirates of the Caribbean movies that made the list. 

Geeks gravitate towards popular culture. There’s nothing wrong with that. But we can’t then pretend we somehow own the rights to that popular culture just because we know every single fact about our given fandoms. I mean, let’s face it, we can all love Lord of the Rings without knowing as much about it as Stephen Colbert.

I think some of the best insight on calling out “fake geeks” comes from a article written by Luke McKinney titled “The 7 Most Ridiculous Things About Calling Out Fake Fangirls.

I encourage you to read the whole article, but I particularly like his conclusion, in which McKinney states:

The tragedy of territorial geeks is that they found the wonderful world of fantasy, then missed its point. Some people really are the stereotypical geeks, escaping socially awkward childhoods by finding funner things to do. I was the last picked for football, was occasionally thumped because people found it funny and can talk for a full hour about my favorite Doctor Who original novels. Only that last part still affects my life, and it’s awesome. But some people escaped into a world without bullying, and instead of thinking “Great,” they thought, “My turn.”

You can’t be a better fan than anyone else anymore. Memorizing issue numbers was always useless, but in a world with Wikipedia, it’s outright embarrassing. The whole point of liking things is to enjoy them. More people means more fun. Even if you’re a total sociopath, more people in your hobby means more products for you to enjoy. And if you want to turn it into a fight, someone who likes a character and creates a costume is actually closer to the comics creators than someone who just likes the character.

If you base your self-esteem on how much of a fan you are, neither of those words really apply to you.

So, next time we all want to throw-down with someone just because they don’t know Wonder Woman was a space pirate back in the 90’s, maybe we should step back and ask what we’d really gain from dismissing “fakes” and what we lost by doing so.

Maybe every “fake geek” is just a “real geek” in training waiting for someone to show them why being a geek is so awesome.

Now, as my final words on the subject, here’s a bad poem I wrote for a creative writing class three years ago (and yes, I know I called him “Doctor Who” instead of “The Doctor” I know better now):


If you are a geek, say it with pride!

These days, geeks are just fine.

Our network stretches far and wide,

Mainly when you’re online.

And don’t take it as a bad sign

That like a child you cried

When Gandalf the Grey stood the line,

Or when Captain Spock died.

Your parents should be proud of you,

You know all the X-Men

And all those who played Doctor Who,

Yes, that’s all eleven.

And no one should be laughing when

You draw some fan art too

And write fan fiction with your pen.

It’s geeky, but that’s you.

Watch cartoons where kids bend water,

Fear that hidden Cylon,

Tear up message boards like fodder.

The classic cool is gone.

Wear that costume to Comic Con,

Reread Harry Potter,

Clip that plastic lightsaber on.

Geeks were never hotter!


1 Comment

Filed under About Fandom

One response to “Too Popular Culture? Exclusivity In Fandom

  1. Pingback: The Pros and Cons of Pop Culture Binges | The Fandom Learning Curve

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