America has declared war on the geek boys
The party’s over, fellow geeks. If the past two weeks are any indicator, pop culture is done with us. They’re no longer fascinated and amused by our likes and dislikes, so it’s time to pack up and return to rolling 3d6 for dexterity in someone’s rec room. This message was loud and clear when it was announced this week that the SciFi Channel is going through a brand remarketing, including changing its name, in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. The new name? SyFy. Sure, it’s pronounced exactly the same (though I’m not alone in thinking it looks like it should be pronounced “siffy,” and is reportedly similar to a Polish word for “venereal disease”), but make no mistake, this is a hipper, cooler SciFi Channel coming your way, and they’re not mincing words as to why the change is necessary.
“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch SciFi Channel when he worked at USA Network.
Yes, you’re reading correctly, one of the creators of the original SciFi Channel metaphorically took a steaming dump on the people who have most likely kept this piece of shit cable network afloat for the past fifteen years. If they’re not attracting a more mainstream audience, it has nothing to do with the people who are already watching it, it’s because they show professional wrestling, which, last I checked, has pretty much nothing to do with science fiction, along with endless reruns of Star Trek: Enterprise and The Outer Limits, ubiquitous reality programming and movies that never saw the light of a theater, such as Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return and Blood Surf. Let’s not even get into their original movies, which tend to have names like Bats: Human Harvest, Flu Bird Horror and Mansquito1. If it wasn’t for the new versions of Battlestar Galactica and Dr. Who, both of which have a huge fanbase, SciFi would be competing with G4 and Spike for the most pointless waste of cable service. But no, it’s not the programming that’s the problem, it’s the audience.
On top of this, there’s also the bizarre anti-geek backlash that has formed in the wake of Watchmen. Many of the negative reviews of the film adaptation seemed less about the movie itself than in taking mean-spirited jabs at the comic book/graphic novel genre and geek culture in general. One reviewer claimed Watchmen could only be enjoyed by “the bottom of the barrel of society,” while A.O. Scott of The New York Times used his column as a platform to claim embarrassment at his own Tolkien and comic book reading college geek days and to suggest that anyone who still enjoys Alan Moore’s nihilistic allegories should probably grow up. When Watchmen failed to retain number one status at the box office upon its second week in release, coming in second to Disney’s Return to Witch Mountain, the word “flop” was thrown about with all but grave dancing glee, even though with sold out showings in every IMAX theater in the country and the biggest opening weekend of the year so far it could hardly be considered a flop. Fans excited since seeing the first trailers back in July 2008 came out strong for it. It will almost certainly break even, and profits will likely see a spike upon its release on DVD. It’s a bit premature to claim that movies made by geeks and for geeks are hopelessly unprofitable.
For a brief, glorious time geeks had achieved a sort of quirky coolness. We could buy and wear geeky t-shirts with pride, the appeal of “sexy geek girls” like Tina Fey and Mythbusters‘ Kari Byron was praised, comic book movies were finally given serious respect and pop culture pundits warned that lovable, nerdy shlubs like Seth Rogen and Jack Black were well on their way to replacing such generically handsome actors as George Clooney and Brad Pitt in the hearts of women everywhere. Then the love affair ended quickly and coldly, without so much as a warm kiss on the cheek before saying goodbye. Now all of the sudden geeks have lost all relevance as a viable market, reduced to a tired old stereotype of being mostly socially maladjusted teenage boys who would rather jack off over Sailor Moon or pictures of Princess Leia in her slave costume than meet a real woman.
As this blog post points out, geeks these days come from all walks of life. They are certainly not all male, under eighteen, unemployed or unable to form normal relationships with other humans. The percentage of women who participate in online gaming such as ‘World of Warcraft’ increases every year. When I went to see Watchmen on opening day, the audience was at least half female, many of them attractive and with what appeared to be equally attractive dates. YA RLY! Geekiness is no longer something you give up as soon as you graduate high school, packed away with your copy of the ‘Monstrous Compendium’ and DARTH VADER LIVES t-shirt and never spoken about again, it’s now a proud lifestyle maintained by many.
So why all the hate all the sudden? Well, one can theorize that it could be because many geeks, myself included, tend to be insufferable know-it-alls. There’s a reason Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons has always been such a funny character, and it’s that we all know someone exactly like that. We’ve sat around a table battling imaginary dragons with him, or worked in a record or video store with him, or gotten into a flame war with him online. Though he’s not representative of all geeks he’s certainly a representative of some. Also, let’s face it, geeks can be exclusionary, especially in this era of obsessive fandoms. We birds of a feather flock together, and tend not to have much time for people who don’t like the same things we like. We don’t take criticism very well, and often resort to ganging up on voices of dissent to win an argument. This can be both alienating and aggravating, no doubt. However, I think part of it is based in society’s love of building trends and people up and having even more fun tearing them down. Geeks had their moment of being fashionable in an ironic way, now it’s time to poke at us with sticks until we crawl back in our caves. The best way to do this, of course, is to remind us how we’re just so weird.
It’d be unfortunate if a lot of geeks went back to being embarrassed about their proclivities, just because the SciFi Channel wants to target potential audience members who think that reading The Martian Chronicles will automatically make you stop bathing and have a sudden desire to attend conventions where large women insist on dressing like Lara Croft. That’s not our problem, geeks, that’s their problem, and if that’s the audience they seek, then I suggest we leave it to them and move on to other networks. Personally, I haven’t watched the SciFi Channel since they canceled Mystery Science Theater 3000, and I don’t miss it a bit.
1Also Chupacabra: Dark Seas, Frankenfish, Haunted Prison, Locusts: the 8th Plague, Reign of the Gargoyles, Sasquatch Mountain, SS Doomtrooper, Spring Break Shark Attack and Supergator. I didn’t want to list these all above, but they couldn’t go unremarked upon.