ByCatrina Dennis, writer at
Host, Reporter, Podcast Queen | @ohcatrina on twitter/fb/insta |
Catrina Dennis

If there's anything that we should all be celebrating when it comes to the rise of geek culture, it's the passion that comes with identifying as being a part of it. Geeks (or nerds, for those of us who use the term interchangeably) are a passionate type of fan. When we meet like-minded people at conventions, on forums, or even through articles we've written here on Moviepilot, we form friendships and relationships with people who are just as involved as we are in these fandoms.

To me, TableTop host Wil Wheaton summed it up perfectly while explaining fandom to a fan's newborn:

... So there’s going to be a thing in your life that you love. I don’t know what it’s going to be. It might be sports or science or reading or telling stories—it doesn’t matter what it is. The way you love that thing and how you find other people who love it the way you do is what makes being a nerd awesome. Some of us love Game of Thrones , while others love Star Trek or Star Wars. But we all love those things so much that we travel thousands of miles ... to be around people who love the things that we love the way that we love them. That’s why being a nerd is awesome.
Don't shut up, Wesley.
Don't shut up, Wesley.

One of the most incredible things about fandom is how far it reaches: beyond the fan art, the speculation, or even the shipping, strong bonds and relationships will inevitably form because of the things we mutually love. Fandom eventually grows into personal relationships, or support for individual influencers. From your cosplay partner to big time movie-makers like J.J. Abrams, we are all a part of this culture, and with that territory comes being exposed to things that matter to members of geek culture in real life.

Things that are important to our favorite creators, to the actors that we adore, or even to our fellow geek have begun to rise to prominence within nerd culture. Regardless of anyone's choice of side on each individual matter, it is truly fascinating to see what used to be a simple escape become something that has actually begun to affect the world around us. Geekdom has started to become a vehicle for social change, and a very powerful one, at that. But why is it happening, especially now?

Passionate geeks are often passionate activists

When someone who dedicates their time to learning everything about a subject that they love (and telling every single one of their friends about it), marketers see them as possible brand advocates. The very same can be seen for geeks that get involved in charity and social-based causes.

We've seen fandom play out during times of international crisis before: protesters of the military coup in Thailand last year began using Katniss' signature hand gesture from [The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1](movie:446261), in order to peacefully protest the ongoing brutality of police - they were threatened with arrest if they continued to use it.

More personal issues, such as the We Are Comics movement started by comic book creators last year, tackle inclusiveness within fandom. Advocacy for diversity in comics and their creators is a hot button issue in the community at the moment - the growing support for change on both sides is prominent in the recent costume changes, reboots, and new characters being included in mainstream titles.

While many were speculating on who might play Spider-Man, now that the character has joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some fans on Twitter set out to trend the name of Miles Morales: the half-black, half-Latino teenage superhero that was granted the webslinger's mantle in the Ultimate universe. The trend lasted through the course of the night and into morning, until about 10 AM PT - in other words, fans not only wanted, but fought for a superhero of color, in however small a way.

When someone who constantly pours their heart into a subject or medium finds an issue that's important to them, speaking out and advocating for causes they care about can come naturally.

Entire campaigns have formed around superheroes, for example, such as a recent bus campaign condemning anti-Muslim hatred by using the image of Ms. Marvel to suggest positivity and love instead.

GoFundMe campaigns to help fellow fans pay their medical bills, feed their children, or even cover the often expensive and anxiety-ridden process of a transgender fan's transition are constantly shared on social platforms by fellow geeks. What's more, they're often successful.

Geeks care, and they're absolutely unafraid to show the world just how much.

Influencers in geek culture can and will spark awareness

Emma Watson introducing HeforShe
Emma Watson introducing HeforShe

Thanks to the efforts of[Arrow](series:720988) star Stephen Amell's fans, F&CK CANCER has been doing exceptionally well and conquering donation goals week by week. Emma Watson, known to the world as genius witch Hermione Granger, spearheaded the HeforShe campaign, encouraging men to stand up for gender equality. Geek & Sundry's Felicia Day speaks out regularly against the skewed social aspects within the geek community, including sexism, homophobia, and harassment. [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035) director Joss Whedon is a vocal advocate himself, speaking out primarily in the interests of gender equality and against racism - often directly criticizing Hollywood for being guilty of exclusivity in these areas.

Celebrities and influencers speaking out for a cause will often inspire like-minded fans to take up the reins as well, causing a ripple effect in our culture that often brings these issues to the forefront of mainstream media. It's increasingly difficult to avoid the endless Twitter campaigns, public speeches and even daily conversations surrounding these subjects on social media, especially when someone with a dedicated fan base decides to speak out.

