SDCC 2011 Recap: Expanded Universe Edition

28/07

I’m clearly not sticking to the SDCC posting schedule I set out earlier in the week, but I’ve been spending the last few days reading recaps of the #ohyousexygeek panel, and getting into some good back-and-forth conversations on twitter (with some of the panelists themselves, no less). I used the word “disappointing” to characterize the panel itself, but the blog posts, twitter exchanges, and heated debates in comment threads that have emerged out of that panel are anything but. Divisive at times, maybe, but not disappointing.

So, before we move on, a quick blogroll for those who’d like to read further on this:

Posts from the panelists…

Clare Kramer

Jill Pantozzi

Jennifer K. Stuller

Also, Jennifer de Guzman has been great about collecting responses, blog posts, and apologetic letters from G4 here.

Since I’ve fallen behind on recaps, my better half Luke Pebler is stepping in today as guest blogger to offer his perspective on some of the issues of authenticity raised in the #ohyousexygeek panel (which we attended together, and have been discussing ever since).

*****

Like Suzanne, I was a bit disappointed with the #ohyousexygeek panel at Comic-Con. Basically, the feminist bloggers were seated too far from the fashion models, and consequently no one got their hackles up enough to make it fun. And it must have been doubly frustrating for the ladies to have their debate framed most succinctly and effectively by famous, penis-having audience member Seth Green. Seth’s point was that the Sexy Grrl Geek Debate is actually part of a larger debate about fan authenticity in general, and I couldn’t agree more.

Sorry, ladies, but you’re not the only nerds whose culture has been hijacked by comely, vapid caricatures.

I have many fond memories of watching the TechTV cable network in the early 2000s. Its content was so unadornedly nerdy, its hosts so charmingly schlubby, that I paradoxically found it thrilling. These people look and talk like my friends and me. Who let them on TV? As a rural teenager, it gave me the first whiff of geek euphoria that would one day explode my brain when I finally attended my first convention (Star Wars Celebration IV in LA, 2007). But even at that naïve young age, I was looking over my shoulder. I thought: This is a mistake. This is too good to be true.

And so it was. In the span of just a year or two, Comcast-backed goons killed and ate my favorite network. G4 ostensibly merged with TechTV in early 2004, but by Feb 2005 G4 had already dropped “TechTV” from its name and expelled nearly all its people and programming. All operations in TechTV’s original Bay-area home were shuttered, and anyone who wouldn’t relocate to LA was canned. The only vestige of TechTV remaining at modern G4 is, unsurprisingly, the show that anticipated its shrill, slick aesthetic.

This tragic assimilation can be summed up perfectly by the metamorphosis of TechTV’s flagship talk show, “The Screen Savers,” to its spiritual G4 successor “Attack of the Show.” Compare this:

to this:

G4 is exactly what you’d expect TechTV to have been in the first place, if you’re an appropriately cynical adult: Hollywood-polished “personalities” contorting themselves into our niche because they couldn’t land that Axe Bodyspray commercial gig and they gotta pay the rent somehow. (It’s telling that even TechTV’s original resident frat broheim, Kevin Rose, proved too endowed with genuine talent and integrity to stay at G4, bailing out of AOTS after barely a year. Also, funny story how they replaced him!)

Looking back, TechTV was an anachronism and perhaps never meant to last. The internet is almost certainly a better way for tech geeks, gadget freaks, and video gamers to get their news and punditry, and many TechTV alumni have re-coalesced into great new-media entities. Leo LaPorte et al remain as adorable as ever, and are presumably still making a living. Given this, maybe I shouldn’t be bothered by the sort of knuckledragger that would still watch television to get his tech/game news. Live and let live, as Seth Green suggests.

But I can’t help it. Every time I happen past the two-story G4 Comic-Con compound, with its slimy air of velvet-rope starfuckery and its halo of howling Halo fans (whipped into a frenzy by PR flaks), it always gets my hackles up. Because I can feel it creeping up on us all. What I will call “douchegeek hegemony.”

It drives me nuts that these guys are now who laypeople picture when they think of a “gamer.” Honestly? I preferred this guy. Jimmy Teenager doesn’t have the luxury that I had, to like computers and then watch a cable show about computers that is literally just two dudes taking apart a computer. He sees all those people screaming behind Kevin Pereira, and maybe he doesn’t stop to think that the crowd’s been manipulated. He just thinks “If I’m a videogamer (which I am), and I want to be popular (which everyone does), this schtick seems to be working for that guy!” This is douchegeek hegemony.

And it doesn’t apply just to G4, frighteningly. I suggest we vet our icons carefully in all media. The conscription of geek culture by filmic douchebags gives us things like Michael Bay Transformers movies which, when they make $400M, begin to breed, and meanwhile Terry Gilliam still can’t scrape together the money to finish La Mancha. Douchegeek hegemony.

I understand that it’s sometimes hard to police your own subculture, especially amid the head rush of actually being catered to by mass media for the first time. Men, especially, seem gleefully willing to overlook problematic underlying implications whenever boobies or swag are flashed in front of them. But the honeymoon should be over by this point, ten years on. It’s time to put down the controller and push back.

