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Lessons on Geek Anthropology: Geeks or Consumers? How money can define your geek status

Today we have a lesson of Geek Anthropology to think deeply: are geeks just consumers? How does money define your geek status? How much of Geek culture is consumer culture? Many activities related to being a geek or belonging to a fandom are pretty expensive. Some fannish and geeky activities require having access to certain items, thus, they require a money flow. People who don’t have access to them might find themselves cut off from certain levels of geekiness. Let’s put an example. Let’s say I would like to cosplay Captain Hook and I want to recreate the outfit as it is seen in the movie. The one he is a total badass pirate. Even if I end up creating the costume myself, just the raw materials cost money. Let’s say that I am a disaster sewing. This might require me to ask someone else to do the job, hence paying for the services. Computer geeks need computers, comic geeks need comics, collectors need collecting. So, does this mean that to be a Geek, or to have a certain level of geekiness within Geekdom, you need to spend a certain minimum amount of money? It does look like so.

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Not all geeks have the same access opportunities to the things they like. Sadly, fannish social currency is not only based on fannish knowledge, that is, the amount of knowledge you have on a fandom (or geek realm you belong to); it’s also based on how “geek” you appear to be according to all the geek stuff you own. When we take a look at fandoms, we realize that people who have more access to fannish items of that fandom seem to have a higher status within it. Of course, knowledge of the ins and outs of the fandom is also first for it to work. But only having knowledge of it limits your exposure in certain fannish arenas. While a person might have a digital fannish or geek status online, this can be a challenge in the analog world if they display few related goods to it. At it’s best, the person can argue that it’s a closeted geek or fan. At it’s worse, the person falls from grace losing his/her status.

Let’s put a simple example. If you like to read comics you know that comics can be very expensive, specially if you want to read many titles each month. Depending on your budget, you’ll be able to read more or less. Thus, you’ll know more or less on comics that month. Hence, you might have a higher or lower status depending on your access to the information that’s for sale (in this case: comics). Even if you can subscribe yourself and read comics online (Marvel Unlimited is an example), not everyone can afford it: you need a computer that is potent enough, a tablet or a smartphone to be able to read them. True, you can go to a library and read them, but they don’t always have all the numbers and certainly you cannot show any comics collections to your friends. (See where this is heading?)

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We live in a society of consumption, and this makes us consumers. This means that we see cute stuff that we want to have all the time. As a geek, and as a fan who belongs to too many fandoms, this can be a nightmare. You see super cute fannish items out there, but you can’t just take in everything! Fannish consumers can spend large amounts of money on the things of the fandoms they love, or the Geekdoms they belong to. Even those who have a restricted budget do whatever to have certain items. But this brings into question how much of your geeky level is defined by the geek items you own.

Fannish social currency comes from knowledge of the fannish realm, but also on the fannish display of a certain fandom. Computer geeks not only own computers, but they also buy all types of other items that show off their status as computer geeks. Hence, the public image of what a geek is nowadays is also associated with the marketing that’s been made about the image of geeks! We went from clumsily dressed people with huge broken glasses fixed with tape, to cool guys dressed with geeky tees that have sci-fi gear at home!

The relationship between geekiness status and money is quite evident. We are the ones to decide if we want it to be like this. So what does define you as a geek? Your passion or the display of fannish social currency and marketing?

tony stark, ironman, geek anthropology, depepi, depepi.com, geek, nerd

  • B.

    Personally, I don’t think what you own or buy makes you anymore or less of a nerd/geek. I can afford Hot Toys ($300 figures) but that doesn’t make me a bigger nerd than someone who just buys $9 Funko Pops. The only person who can define how much of a nerd/geek you are, is you.

    • Sadly many people are defining the status of others by their access to merch or devices. So, many people are feeling pushed away from the geek community πŸ™ It’s sad but I’ve seen it happen.

  • It really sucks to think about, but I think this can apply to any group of people:/ The more money I have to spend on things like comics and action figures, the more ‘cred’ I’ll appear to have in the geek community. I really don’t think that’s what should define a geek at all! I’m extremely passionate about a number of fandoms that I don’t own any merch from, and I don’t see how that should make me less of a geek. I’ll almost certainly never buy most of the cute geeky stuff I come across or share on my blog, but that doesn’t mean I’m any less of a geek about the show, book, movie, whatever that the product represents! It’s definitely a shame that people view others as less of a geek just because they don’t have access to the merch?

    • It shouldn’t define geekiness, it’s true. But since many people do, and since we’re all into a consumer culture, we seem to do it (some people more than others). In fact, it’s not only buying stuff, but the access you have to certain things. Imagine you want some comics from your library and they just have a few selection and they don’t bring more… sometimes it’s not only money, sometimes it’s also where you’re located πŸ™ It’s sad though~ Sigh…I tend to buy what I like and that I can afford, but it hasn’t always been like that –; As a kid I had limited access to many comics because of my location and when I moved to a larger town my geekeness was seen as less than others because I didn’t know certain things, just because I had no access to them…

  • I personally feel it’s about the passion, but I too love owning certain items in my favorite fandoms. I do try to avoid people who only focus on the material possession side of geekdom …although it is quite the interesting debate for fandoms related to trading card games, like Magic the Gathering.

