Tuesday 6 July 2010

Geek Chic.

One of the most unexpected consequences of the internet - to me, at any rate - has been the normalisation of geek culture. When I was a teenage comics fan, in the seventies, the only way to communicate with other socially awkward pop culture obsessives was through conventions or poorly-mimeographed fanzines. Nowadays, we're all over the pace; dominating that part of the net that isn't pornography, bickering in chatrooms and generally running the show, to the extent that Roz Kaveney can write 'it seems to me impossible fully to understand much current popular culture without acquaintance with fan sub-cultures'. (Teen Dreams, p.8).

Running parallel with this has been the rise of what I'd call the 'uber-geek' - a media-savvy figure, maybe a little smoother and better-dressed than his peers, who nonetheless wasn't ashamed to wear his anorak on his sleeve. In the nineties and noughties, uber-geeks were everywhere; in the cinema (Quentin Tarantino - note to younger readers; Tarantino was once highly regarded - the Coen Brothers), in music (Jarvis Cocker - who never seemed entirely at ease with the laddishness of Britpop - Neil Tennant), in the press (Kim Newman, Mark Kermode, Caitlin Moran - hey, fellows, a girl!), in bookshops (Nick Hornby) and on television (Jonathan Ross, Matt Groening, Joss Whedon, the League of Gentlemen, Russell T. Davies).

It's not a coincidence that the above list includes a disproportionate number of gay men; pre-internet geek culture was a lot like a less sexualised version of the pre-Woolfenden gay scene - homosocial, secretive, unnoticed by most outsiders, self-ironising, bitchy and given to communication through a set of iconic signifiers. Hornby catches it nicely in High Fidelity, where being a fan of Richard Thompson is as defining as being a Friend of Dorothy.

Quite how much the world has changed was brought home to me last Sunday, when Matt Smith appeared onstage with Orbital at Glastonbury, the same day that England crashed out of the World Cup.

What was striking about England's apparently woeful performance (I didn't see any of the games) was the way in which it was reported in terms of a class war - the working-class heroes of 1966 (and, to a lesser extent, 1990) have become viewed the same way we do bankers - pampered riders of the Premiere League gravy-train. The nation's love affair with football may not be over, but we're certainly having a trial separation.

By contrast, Dr. Who appears at Glasto, and the crowd goes wild. As one Twitterer observed, can you imagine Patrick Troughton guesting with Hendrix? Jon Pertwee with Pink Floyd? Tom Baker with the Clash? Okay, maybe the last one, but you take my point.

This is why it wouldn't be entirely facetious to say that 27 June 2010 may be remembered as a cultural watershed, like the first night of Look Back in Anger or the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. For the first time ever, Dr. Who is cooler than football. To put it in John Hughes-speak, the war between geeks and jocks is over. And we won.

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