Geek ‘Icons’ and Parasitic Celebrity
There is a class of person in the modern world who is merely famous for being famous. As a culture it’s become almost a cliché to criticize these people for soaking up the spotlight whilst not actually contributing anything. These celebrities are also inexplicably influential; with people taking their advice and views on subjects they are generally less qualified to speak on than your average Joe. The same is true for the convoluted mess of pop-culture that is the new commercial concept of Geek.
There are people merely famous for being Geeks and Nerds, and trade solely on that fact. There isn’t much tangible value in being simply an archetype or stereotype, but these traits are now seen as saleable. So the “Geek Icon” who doesn’t actually do much of anything was born. Worse still, these “famous purely for being a geek” personalities are attempting to leverage that B-list internet fame to take swings at communities or ideas they personally disapprove of.
Two leading examples I want to mention first are Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day; two people whose opinions are constantly referenced, and who are paraded out as the pinnacle of Geek Culture. I spoke in aprevious article about how the concept of “Geek Culture” is being used to strong-arm ideas and opinions not in agreement with the prevailing groupthink out of the public discourse. There is also the fact that both Wil and Felica haven’t exactly had particularly stellar careers. This is why they exemplify the new wave of internet celebrities attempting to make a living out of nothing but their “geek cred.”
Presenting the kind of web content that has become the remit of geek celebrities could be done just as well by the hundreds interchangeable YouTube personalities that are spat out by partner channels at an alarming rate. Most of what they do is coast on name recognition; they are more well known as “The Geek Chick and that guy who used to be in Star Trek.” That is the sum total of what elevates them to notoriety. For years I was told I was supposed to love these people as a “geek,” despite them having no discernible special talents. I used to think there was something wrong with me for not liking them but now I realize I simply recognize there isn’t much there of merit to like. I am simply told these people are geek icons instead of being shown the work that got them to that status. If you are an icon it should be self evident.
Of course many genuine celebrities like to chime in on aspects of “Geek Culture” they don’t have any knowledge of: Joss Whedon was a prime example with his “Gamers=KKK” comments. This again demonstrates the unwelcome effect of bundling of issues into one big “Geek” category. A man who makes TV shows and comic book films is seen as an expert on the video games industry and the community around it due to his “Geek cred” alone — despite knowing precisely dick all about it beyond his own male saviour feminist complex. A lot of celebrities have chimed into debates about political correctness in other areas simply because they have a platform and an agenda to push.
The reason the media trots out celebrity names, whether they have any special knowledge or even passing familiarity with the subject at hand or not, is to avoid engaging with ideas. Fame is an instant trump card that gets certain fans to agree without examining the arguments. The press loves using celebrity to push agendas; journalists and celebrities have one big thing in common: they can pretend to speak with authority on a subject whilst being completely ignorant of it, and people will listen because they have a platform and a profile. Their vision of the online community is top down, like a lord dictating to their peasants. They live in the manor house, and we are the serfs expected to accept what is told to us.
This makes the laughable “Queen of the Geeks” label applied to Felicia “I Cross the Street When I see a Gamer” Day have a deep and fitting level of irony. Yes she is a Queen, placed there by her autocratic peers. Unelected, privileged, and entirely out of touch with her supposed subjects. Monarchs placed on the throne without the support or consent of the people rarely last very long, and perhaps this explains why so many in the community are reacting with such distaste to their edicts. We are shitlords by royal decree it seems, but did they really think by simply saying something they could make it so? Have some people’s egos really become so out of control?
Their vision is top down, my vision is bottom up. I refer to them as parasites because they are feeding off the community below them, the community that they wouldn’t exist without. What does having acted in a TV series mean you know about what’s best for game designers? There is a faulty idea that merely being a low tier online celebrity is somehow a contribution. They take, and they take, but when it comes time to give back they say you should have been grateful to pay for their autograph at a convention and listen to them prattle on about their personal biases.
Having barely famous people dictate to you what your own thoughts should be is a large part of why I don’t buy into the idea of Geek Culture in the first place. Celebrities have a long history of turning into obnoxious vessels for furthering their politics along with their products, and a lot of “Geek Culture” egomaniac celebrities have begun to buy into their own hype and think their fleeting relevance makes them able to change the world on a whim.
Some of these celebrities think they are owed something, and in recent years we keep seeing these unpleasant, conceited celebrities come out of the wood-work to demand the entire internet change to better fit their current mood. This is naked authoritarianism when the internet is based on freedom of expression. What exactly does grand-standing on social media create? If you have a high-profile you are supposed to earn it.
