I've done a few little pieces now on how geeks are cool, comics are mainstream, Sweeney Todd razors are big business, etc. Somewhere in the midst of writing that costuming one (I think – the weeks blur together), I came across this article on Fan Glam, and it's been eating at me ever since. I had to write a response.
To sum up Fan Glam, the cool kids over at Io9 believe that there is little authentic geekery to be found in today's world. They point to Kristen Bell and JJ Abrams as the epitome of "fan glam," and the insane expansion of San Diego ComicCon as signs that fandom is so trendy, it is very nearly obsolete. "Their obscure desires are being converted into ironic commodities, their tastes transformed into sellable goo, and their dark, secret haunts opened up to the light of media frenzy. Here are the seven signs that fans have become glam, and that the world of fandom will never be the same safe place to hide with your action figures again."
Maybe I am way off (and I was a literature student, I tend to take an interpretation and run with it before I know what I've done -- it's like a form of dementia) but the impression I get is that Io9 believes geekdom has sold out. And I laugh aloud because only hardcore fanboys and girls could accuse our entire sub-culture of selling out. First Frank Miller, now the Star Wars lovers. And you know, it's just not true. We're a bit more mainstream now than we were – people don't immediately snigger when you say "a wretched hive of scum and villainy" aloud, and they don't immediately assume you live with your parents when they catch you watching the Iron Man trailer at work. But it's still a rough world out there. If geekdom had truly sold out, or gained universal acceptance, my Wolverine hoodie would find a lot more love out there. Ok, so the yoga studio wasn't the best place to wear it – but I actually had a young and handsome guy jerk back in horror when I sat next to him on the train. I could read his thoughts – "Gah! Stinky comic book geek!" (Dude, I spend $100 a pop on LUSH, I guarantee my Wolverine hoodie and I smelled way better than you.) The sight of that poor hoodie got my ass hauled out of line by airport security at Heathrow Airport. Hardly fan glam, more like fan-should-have-known-better. (Really, don't wear something which is black and liberally decorated with comic blood, especially if you're carrying a backpack. Apparently it is the look most preferred by terrorists.) And if geek was so chic, people wouldn't giggle with derision when they saw my desk, decorated as it is with NECA's King Leonidas, Lara Croft, and a big talking Aragorn. Kristen Bell may love nerd culture, but I somehow doubt she gets as many "Oh – you're one of those girls" as I do when I say I've been to ComicCon.
Maybe it's because I'm a girl that I'm a little more skeptical of Fan Glam. Girls still aren't supposed to have action figures or original printings of The Dark Phoenix Saga. If there was truly such a thing as Fan Glam, I would be able to buy an XS Wolverine t-shirt instead of a "small" that went down to my knees. Oh, how my friends (and the convention t-shirt boothies) laughed at me for trying to find one. "This is ComicCon – they don't make them in tiny sizes." (Ok, by now I'm realizing my fashion sense is looking suspect. I have loads of clothes without Wolverine on them, I assure you. Sometimes a girl just wants a nerdy shirt to lounge or walk her pug dog in.) Plus, isn't there a bit of bias in the Fan Glam thesis? By holding out Kristen Bell as some kind of traitorous example, a pin-up girl who likes Star Trek, isn't the implication here that geeks, especially female ones, are meant to be unattractive? Do geekdom and beauty cancel each other out? I may be a girl geek, I may own suspect shirts, but I still like my lipstick and heels. Aren't those the kinds of surface assumptions that led us to be ostracized for so long? Must we look like trolls to be accepted as genuine nerds?
What about you guys out there? Are you basking in the warmth of mass acceptance? Or do you still bristle at the geek/nerd/fanboy label? One of my male friends practically cried when I called him a fanboy. Have things changed? Can you safely wear your "Han Shot First" t-shirt around non-geek girls? What do people say when you plan your summer around ComicCon or DragonCon?
As I was musing over all of this "sell out" business over the weekend, the media dropped a big clue that we are still a bunch of dorks in coke-bottle glasses when USA Weekend interviewed Gwyneth Paltrow, Liv Tyler and Maggie Gyllenhaal – the three lovely ladies starring opposite our 2008 superheroes. Granted, this was USA Weekend, not exactly the bastion of geek chic, but all they did was harp on the freak factor of superhero movies. "What do friends and family say about you doing this kind of film? Aren't these films, by their very nature, a little silly and hokey?" Admirably, not one of the actresses pulled a "unwashed losers dig this stuff" attitude, but there's a general sense of bemusement (especially from Paltrow and Gyllenhaal) that they've entered this foreign world. They respect the material, but there's little fan glam here. Well, not until Liv Tyler name drops Aquaman oh-so-casually as the superhero she'd like to be. Hmmm.
In the end, I really don't know what to make of it all. Do we even give a crap if fandom is authentic or not? Did we really want it to remain an undiscovered land? I can't say that I chose to be a geek because I was determined to be underground and obscure for my entire life. In fact, I didn't choose to be a geek at all, and was always hurt when everyone female, including my teachers, mocked me for playing Batman with the boys. (If only they knew I did it because I could be Kim Basinger. I was having way more fun being dangled from Batman's arms, screaming as the Joker menaced us, than the girls who merely sat gazing and crushing on the boys did.) Anyone else choose to be a geek as a way to stick out from the madding crowd? I doubt it. We hid for fear of being pummeled for talking about Spider-Man, not because we were exclusive about it.
By now, the original authors at Io9 are ready to kill me – and probably you readers too. It was obviously a humorous piece, and I'm sitting here talking about childhood scars. Like I said – interpretation dementia! Perhaps, in the end, I'm a stark example of fan glam, because I'm asked to write something called The Geek Beat. There are enough geeks around that we have a column called The Geek Beat. Perhaps the circle is complete and we are the masters now – but I doubt it. I won't believe it until I can buy a girly Dark Phoenix shirt ... in XS.