Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Winner is You

One of the writings that influences these meditations of mine comes from a man named Danny Horn. Danny Horn is a fan of The Muppets, publishing a fan made magazine, "MippetZine" throughout the 90s and then founding the website Amidst writing hundreds of articles on new Muppet films, TV appearances, and merchandise he took a week out to explore the reasons why he himself is a fan. The article is no longer a part of the main site but can still be read here:

It's an interesting read, and I encourage everyone to look at it, but it is this main hunk of the article that is my thesis for describing the geek condition.

And, now that I think about it, there's fans everywhere. On my way to work, the subway car is full of 'em. There's a guy wearing a Phillies hat and reading the sports pages. Obviously, he's a baseball fan. There's a young woman with a Free Mumia T-shirt, and she's reading Noam Chomsky. Looks to me like an anarchy fan. The woman sitting next to me has a tote bag with a verse from the Gospels on it, and she's underlining passages in a Bible. Apparently, she's a God fan.

I know Star Trek fans, and figure skating fans, and pot smoking fans. I have friends who are leather fans, who show off their new accessories and complain about how their favorite bar went out of business. I know politics fans, who talk about voter turnout and City Council meetings the same way I talk about why Muppets Tonight got cancelled.

This speaks very favorably to my beliefs of how geeks are, since it basically states that geeks are no different from other people other than the fact they like something that may be of lesser social value. Every time I have to legitimize my collections of stuffed toys, and figurines; my posters and Slurpee cups, I make this quote. I even made this quote to a mother of a 16 year old I met at an anime store, who learned I was 26 at the time and still "not grown out of this hobby." However, when I do, I often leave out this modifier, also from Danny Horn in the same article.

So the only difference, really, is that sports fans and God fans and politics fans are all fans of proper, grown up things, and I'm still a fan of the same thing I was a fan of when I was three.

It's difficult to argue with society when it comes to norms. Even the most brilliant anthropological minds can't come up with an answer as to why it is appropriate for one society to start a football league and vote republican, and it's appropriate for another to take hallucinogenics and drink a soup from the ashes of their dead loved ones. Somehow, it all trails back to the past and explanations are made like our nation's obsession for football is a politically correct versions of gladiatorial combat in coliseum's. Nevertheless, the fact remains that despite all people possess the ability to obsess over things, they're not all geeks, because what they find interesting falls inside the social norm, and we don't.

So why do we do it anyway?

Through most of our lives a geek is told that life would be easier if they were merely like normal people. we all remember the moment we got the conformity speech; mine came from my older brother when I was 16 and we were on a long drive. I think mine was unique in that he actually used the word 'conform' as in "It would be easier for me to conform and then I could finally stop worrying about what my other classmates thought of me." These speeches are given to us by our family, who see us suffer the undeniable pain of being an outsider and believe they are saying something helpful.

Often times though, this has the opposite effect. Upon it being elucidated to them that geeks are not normal and should try to be more normal, geeks often rebel and say that "if doing the things I love make me different, I'd rather keep them and stay different." This is probably one of the biggest deciding factors when it comes to young fanboys preserving their love for infantile things going well past their adult years: the threat of having their most beloved childhood toy ripped from them by a world that doesn't care.

But that threat is a form of negative reinforcement. Any psychologist will tell you, negative reinforcement only goes so far in motivating people. For a more domestic example, we can quote Peter Gibbons from Office Space:

my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

Negative re-enforcement only makes us move forward in a miserable fashion. So, what about our motivation to be geeks is positive? Well, that depends. I've hung around in many different geek gaggles (geegles?) through the years and I've found that whatever media they enjoy the most motivates them in a very particular way. Now keep in mind that as I elaborate on these principals I will be generalizing a lot, but I feel that at the very least I will be hitting home with several prevalent truths. Think of it as having the same value as a horoscope if that helps.

Like all groups of people, geeks all gather under a singular moral belief, and arguably that belief is justice and fairness. How could it not be? If you're a comic book fan, you expect justice of the universe, if you're a gamer you expect justice of the way things are intended to operate, and if you're a sci-fi fan you anticipate justice being the motivating factor of the proliferate or displaced governing body whose spaceship you're following. (Face it: no matter how good the story is, if there was ever an installment of Star Trek where the federation became corrupt, the fans would be in an uproar.)

That is the medium of belief, however, the mode is what varies from genre to genre as well as from geek to geek. For example, a person who believes in Superman's definition of justice is most assuredly going to be different for a person who believes in Spawn's version of justice, with fans of Batman lying somewhere in between. Now, some people might argue that they're fans of anti-heroes or villains, who are more Machiavellian in their pursuit of justice. Still, it is the pursuit of justice that motivates these characters, if not at first, than ultimately as the character progresses. It can't be avoided: even if you were to create an entirely selfish, chaotic evil, wicked player character in a tabletop RPG he or she will eventually have to follow the path to the just outcome of the scenario, that is, if you intend to keep playing with your friends.

Aside from justice, geeks are also motivated by winning. This is more easily seen among gamers, who take pride in everything from the adaptation of a million different game engines to the total mastery of a single fighting game. On the literary and media end, in order to please the fans of comic books and sci-fi novels, the main characters have to come to a decisive victory over their opposition in order to be pleased with the investment it took to read up to that end point. There are usually small sacrifices: Frodo loses his finger but destroys the one ring, and Luke Skywalker loses his bid at vengeance so that he and Darth Vader can overthrow the Emperor, but the story has to end in that fair and just way, or else there was no point in making the journey.

In life, the desire for justice and victory manifests as a silent but ever present outlook on life, one that gives geeks a very strong sense of determination. We're all the protagonists of our own lives, and though things don't always work out the way we want them to we have the patience to endure the hard times, since someday things will work out justly and fairly for us. Whether or not that actually happens to pass in reality is up to the individual.

Which brings us to what is the biggest motivating factor among geeks: faith. As I've previously mentioned, it is foolish to claim that these various films are like religions, since there already are established religions and it would be against all social acceptability to claim they are. However, the main reason a geek will continue in their pursuit of their favorite media is that at one point that media gave them a truth that they believe in and carry with them well into their adult years. Whether they intended to or not, a lot of these films, TV shows, comics, and video games teach a lesson: boldly go where no man has gone before, seek truth, justice and the American way, and never give up; never surrender. As soon as one of these beliefs resonate with a person, they are inclined to follow in that belief, and no plead from a loved one over conformity may change that.

Live long, Fanboys.

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