I won’t tell you to make use of the glut of great game/nerd journalism that’s all over the web, because I’m sure you already do. But you gotta stop watching G4, and you really have to stop swarming their booth just because some hired babe waves you over. Go cheer in front of Penny Arcade‘s booth instead. Call Chris Gore what he is: reprehensible. Sweet Jesus, STOP GOING TO TRANSFORMERS MOVIES.

(And hey, Chris Hardwick? It’s time to cut the G4 ties, buddy. You’re beyond them.)

No matter how loud the techno, or awesome the free sticker, or big the fake breasts/enthusiasm, ask yourself: shouldn’t the internet and the mainstreaming of geek culture bring us a broader definition of what “cool” can be, for both women and men? Or are we just gonna let the same boring, good-looking people we loathed in high school define our norms again? I’m a better person for having watched TechTV, and I pray the geek youth of today are smart enough to see through G4’s pandering and go find their own Screen Savers.

Luke Pebler works professionally as a television editor while pursuing passion projects in film, online media and speculative fiction. His credits as a writer/director include the award-winning sci-fi short film The Professor’s Daughter and the web series The Last Hand.

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9 Responses

  1. Karma says:

    Stuller. Jennifer K. Stuller

  2. suzannescott says:

    Fixed! Thank you, and lesson learned re: posting late at night! It brings all the typos out to play….

  3. Douchegeek hegemony! Love it.

    I watched TechTV back when it was ZDTV. I loved not only the schlubby guys who talked about tech, but the reassuringly normal women who did. When former TechTV reporter James Kim died tragically a few years ago, I felt like someone I knew had died. There was a real feeling of community with that show — like these people were your friends, you could hang out with them and talk about anything. (I liked that Martin Sargeant and Patrick Norton mentioned that they were English majors, like me!) It was replaced with a feeling of celebrity — the hosts became “personalities,” the concentration shifted from subjects to antics. It was depressing.

    By the way, several former TechTV people now work at tWiT — Leo LaPorte’s netcast network. (http://www.twit.tv/) We’re avid listeners at my house.

  4. lutz_481 says:

    I’d like to say that the beginnings of Attack of the Show had very few douchgeek moments. They were pretty much all about tech and other related “thingamabobs”. I remember one episode had Kevin Pereira and a guest playing Super Mario on a giant NES controller. Yes, it wasn’t TechTV, they weren’t talking about motherboards and gigahertz all day. Instead they found a way to tweak down the geek and tech so they could reach out to a wider audience.

    Also, to tell people to completely veer away from the network by using “Attack of the Show” as a reason why seems bold to say the least. G4 still showcases other material that doesn’t tread douchegeek waters such as; “Fresh Ink” with Blair Butler, “Sessler’s Soapbox” with Adam Sessler, “The MMO Report” with Casey Schreiner, and more. Remember that whatever is on T.V. is supposed to rank in viewers no matter what—G4 has done so by appealing to the douchgeek culture. If your looking for your geek fix you just have to pull back the curtains and go behind the scenes.

  5. suzannescott says:

    Some of this simply comes down to network/brand identity. AMC is aligned with quality television, CW is produces tween and female-centric programming, HBO is “not TV” (which is to say, strives for cinematic production values). This is not to say that every show on AMC is quality, or that CW shows exclusively appeal to their target demographic. As you state, every show on G4 might not aggressively embody (or attempt to perpetuate) the “douchegeek hegemony” Luke’s describing above, but as a network identity it seems to be one they’ve embraced, and as a result it’s hard to not see a veil of that identity hanging over much of their programming. It certainly is the identity they push at SDCC, and in their coverage of the event, which is what prompted this post. At any rate, thanks for commenting, it’s a fair point, and I think you and Luke are on the same page re: hoping geeks “pull back the curtain” so to speak.

    One thing came up in our conversations about the “Oh, You Sexy Geek!” panel that didn’t explicitly make it into the post, so I thought I’d throw it out here. Coming from a background of fan studies, which was initially concerned with speaking back to the pathologized portraits and negative images/discourses that swirled around fan identities in the mainstream media and academia alike, it seems odd now that many people’s concerns have turned to the mainstreaming or watering down of geek culture. Seth Green’s remark about Kim Kardashian wearing Transformers underoos sums it up nicely. I think many of us like the idea of being good fannish ambassadors for those just entering geek culture (who may only being familiar with the “douchegeek hegemony” G4 is pushing, or may just own a bunch of comic book t-shirts because they’re readily available at Target), but those of us who have been embedded in this culture since adolescence also have some nostalgia for those pathologized days.

    We’re proud that we embraced our fannish/geeky passions when it wasn’t fashionable to. Now that it is…it made Luke and I both wonder if something intrinsic to geek culture IS lost when it becomes populist (or, to put it another way, when subculture becomes culture). My dissertations deals with this, and I think Luke’s post does too to a degree in the way that he talks about TechTV. I’d just be curious to hear what others think about it.

  6. suzannescott says:

    Jennifer’s comment above also seems to be getting at this a bit, actually. And Jennifer, it is eerie to see your post echo the way that Luke always talks about TechTV to me. I can’t say that I watched it, but from the episodes I saw as he was preparing the post, I think your distinctions between friend/personality and subject/antics you make are spot on.

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