Recently, everyone’s favorite nerd, Simon Pegg, drew some internet ire for some comments he made regarding geekdom:
“Obviously I’m very much a self-confessed fan of science fiction and genre cinema but part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilised by our own taste…. It is a kind of dumbing down, in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues. Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about … whatever.”
The full interview is well worth reading, particularly his eloquent and brilliant response that he posted on his blog. Now, we can debate about the merits of what he said, but suffice it to say this comment was very much on my mind throughout Phoenix Comicon. No event sums up geekdom and nerd culture in general like a big convention, and this year’s Phoenix Comicon was truly massive. I realized that these “infantile” interests do so much to bring people together, to form friendships, nurture talent, and build a community.
When I try to explain Comicon to non-believers, I always fall back to the social aspects. This is an occasion for people to come together and celebrate their shared interests. And believe me, no matter what your interest is, it’s represented at the Con somewhere. This year, there were multiple groups of Fury Road’s War Boys, shouting “Witness me!” as they passed in the halls. A half dozen Daredevils prowled the mean streets of Phoenix. Han Solo mingled with Spock and Kara Thrace, and steampunk cosplay had its usual ubiquity. For me, Comicon is a major social event. Friends from out of town come in for the weekend, and in addition to the Con itself, there is food and drinking and games (Settlers of Cataan and Iconica this year). The event has become an annual celebration and a way to reconnect with people I don’t always see. And judging from the galleries on Facebook, showing reunions and connections and celebrations of complete strangers just because you’re in the same costume, I know I’m not alone.
The local talent is always astounding. I’m never failed to be amazed by the genuine skills and passion of people, from the cosplayers to the exhibitors. There are local comics, game makers, and even microbrewing. Artisans sell handbuilt tables for the discriminating Dungeon Master, art prints for decorating any space, and armor for ambitious LARPers. I always come home from Comicon inspired and appreciative that such a place exists and that such great talents have found an outlet.
The highlight of conventions is always the celebrity panels. The best panels become more than just a way for an actor to recount on-set stories (although those are often hilarious and delightful, Katee Sackhoff), but can be a discussion on issues of weight and importance. I remember a panel, three years ago, where thousands of people shared a genuine, emotional moment with William Shatner as he recalled the recent death of a beloved pet. In previous years, I’ve seen John Barrowman talk about gay rights; John Rhys-Davies riff on parenthood; and Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer, of all people, discussing fictional allegories for 9/11. And my love for Leonard Nimoy’s appearance at Phoenix Comicon is well-documented. This year, the mantle was picked up by Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, who used their experience on Battlestar Galactica as a starting point to dig deep into issues of racism, religion, and war. Just because a show features spaceships and explosions doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also include real-world issues, a point that Simon Pegg seems to have forgotten when he gave the above quote. He also appears to have forgotten that the cast of Battlestar Galactica was invited to speak to the United Nations, due entirely to the strength of the New Caprica Occupation storyline that flipped the insurgency/occupiers narrative on its head, and featured the show’s heroes as terrorists and suicide bombers. It’s every bit as serious and important as the “art” films that Pegg cites, and the audience knows it and is mature enough to engage on those points.
More than anything though, I am grateful that nerdiness no longer has to hide. When I was growing up, I felt like I had to hide my love of Star Trek and science fiction. When I played aliens with my friends, we were the outcasts, running around behind the library while the rest of the kids played four-square or dodgeball or whatever. But with the rise of conventions, and the rise of science fiction, fantasy, and comics to the forefront of American pop culture, my geekiness can be front and center. The truth of being a geek is finally coming out: It has nothing to do with genre, and everything to do with passion. You can be a comic book geek, a science geek, a sports geek, or all of the above, and there is a place for you. It reminds me of a quote from an extremely talented and funny writer and actor:
“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”
You know who said that? Simon Pegg.