When thousands of voices speak up either for or against you, people will take notice. When they take notice, there's a chance they'll research the issue, and spurred by a fiery passion that comes natural to them, fans will fly virtual banners for causes they become invested in. A quick look at the advocacy for the continuation of [Community](series:714858) will demonstrate it plainly. The almost year-long harassment campaign that is GamerGate has gotten so much media notice that an episode of [Law & Order: SVU](series:755869) aired this week in reference to it. When geeks care about something, they care with every fiber of their being, and they make sure everyone around them knows it.

Fans aren't afraid to call out their icons anymore

and it's okay to feel this way!
and it's okay to feel this way!

Now that social media puts fans one hundred and forty characters away from getting a message through to their favorite creators, opinions and ideas are easier to transmit. Beyond complaining about costume changes and changed gameplay, this gives fans the ability to give honest, real-time feedback, and it can often be advantageous for pop culture influencers to listen (but probably not fun to sift through for their social media managers, I'd imagine).

Just as fans will support causes that the influencers they idolize support, fans will also call celebrities out on problematic issues that they raise. Whether it stems from a racist comment or a bad storyline, fans are seemingly no longer afraid to directly criticize their idols, and often bring these issues to trending status - where the mainstream media then picks up the issue and publicizes it.

Blogger Kelly Lambert wrote a wonderful piece on this very issue, saying:

The key point of being a critical fan is so that you can love something but at the same time know that it’s totally okay, and even necessary in some cases, to be able to view any problems associated with it.

Lambert reviews and talks about video games on her blog. She shared her thoughts on why she does what she does:

When I criticize an aspect of a game, I’m not doing it with the implication that no one should play said game or that it’s poorly made as a whole. I do it so that I can point out these flaws, whether it be something as serious as sexism or as trivial as a boss that was cheap, with the hopes of making the future of gaming better.

If you've got a second, make sure to check out albinwonderland's video on this very subject, that goes into the topic very well, including offering a refresher on cognitive dissonance in fandom:

Looking to the Future

So, what does this all mean for mainstream culture? It's hard to deny that the essence of "geek" and "nerd" are now embedded in everyday pop culture. Patton Oswalt's "Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die" from 2010 was enough of an indicator that, yes, now everyone can be a geek about something, and it's hard to turn a blind eye to the mountains of marketing tactics that are banking on this. But it's 2015, the train doesn't seem to be slowing, and the positive aspects beyond our merch-driven reality are showing.

Yes, Comic-Con has essentially turned into a parade of collectible ads, but the communal aspect hasn't gone anywhere - and despite the massive crowds, the very passion that fans demonstrate by simply making the journey (many from clear across the planet) is more loudly displayed than any billboard. Interest groups now have special meet-ups, just as cosplayers and other fandoms do. I have been lucky enough to attend several meet-ups and present on panels focused on women in geek culture, advocating for people of color in comics, and celebrating the various degrees of diversity in fandom.

Fans' voices are being heard in comics, where diverse superheroes are finally (slowly) being promoted to roles such as Captain America and Thor; where a comic book about Princess Leia has already sold over 250k individual pre-order copies; LGBT characters are increasingly becoming more welcome thanks to fans connecting with creators and voicing their concerns. Comics are still primarily dominated by male leads and male creators, but as readership changes, so will our comics and the people creating them.

Television reflects this as well, with several of the highest-rated shows on television being led by black women, something that we haven't really seen since the mid-nineties. While other mediums may be lagging behind, it's interesting to see how the tides have turned now that fans have more of a platform to truly interact with the creators that they love.

With that kind of impact, vocal fandoms are poised to make a huge difference when a cause or world issue matters to them. The 501st Legion, a collective of Star Wars fans, constantly take on charity work, with a primary focus on children and families. The Carol Corps, a group of fans that admires [Captain Marvel](movie:949779), are regularly organize events for women's interests and social justice. Girls Who Code is made up of leading lady geeks and meant to encourage young girls to get in to programming for computers and video games.

The passion that fuels everyday fandom is increasingly being used for good, and the proof is all around us. It's there in our hands when we write long stories about how a film changed our lives; it's there when we pitch in to help a child amputee get a 3D printed arm based on their favorite character; it's there when we buy video games that are led by unconventional protagonists.

We are a new generation of fans, who are as obsessed with bettering the world around us as we are with our favorite video game character, and much like the heroes we idolize, through our passion and persistence, we are here to make the world a better place.


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