    It think this also comes into play in other areas too -aka a sports team fan…or perhaps an outdoor enthusiast.

    • Oh wow, that’s a Pandora’s Box over there! We could start a war if we start this topic with Magic the Gathering… I mean… spooky one! [And yeah, it happens to any subculture, I think.]

    • Katherine Koba

      Oh, man. MtG and Warhammer: two games where you can become unbeatable basically by spending enough money. I wonder what effect 3D printing will have on Warhammer. They’re expensive now, but eventually 3D printers are going to be fairly widespread, if not borderline commonplace.

      • Let’s hope 3D printers change the game on this πŸ˜‰ If we get to print our own stuff at home it means that society has changed a lot πŸ˜‰ We could imagine the effects of 3D printers and how they would affect the consumer culture πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

  • Kay

    I feel like I’m ‘selfish’ in my fandoms, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, I just mean that I buy stuff for ME. If it’s in my house, it’s because I love the fandom (or my hubs does). I don’t really give a thought to what other people see it as, and I certainly don’t feel you need to own/display/wear things related to your fandom to be a fan. All you need is a love for it, and that’s good enough for me!

    • It’s good to be selfish and do whatever you want. The problem comes not when you are being your geeky you in the way you want, but when others define you not for what you feel but for what you own. That’s the key, I believe.

  • Katherine Koba

    I LOVE THIS POST SO MUCH.

    The huge elephant in the room (IMO) when it comes to geek culture is that it’s inherently a *consumer culture*. You HAVE to have the resources to buy or otherwise keep up with all of the lore (especially if you’re a woman, thanks to nonsense gatekeeping). Not just financial resources: if you’re watching stuff online for free, you still need a good broadband connection to watch it, a decent device to watch it on, and the time to sit and watch. If you’re borrowing comics from the library, you need the transportation to the library (either public or your own), and then you also need access to a decent library. If you’re a gamer, you need a console or a computer (and these days an Internet connection to go with it) and access to games, whether through buying them outright, renting them, or a local library. These resources aren’t always fairly allocated, both globally and nationally. Never mind how many kids in the US don’t have a stable, single home and spend loads of time homeless.

    But how can a subculture that claims to welcome everyone in all of their faults and weirdnesses also be steeped in an oppressive economic ideology? It makes everyone uncomfortable and we don’t really address it because it runs counterintuitive to the narrative we tell ourselves. But as long as we allow ourselves to get sucked into collector culture (BUY ALL THE COMICS!) and Internet humor culture (“omg this terrible cosplay is so funny”) we are perpetuating this culture.

    What will be interesting to watch is the flood of fan-made items and the effect of fandom culture on copyright law. Fanart and fan “stuff” is definitely part of the consumer culture — people want to buy and own things related to the thing they like — but official merchandise can be expensive. Beyond that, one corporation, no matter how huge, can keep up with the fandom hivemind. Some handmade fandom stuff is just kind of meh, but lots of it is 1) really clever and *different* from what’s officially available and 2) really high quality. And the vast majority of it is cheaper than the official stuff, as most handmade sellers haven’t entered into some kind of licensing agreement and are therefore not financially obligated to earn back that licensing fee. It’s a situation where most of these sellers are breaking the law, but are looked on favorably (usually) in the court of public opinion.

    American copyright (and therefore, to a large extent, international copyright) is a hot mess thanks to Disney. For a generation their corporate interests have influenced legislation on copyright, screwing over the public in favor of them making sweet, sweet $$$ from those licensing fees. But finally, with the advent of the Internet and tech, awareness and popular opinion might finally turn the tide back towards the public’s interest. I hope.

    It isn’t just consumer culture, either. It’s anglophone (and often American, with British examples a noteworthy but somewhat distant second) culture, promoting often-American ideals. These aren’t necessarily all bad ones (democracy! justice for all! equality!) but as an American I can attest to the dark side of the truths we as a nation hold dear (bootstraps!!). Maybe you’ve even noticed some Mexican v. American ideals clashes yourself. While some stories are always going to be way more MURRICA than others, it feels very, very weird to me that I am able to bond with Swedes (living, as I do, in Sweden) over things that are American or, at least, anglophone. Of course there are cultural touchstones that I’m missing (I didn’t grow up with Alfons) and even ones that got exported to the US/anglophone culture (Pippi Longstocking! Moomins!), but overall the balance skews heavy towards my end.

