Fans, Geeks, And Obligatory Support

As I was reading different reactions to the Scott Pilgrim film, I saw the usual exhaustion in comments at io9 (http://io9.com/5600262/scott-pilgrim-is-an-epic-for-the-nintendo-generation).  Some people were annoyed, but there was also a sense by some that they were almost obligated to support a geeky film, even one that is a near geek-singularity.

That made me think about the recent idea that Geeks are pulling Hollywood's strings (http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/129492-the-geeks-are-pulling-hollywoods-strings-right-now-and-thats-not-a-g/) – something I don't agree with, but I feel the author of this article has twigged on that something is up in the media.  There's some fusion of what is fannish/nerdy/geeky and Hollywood and major media companies that seems a bit . . . off.

Me, I think these two articles are related.  Why?  Because they they hit on the fact that there's this "current of support" for a lot of recent media ventures – a support that seems to be in some ways, obligatory.  I feel this sense of Obligatory Support is real, and is a factor that will affect us culturally and professionally.

Have you ever joked you're obligated to buy a game (I have – Final Fantasy XIII).  Have you ever watched a series because it was from a genre you supported?  Did you go to a Harry Potter release party . . . because?

You're starting to see where I'm going.



The convergence of geek culture, product, and media has meant we have an onslaught of products and toys and games that we want.  It also means that more and more people are part of our culture, of Geek Chick, Anime Cool, and the rest.  What it means to be us has changed, because our relations with the world, economies, and society has changed – because what we like is now cool and big.

Remember when you had trouble explaining why something was awesome to someone?  You don't know – they've heard of it, played the Facebook game, seen the ads.

Ever  feel your interests aren't "hip?"  They are now.  Manga and anime, games and comic books, movies of every superhero under the sun – it's all there.

You don't have to explain the depths of your interests, what you love is splattered everywhere in release parties and marketing campaigns.

Even those hobbies that people used to have trouble explaining like fanfic and cosplay and fanart are publicly discussed.

What this means is that we geeks are in a world that has changed – in our favor – but our habits have to catch up.

This is where the sense of Obligatory Support comes in.

We've all wanted to have the larger culture appreciate what we've appreciated, especially progeeks who built their careers around these very things (if you've been in IT over a decade you know what I mean).  Now that what we do is hip, our habits haven't changed as much.  Now that we're appreciated our behaviors are behind the curve.

Fellow geeks, we WON.

Yet we're still ready to explain our interest in video games when we don't have to.  We're ready to tell people about an anime when they've heard of it.  We don't have to explain our writing of fanart – it's cool and hip because it's "Avatar" fanart and boy that'll be great in a portfolio.

We're still engaged in Obligatory Support of geekery when it doesn't need it.

Now throw in the mass marketing campaigns and big projects out there, where we see dream projects come to life, where things we've supported are big business.  We want to be a part of it, we want to see more of it – and our Obligatory Support jacks up to worldwide scale.  We'll rally behind these projects because they're what we wanted, we feel we have to do it because we always felt we had to.

There's no reason to doing "just" because it's nerdy, geeky, fannish.  But that habit is still there in some of us – including me.

I'm guessing companies are counting on this.  If you're involved in a geeky industry, your marketing department may be.

You can't.  Just as sure as Geek became Chic, as Bollywood made musicals unspeakably cool, things change.  At some point the Obligatory Support will fade, or be miscalculated, anger fans, or just go away.  I would not be surprised if it happens as a semi-conscious effort as people ask, much as those who inspired me did, if this Obligatory Support is a bad thing.

So we're in the age of geek-friendly movies, massive fanservice, and a lot of things that were once unhip being incredibly hip.  It's great, it's wonderful, I'm loving it.

But there's that sense of Obligatory Support out there, and I think it's going to change – and if you don't see it coming, some nasty shocks could be out there for other geek projects.

- Steven Savage

Steven Savage Steven Savage (2565 Posts)

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, nerd and geek culture at http://www.nerdcaliber.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.


  • http://genjipress.com Serdar

    I don’t think we’ve “won”. I think we’re having a moment in the sun that’s coincidentally the same moment in the sun as the people with money in their pockets. In another 20 years, we could be facing a totally different group of people making the decisions, who remember how all that “geek stuff” resulted in (in their memory) one dud after another and not much sustainable business.
    The idea that we live in a geek-friendly era is a convenient delusion, I’m afraid. It’s something that we can believe in just long enough to kid ourselves, while the people in charge go on making the same terrible decisions in different disguises. Remakes of movies that never needed it (“Nightmare on Elm Street”). Botched-up versions of fan favorites (“Dragonball”, anyone?). In-name-only project marketing (“Street Fighter”).
    We’re just the latest target market, and we’re getting treated just as shabbily as all the others.

  • http://www.stevensavage.com/ Steven Savage

    Actually I’ve been wondering what is “after” this for geek culture, and hope to post my thoughts. It’s actually a bit difficult because, obviously, of my perspective.

  • http://www.sakevisual.com Ayu

    I feel as if that’s only a truth on certain geek fronts. One can point at the Browncoats/Firefly fans who have done incredible amounts of work for the show and for charity in the name of the show and be impressed by all the support. But then you can turn around and look at the sadly dying anime and manga industry where most “fans” haven’t spent a real cent on any of the entertainment they consume, choosing to use illegal methods instead. Maybe that in itself is portent of how the rest of the geek industry is going to go down. Anime fans used to buy every anime thing that made its way over, even the horrible single-episode DVDs at ludicrous prices. And now most self-professed fans stream illegal anime and read manga scans online.

  • http://www.stevensavage.com/ Steven Savage

    Ayu,
    I would note that I don’t think the geek industry as a whole will go down any one path (in fact I’m figuring geek mostly ends up accepted subculture in the future). What happens to anime and manga, in short, may not happen in other areas like comics, novels, etc.
    However, I’ve seen vague indications that anime and manga fans are starting to think deeper about the issues of piracy, scans, streaming, and author’s need to make money. Two articles going in today’s news focus on that:
    http://www.comicsalliance.com/2010/08/20/the-manga-industry-speaks-taking-stock-in-tough-times/
    http://manga.about.com/b/2010/08/21/black-butler-manga-creator-tells-scanfansub-fans-stop-it.htm