“Look at it: A world built on fantasy. Synthetic emotions in the form of pills. Psychological warfare in the form of advertising. Mind altering chemicals in the form of food. Brain washing seminars in the form of media. Controlled, isolated bubbles in the form of social networks. Real? You want to talk about reality? We haven’t lived in anything remotely close to it since the turn of the century.”
—Mr. Robot, “Mr Robot”
In March of 2013, I resigned from my job as editor/producer/writer of a “geek culture” website for one of the biggest entertainment conglomerates in the world.
My job—which I had for almost 3 years and was quite successful at based on sheer web hits alone—was being replaced by a person I had initially brought on as a writer to the site, and whose work for the company I had nurtured. I guess continuing on that “nurturing” line, my boss said I could still stay on…in a “den mother” role.
I realized at that moment, listening to all this as the person who was taking my job sat next to me on the little couch with nervous spots of sweat quietly dripping down his face, that my boss had no idea who the fuck I really was or was all about. It wasn’t even so much him being an asshole…it was like literally beyond his grasp to see me as anything other than this woman who sorted invoices and patiently listened to his thoughts and ideas. All the work I had done on the site…the writing, the talent recruitment, the networking, the brainstorming…it didn’t matter.
I didn’t fit the “type.”
But to be fair to him—and to my replacement, who so much better encapsulated that type of desired uber-fan—my heart in terms of being a full-fledged proponent of “geek culture” had started to wane some time during the summer of 2012…some time after those vague uncomfortable feelings during that Comic-Con…some time after the Aurora shooting…my heart waning ever more as each domino in The Year Of The Mask, the year where politics and comic book culture converged, went on.
One of my stated jobs at the site was to present pop-culture sans politics, sans opinion, sans anything that might be controversial whatsoever. Everything that we covered had to be presented as uncritically as possible—a constant celebration of geek culture.
And yet…geek culture was becoming increasingly political, even seeming to impact actual politics itself. In the process, a lot of what made comics and superhero movies fun was being destroyed…which would seem to back up my boss’ claim that all the politics/ideology/criticism should be removed from the coverage.
But there was something BIGGER forming from all this swirling soup of pop-culture fans, online controversy, and a shifting political tone. It was all like…a runaway train I could see coming down the tracks from hundreds of miles away. And it was all leading to this sort of…singularity.
And this wasn’t all just going to impact the fan community, or Hollywood, or whatnot. This was going to impact the entire world. It was going to change the entire world!
I couldn’t articulate all this at the time, however. I just listened to what my boss had to say on that Spring evening, went to my office, cleared out my shit, and sent a set of resignation letters to all pertinent parties the next morning.
Fuck geek culture. It was bullshit, it was literally eating itself. Fuck it—I was out.
And so I embarked on a three-year period of self-discovery; not so much Eat Pray Love as Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. I wrote a massive amount of stuff at that time. I read a massive amount of material, more than I thought I was ever capable of.
I changed…in such a rapid, profound way that to this very day I question it. What the fuck happened to me? Even things like my musical taste radically altered.
And that whole…fan community, geek culture, the peer group I knew. I had a harder and harder time relating to all that, to them.
I had crossed some sort of boundary. And I had first crossed it back in 2012, I think, at that convention…that’s when it started. Because everybody there seemed so happy; and I felt so uneasy.
Why wasn’t I happy too? What was bothering me? Why was I taking all these notes on the current culture, on the media? Why was I writing all this? Why did I care?
Geek will eat itself; the pop-culture icons of our culture becoming the faces of contemporary world politics as well as religious shibboleths to worship. The “geeks” of one generation becoming the shapers of political discourse in the present. The media, pundits, and demagogues all too happy to co-opt these icons—as well as the disaffected groups of fans themselves.
And this was not even beginning to broach the esoteric dimensions, the synchromystic dimensions…we don’t even need to go near that whole ball of wax at this time. We can deal merely what is in front of us, what is plastered all over our social media; the constant stream, the constant updates, the constant opinions; drive-by opinions, snap-judgements, blanket disqualifiers, and on and on and on…
I didn’t feel the same thing most of my (former?) peers felt after Stan Lee died. I mean: I felt sad that he died. I felt really bad that he spent at least the last couple years of his life being elder-abused and manipulated. And I did think he contributed some important things to Comics. I wrote my grade-school “The Person I Admire Most” on Stan Lee!
But this grand larger collective emotion about The Spirit Of Comics, that he was the “grandfather” of all comics, and all that? I just didn’t feel that.
There are many “grandfathers” of comics. (And not, unsurprisingly, many “grandmothers”…you know, outside the Den Mother who squares away the invoices.) And many of those grandfathers of comics died broke and penniless. And many of these grandfathers of comics had their work co-opted by other people and only got recognition after their death.
And Stan Lee was elder abused the last months and years of his life. He was shuttled around from convention to convention–into his nineties, in bad health–and how did anybody think this was OK? Everyone was like: “oh, he’s so dedicated to the fans”—but look how sick he was! He was being exploited!
(It’s like Carrie Fisher with the new “Star Wars” movies…she said the producers stipulated she had to lose a lot of weight for the role. At her age, a former drug addict, having to suddenly lose that massive amount of weight for multiple movies. Did that have any impact on how young she died, the strain on her heart? No, let’s not question it…it may ruin our Geek-On.)
My former boss—the one that demoted me to “den-mother”?—he used to always direct me to “run anything about Stan.” No matter what it was. And so there was this grand procession of people claiming to represent Stan for every sort of weird thing under the sun, pitching stories to the site…and my boss would be like: “run it! run whatever it is! It’s about STAN!”
And the red flags were out there for me that it seemed like Stan was being used and manipulated and exploited by all these people.
But it’s like very few people seemed to give a shit about Stan the person…it was just Stan the Icon. And so it is still.
This one guy on my Twitter feed posted a recent photo-op he had with Stan Lee at a convention. It might have even been one of those “paid” ops. And he’s bragging about the time he saw Stan. And meanwhile, in the photo, Stan looks sick, tired, worn-out…daresay uncomfortable, daresay possibly even disoriented.
Am I the asshole for pointing this out?
Geek will eat itself. Am I the heretic? Perhaps.
That site I quit didn’t last more than six months without me, by the way.
But it was never about “lasting,” or succeeding, or anything like that. It was about the Iconography, the religious aspects. They needed a true priest of geekdom to run that site. A True Believer, if you will.
I get that.
And my former boss…well, he pens heartfelt tributes to Stan Lee on social media and gets tons of applause.
And the guy who replaced me? He pens heartfelt words of support for causes like feminism and the like on social media and gets tons of applause.
It’s not my world anymore, is it? Maybe I need to finally get that through my dumb skull.