Thursday, March 10, 2016

Guest Blog: Pop-Geek Revolution in 140 Characters or Less

Kyle Andrews is an online friend, a self-admitted geek and a fellow author. When he complained of having a lot to say and currently no place to say it, I offered him space on this blog. I think you will be pleased with the results.

My new book, Freedom/Hate deals with the dual nature of a culture. On the one hand, you have the commonly accepted norm, which keeps everyone feeling safe and secure in their righteousness. On the other hand, you have all of the stuff that people don't want to hear. The thoughts they don't want to think. The questions that they don't want to ask.

The book takes these ideas to extremes, but they already exist in our world. Though it's usually not illegal to voice an opinion (in the US), it can get you into a lot of trouble at times. Voicing the wrong opinion makes you a “hater” because for many people it's easier to use a catch phrase than to make a counter-argument. The projection of irrational hatred becomes their security blanket.

At this point in the discussion, I could go into real world politics for my examples. However, instead I am going to steer toward a much less threatening topic, which will be easier for people to look at without triggering the “hater” reaction.

The science fiction/fantasy community has always been made up of “geeks” who get very involved in not only watching or reading their favorite titles, but debating the various aspects of those titles. Who writes Batman better? Who played Superman better? Which Star Trek was the best? There are far muddier waters to get into, but you get the idea. For as long as this geek culture has existed, part of the fun has been to nitpick and debate. It makes the experience more interactive.

In recent years, it's become cool to be a “geek”. Everyone goes to the comic book movies. Everyone likes to wear the Converse shoes and the thick-rimmed glasses. Everyone thinks it's cool to have a superhero logo on their t-shirt. Geek culture now has pop culture superimposed over it. However, these “pop geeks” as I call them are like Locutus of Borg. They look like geeks on the outside, but they're not really assimilating on the inside.

(The fact that Locutus had a name made him different. The Borg are not supposed to be unique. They are supposed to be a hive!!! Thus begins the Borg Queen debate...)

As examples of this, I will discuss some of the current comic book TV shows that are being put out.

Supergirl, on CBS, tells the story of Superman... sorry, it tells the story of “Supergirl”. I get confused because so much of what they've done with the show is done through “homages” to the Superman story. Kara works for a big press outlet. She plays the bumbling girl with glasses by day and strong superhero by... later in the day. (It's Supergirl, not Batman. It's bright and sunny). Her pal is Jimmy Olsen. Her enemy is a General from Krypton who escaped the Phantom Zone. Her other enemy is a mad scientist who runs a multi-billion dollar corporation. Her rogues gallery includes Livewire, Bizarro,  and Toy Man. She will soon meet up with The Flash (from the CW series of the same name) and the promo art for that episode depicts a race between the two, which is a classic Superman/Flash image, for those who don't know.

As a geek, I ask how many homages it takes to make a ripoff. I know that there is a lot of potential for Supergirl to be a great character, but they have failed to make her anything but “Not Superman”. By that, I mean that Superman is always present in the series, if only because his not being in a scene becomes the only thing that we can think about while watching. Supergirl is just... not Superman. She never will be. She never should be.

In the days of geek yore, this would have sparked conversation and debate. Those who enjoy the series would say that it's all fun and they don't mind that they're using Superman stories. I would argue that Supergirl is a unique character that offers drama and storylines that Superman can't explore, since she left home as a teenager and remembers where she comes from and what she lost. This back and forth would go on and on, until we all got bored with discussing it (which could take decades).

I recently responded to an article written about the series on a normal entertainment news site. While I've always enjoyed the back and forth that comes from being a part of geek culture, I found that this site was populated with more “pop geeks” than actual geeks.

When I commented that it can't be called an “homage” after a certain point, the other commenters reacted by telling me to stop watching the show. To go away. To just enjoy it and shut up. They started making comments about me personally.

This is the “hater” reaction, which now exists in all corners of our society. Instead of discussing our differing opinions through long conversations and well considered debate, the opposing view is immediately seen as a trolling comment, or an act of hate. Instead of responding with another relevant point of view, other commenters essentially react by calling me a name and then putting their hands over their ears while screaming “I'm not listening! La-la-la-la-la!”

As a teenager, I used to get into a lot of debates online. I used to debate politics, religion, TV shows, and anything else that I could think of. This was back when the internet was shiny and new(ish), and people were interested in exchanging ideas. I won't say that either side ever really changed the other's mind entirely, but we would at least walk away with an understanding of why the other person thought the way they did.

Today, the internet has changed. If it can't be stated in 140 characters, or with a series of emojis, then it is out of line. If you put forth an opinion that is not the same as someone else, you are a hater who hates and must be stopped.

At some point, it will no longer be cool to be a geek. Pop culture will get tired of superheroes, and they will go back to obsessing over bell-bottoms at the disco-tech, or whatever. After they're gone, geeks will continue to discuss why Sliders was a great concept, but a failed execution, as they watch their least favorite episodes for the hundredth time.

The problem within geek culture will likely resolve itself, but can the same be said about the rest of our society? Will we ever be able to engage in a political conversation without the word “hater” being brought up? Will we ever strive to understand why the other side thinks the way they do, even if we don't remotely agree? Have the long debates been replaced by tweets and poop emojis?

In the world of Freedom/Hate, it is a crime to question. Will this be our future?


 Kyle's new dystopian novel Freedom/Hate is now available for pre-order on Amazon.  I had the privilege of reading a pre-publication copy and ejoyed it very much. Book 2 in the series is close to completion.

For more information on Kyle's work, visit his Facebook Author Page, follow @StarletteNovel on Twitter, or e-mail 

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