There are many celebrities that loudly and visibly do work that benefit hunger charities, combat climate change, and help children. This is well and good, but these efforts are oft times turned into a vehicle to show off just how amazing they are, whist doing minimal actual work. Now that lazy, foppish faux-altruism has been taken up by e-celebrities combating e-problems with their e-protests in a desperate attempt to pump-up their flaccid, wrinkling e-careers.
Combating online harassment has become the new famine appeal, the new cause of the month, the new thing to make a lot of noise about whilst not knowing what the core issues actually are. This new breed isn’t even much of celebrities anymore — not outside their inner circle and rabid fandom.
I suppose we can put that down to youthful hubris, but despite being upwards of forty someone like Wil Wheton has yet to regain any TV or Film traction that isn’t either playing himself or a riff on his Star Trek work. He went from film and TV to web content, and recently had a show he hosted on SyFy cancelled after a single season. His career trajectory has been circling the drain in slow motion for twenty years. Felicia Day has done similar work, mostly online content and “personality” gigs, but hasn’t really gained a foothold in mainstream acting. Mostly because, frankly, she can’t act beyond looking confused and doe-eyed. If I asked 50 people when they walked by whom Felicia Day was most would struggle to give a correct answer.
That’s the problem with the online echo-chamber; people think they are more important and famous than they really are. That goes tenfold for B-list e-celebrities like Anita Sarkeesian or anyone still clinging onto the wreckage of Channel Awesome/TGWTG. Their sense of self-importance backfires, and when someone you’ve never heard of crowns themselves the Queen of the world and starts barking orders your first instinct is to laugh at how delusional they are. I don’t care what web-series you were on, the vast majority of the online world has no idea you exist. The only power these people have is within their own circle-jerk. They wall themselves off from any criticism and bathe in adulation from their relatively small number of fans. Those attempting to steer the “geek” ship into a particular ideological or political direction are coasting on their past achievements and using up what recognition they have left.
Again we see the idea of “Geek Culture” used as a crutch for personal gain, and these hangers on use it as a means of income sucking up every last penny they can from the convention circuit and squeezing every last drop of good will out of work they’ve been coasting off for years. This is also why some of them have tried to manipulate who can and can’t be at conventions and turn it into a closed shop. I have no doubt denying political rivals also make their own chance of booking gigs rise.
They wave their finger and scold their fans, in many cases literally saying if you believe something I don’t you can’t be a fan of “geek” things as if they control who can and can’t like something. There is no argument, and no facts. Just an attempt to use name recognition to shame people into submission and mobilize their fanbase for a selfish political cause. It’s about using numbers to shout people down.
I think many who trade on their insider status, or credibility as a geek, support polices of exclusion and political uniformity because it helps entrench their position. As we’re seeing with the #PerformanceMatters hashtag and SAG-AFRA strike, once people get somewhere they want to do their best to burn the ladder behind them. They are entitled to try all they like, but they are not entitled to pretend their self-serving posturing is benefiting anyone but themselves. For a good dose of perspective check out our interview with veteran voice actress Lani Minella; she takes quite a dismal view of those pushing themselves as rock-star videogame voice actors. If you stop producing good content, if you out stay your welcome, then people don’t dislike you because you are a woman or because you are “fighting for inclusively and social justice” or any of those thin covers.
People begin dislike you because they realize that you are merely scrambling to perpetuate your celebrity. People on the bottom rung of internet fame like the unhinged Arthur Chu, or the terminally irrelevant Brianna Wu, are pushing the idea of a crisis within geekdom simply because they have little else they are known for and few outlets to get attention from. You’re very good at phrasing things as a question. Big whoop. Some people actually make these games, movies, and comics; we need to be listening to those who actually create things of exceptional quality today and not talentless pretenders or those with faded glory.
There is nothing sadder than the likes of someone like Tim Schafer still soaking up adulation for games he made decades ago. He is the Adam Sandler of the video game world. People like him, but when you ask why they bring up the handful of old highlights and make mumbled excuses for current failures. He will forever be “Mr. Shitface” to me, holding a sock-puppet on stage and mocking those who made him what he is today. Conventions and various industry bodies are made up of dozens of figures like him; people clinging to their fame by their fingertips and kissing the right rings to do so.
The next time someone claims to speak for “geeks,” or claims to be famous for their contributions to “Geek Culture,” look at their real achievements and weigh them on those. Once again, we find ourselves presented with a class of people terrified of meritocracy, and of having their opinions challenged. At the end of the day, internet fame is like a fog; clearly visable but lacking substance — and something that oft times clouds the view of critical things. Once the game is up, and their credibility questioned, people stop going to them for their “expert” opinion. You deserve nothing in this world that you don’t earn, and your opinion is only as relevant as the facts that back it up, no matter who you are.
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