    There is, of course, anime geekdom. There were always be anime. But I don’t know how much it can hold up against the American juggernaut, especially now that Marvel is basically putting EVERYTHING on screen. Beyond that, the way that geeks interact with Japanese culture isn’t always….nuanced and respectful, let’s say.

    But I’m getting carried away. The cultural imperialism of geekdom is a horse of an entirely different color!

    • Oh wow! Thank you for writing a post under my post! πŸ˜€ This is the longest and most interesting comment I’ve got in my blog so far!!! And yes! I agree to all the things you say! As a kid I had limited access to published comics because I lived in the wrong location (small town). When I moved to a larger one, I discovered a new world and also I was quite in dismay because: I was less of a geek since I had limited access, and because I had limited access in a larger town because I couldn’t buy all what I wanted. Consumer culture is a Damocles sword. In a way you like to go with it, and at the same time, it cuts you into small pieces.

      As for copyright, oh yeah! Disney is evil and we’re in a war of mammoth proportions. I remember all the discussions on copyright law and fan creativity. Talking about copyright wars could take ages and a blog of itself, but just let’s say that what we’re living now is the attempst to keep up with controlling what can be produced for consumption. Those who hold the copyright don’t want to lose control because it means to lose all the moneys. And that is having a damaging collateral effect on culture itself! [Okay, I won’t comment on this or I’ll need a blog for it!]

      Cultural Imperialism is also another hot potato! Marvel is exporting a lot of American culture with their comics and movies. But that doesn’t mean that it’s all wrong. But it’s interesting to see how the American public understands the message versus what other people from other cultures do. Closures are different depending on your background, so the message of Tony Stark on the Avengers “if we cannot save, we’ll avenge” when talking to Loki is a good example. It gives security to the American viewer (yeah, if we cannot be saved, be assured that we’ll kick your ass!), while sending a threat to people from other countries (look, if you piss us off, we’ll kick your ass!) So, this is interesting too.

      Japan is another world. After living there for 8 years I must say that their popular culture is something unique. How they see things and how we do is at odds to say the list. So, what’s respectful and what’s not changes. It’s like being Ant-Man. If the West is this world where we see things as giants, Japan would be the ant-world. Or the other way around (take the side you like the most). Meaning that our perspective and theirs is so different. So, when Japanese export their manga and anime, the message changes radically (or at least can change dramatically). So, Japanese might read that part of their pop culture in a way that we won’t… ever! So, how some geeks interact with Japanese pop culture can also be shocking. Unless you live there, it’s very possible that you’ll end up doing something wrong…

      I love your carried away post (because it’s not a comment, it’s a post). I want to thank you for taking your time and sharing with me and with everyone else here in this post. Thank you!!!!
      xoxo

  • This post is amazing. I’m a gamer, always have an always will be. Personally, I love certain TV shows and some comics but i’ve never been one to dive all the way into a Fandom. Sure, I might buy a T-shirt to represent but I’ve never been one to collect anything. I can’t jump on the collectables train it just makes me really anxious to have clutter and knick knacks in my home.

    With that in mind, I think it is very inclusive of the geek and gaming community to jude someone because they do not have the money or in my case do not like to collect things. I have seen this time and time again. “Oh you don’t have X,Y,Z version of this game or this blah, blah, blah collectable what kind of nerd are you?” Well it’s simple really I’m exactly what I want to be. I don’t think stuff defines you as a geek or a gamer. You have decide what level of commitment you wish to take and be happy with that.

    The thing is with geek culture comes a certain level of judgement on how far involved you are with a fandom. If you can’t or aren’t all the way in practically living and breathing your fandoms right down to being broke each month, you aren’t fully committed. I just don’t have the money or the time or brain power to devote myself completely to something like that. I have a family that I love and wish to spend time with. So, at the end of the day I’m a mom that plays video games. My level of investment and involvement does not make me a less or better gamer.

    • I totally agree with you! It’s not only about merch, it’s also, for example, about Cons. I’m a SPN Fan and to attend a Con it’s impossible atm… just trying to have enough free time as to take a plane to the US, book the flights and hotel is too much! Access it’s also location and free time, and many people within the different fandoms don’t get it (mainly because they haven’t been in those situations).

      And as for everything else: I agree with you!!

      • I forgot about cons! Yeah, I’ve never been a convention person to tell the truth. Just an excuse to buy a bunch of things that I don’t want. Although the panels are great now as a parent it is even harder to talk my little one into sitting down for such long periods. Cons in general just way over priced I just can’t. Unless I’m given a press pass and then you better believe I’m al over that an a bag of chips.

        • Cons are expensive, yes. Also the location is important. If you’re outside the US it becomes like a dream (at least some of the cons). So, it can be challenging for some when confronted with people who regularly attend them. Not all geeks are attending cons, nor are situated in locations that grant them an easy access (even if you’re in the country). Itchy topic.