The battle over geek culture

Saturday 17 October, 17.30 until 18.45, Frobisher 1-3, Barbican Growing Pains

Due to the growing appeal of gaming and comics through the enormous success of once-niche genres such as fantasy and sci-fi, geek culture is now fully mainstream. Yet its success seems to have been accompanied with vicious infighting amongst fans that surprises even culture wars veterans. ‘Gamergate’ seemed to move quickly from a dispute between game developers and journalists to a heated political row over gamers’ attitudes towards women and minorities; a similar dispute gave the Hugo Awards 2015 for science fiction a previously warranted level of cultural notoriety. Many found echoes of these debates in the fracas surrounding space scientist Dr Matt Taylor, where many online commentators felt the choice of a bawdy, sexist shirt overshadowed his achievement in landing the Philae lander on a comet (and moved Taylor himself to a tearful apology).

A number of new developments underpin these battles. The rise of social media has led to a tendency to ‘call people out’, harnessing the power of public shaming to challenge perceived more problematic elements of our culture. The arguments have taken on a fresh intensity with a new wave of cultural critics, such as Anita Sarkeesian. Drawing on feminist critiques of ‘rape culture’, new concerns are being articulated about the harmful effects of violently sexist media and its failure to adequately represent women and minorities in these virtual worlds. In turn, these so-called ‘Social Justice Warriors’ have provoked their own dizzying reactive sub-cultures from Sad Puppies to ‘Gamergaters’ who pride themselves on rejecting perceived politically correct orthodoxies.

How are the frontlines of the culture wars changing? Why have debates over representation and media effects theory – once considered relatively minor academic fields – now become so intensely fraught and high profile? Are these traditional battles between youth culture tribes recast for the digital era, or is there something new in the highly politicised attitude towards lifestyle? What motivates the various factions in the new battles over culture, and where did they come from? And can genuine freedom of expression survive in such a politicised environment?

Listen to the debate

Allum Bokhari
columnist, Breitbart

Serena Kutchinsky
digital editor, Prospect

Dr Maren Thom
researcher in film, Queen Mary University of London; education advisor

Jason Walsh
journalist; foreign correspondent, CS Monitor

Milo Yiannopoulos
technology editor, Breitbart

David Bowden
associate fellow, Institute of Ideas; culture writer

Produced by
Allum Bokhari columnist, Breitbart
David Bowden associate fellow, Institute of Ideas; culture writer
Recommended readings
Geek culture has gone too far

Comic books, superhero movies, video games and other forms of popular culture have gotten self-referential to the point of tedium. Prime examples: the movie “Pixels” and the book “Armada.”

Todd Martens, The Seattle Times, 4 August 2015

Geek Culture Needs to Stop Patronizing Black People

There is more to Black people than just hip-hop. There are Black comic book nerds and fantasy nerds who argue, rage and have fun with fictional characters.

Tonya Pennington, Atlantic Blackstar, 17 July 2015

In defence of geek culture

Simon Pegg suggested that fandom was infantilising society – but people have always enjoyed discussing popular culture, and it’s healthy to do so.

Anne T Donahue, Guardian, 25 May 2015

The People vs. Nerd Culture

You don't need to do a lot of research to see how much the concept of 'nerd' has transformed in recent history

Bob Mackey, Gamer, 20 May 2015

Why Diversity Will Win the Geek Culture Wars

It’s quite one thing to say that its okay for a game with a Porky’s attitude towards sexuality combined with a Vallejo sensibility towards what women should look like. It’s quite another to visual realize that it seems to many women that that’s the only thing that’s available on the shelves.

Damion Schubert, Zen Of Design, 15 March 2015

Wake up, Geek Culture. Time To Die.

In order to save pop culture future, we’ve got to make the present pop culture suck, at least for a little while.

Patton Oswalt, Wired, 27 December 2010

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