October 29, 2011

The Tail of the Bell

Wow it's been a while since I've managed to post anything.  First it was simple laziness, then it was too little sleep, then it was Time Warner Cable of NYC screwing me over by accidentally disconnecting my internet for 3 days (I still have some withdrawl symptoms *twitch*) and finally it's my own personal illness.  It's been a rough couple of weeks...*sigh*.

Well, I'm back and I've got stuff in my brain that I have graciously decided to share with all of you.  Hold your applause, please, until the end.  I know it's tempting to just go on praising my huge genious mind for finally decending from upon Mount Olympus, but restraint is the hall mark of the enlightened. 

Yes, I'm aware of the hypocrisy...and ironically, I just don't care.

Right then...on to the topic at hand:

What I learned from NY ComiCon

It's obviously not a secret that I love conventions.  I've gone to DragonCon every year for the past 7, I've been to ACen 3 times, I've been to ComiCon twice now, and my dear sister and I are planning to go to that Harry Potter one (LeakyCon, apparently - don't worry, I'll mock them for that name in another post) when we get the chance/money/time.  But while I spend a lot of time praising these events as a glorious celebration of the universal weirdness of humanity as well as a place where different people can all feel included, I've given little attention to a disturbing trend that is permeating these events as well as Geek Culture in general: Us vs. Them.

As my post on DragonCon should have made obvious, I believe firmly in inclusivity over exclusivity in all things.  I've never known of any subject matter that has genuinely benefitted from true exclusivity for more than the very immediate short-term.  While I may address this subject more broadly in another post, suffice it to say that it is my firm belief that the practice of exclusionary behavior is both unnecessary and redundant.  If you commit to your ideals and your beliefs properly, people will proactively exclude themselves of their own accord.  It is not YOUR job to exclude people.  They'll do that all by themselves when they decide your "thing" just isn't right for them.  My fellow Mantids will recognize this practice as "The Trevor's Dorm" model of inclusivity as there was no one I can recall actively excluding from our little circle of friends who didn't just decide for themselves that our brand of fun wasn't to their liking.

Well, before we go down that path any deeper, let's return to the subject of my scrutiny again: ComiCon.  Like all conventions marketed towards the Geek Chic crowd, ComiCon attracts certain personalities.  It'd take too long to psychoanalyze that type so I won't bother, but you can probably take a rough stab at it from the name ComiCon.  See, the trouble is, one of the quirks associated with said personalities is the whole "we've finally got a place where the 'normal' people can't judge us" thing.  Now, don't get me wrong, I hate judgmentality, and as I said above I don't like it when one group decides that some other group is their inferior and uses that as justification for bullying/hate/dismissal etc., but this whole "WE are safe from THEM" thing must go away.

Too many people at ComiCon this year were saying such things as "normal people don't get to have this kind of fun" or "don't act so normal; you're at ComiCon".  Yes those were actually things I heard people say verbatim, and they're burned into my brain forever.  You see, the worst thing that ever happened to Geek Culture was the sudden popularization of all things geek (Comic Book superhero movies, the popularity of shows like Big Bang Theory, etc.).  Nothing's wrong with any of these individual pieces, but the effect it has had on the psyche of the geeks of the world is both detrimental and potentialy dangerous. I know what it's like to be discriminated against for liking certain things (Magic the Gathering, D&D, comic books, etc.), and you can bet that I've had more than a few "beat up the normal guys for being jerks" fantasies swimming around my aforementioned magnificent brain; but they must stay as fantasies. 

More than many demographics, it is the responsibility of geeks to practice some genuine inclusivity so as to avoid becoming the thing they claim to hate.  Their complaint is that "normal" people have spat on them for too long and kept them from feeling accepted and loved by the world at large.  So, naturally, when a ComiCon (or indeed, a DragonCon) comes around, many of them lash out against "normal" people in an attempt to balance the scales.And you can easily see why.  With their new-found strength in being part of the group that's "running the show", the sense of power is undeniable.  But the word for those who use their power to belittle others suddenly less powerful is "tyrant". This is exactly the kind of exclusionary behaviour I railed against in my childhood and it's the exact thing I condemned mere paragraphs ago.  The more immature among geeks have decided to label themselves such and then, as a means of self-agrandising, label anyone not of a similar mindset "normal" in order to justify an Us vs. Them mentality that allows them to feel superior.  This is perfectly acceptable behavior as a 5 year old or in a state of genuine oppression (slavery comes to mind), but it's just childish in any other context.

I've mentioned plenty of times that I "hate normality" myself, but this is not what I was talking about.  What I hate is that too many people have a similarly narrow view of what constitutes normal.  The irony of the duality just mentioned is that it effectively confirms that the "oppressive normals" are correct in setting the definition.  They're WRONG.  "Normal", as any good statistician will tell you, is based on a bell curve that describes a population.  The vast majority of the population will fit nder the big central part of the curve, but this doesn't make those people normal and the ones on the two tails abnormal.  This actually means that normal includes a variety of people and their various perspectives.  The tail ends of the bell curve are all part of the normal curve; they just have a greater degree of variation from the ones found under the main arc. 

We're runing long (again) so let me wrap this up.  No one is "normal", and no one is "geek" either.  We all exist within the variations of people.  Those words only ever describe a population and have no merit when levelled gainst an individual. Why do groups of people cluster together then?  Because they have some characteristics in common.  Think hard about the people you're closest to; I bet that you aren't identical and I also bet that you have a lot of things in common.  It is this duality that makes us individuals with the capacity to be a group, however great care must be taken not to make the false assumption that your group has any kind of inherent superiority over any other or any individual.  How does this "Us vs. Them" mindset really serve a community (or an individual, for that matter) in the long run?  What do you profit from excluding people?  Ask yourself these questions next time you start to question the merits of including someone in the thing you love.  Who knows? You may even discover that letting them in on your "thing" will improve it. By denying entry, you're simply stopping your own evolution as people in its tracks.

As my Ur-example of this phenomenon, I will point to my fellow Mantids once again.  Those of you who call yourself Mantid, ask yourself this: "Would I have made some of the friendships I did had we not all agreed to accept one another?".  I know I am a better person for having let such a diverse group of attitudes, opinions, and perspectives influence me, and I also know that very few of us would have ever even spoken to one another had we not all agreed to make our tribe as inclusive as it was.  We can only benefit from the inclusion of others.  Besides, the "bad ones" that everyone is afraid of letting in will just exclude themselves....as long as you have the strength of character to understand yourself without judging others for making that same effort. 

I'm Trevor, and that's my Frame of Mind.


  1. I have long thought the Mantids should be more exclusive. Maybe vote this Trev character off the island.... ;)

    But really, nice post! Can't we all just play nicely together in the geekpop culture sandbox??

  2. Yes, but how do we stop the exclusionary behavior?

    The religious minorities of England, persecuted there, came here and set up their own tyrannies.

    Chimpanzees live relatively peaceably in their own groups. But they will pummel and kill a chimp from another group.

    So how do we stop this very primitive behavior? A question for another day, I suppose.

  3. As I sit here, I contemplate four questions that I'd like to, if not definitively answer, then to at least express opinions on, as I do believe a rather interesting dialogue may ensue. Questions that make me want to delve into phenomena of social groupings as it relates to the con (particularly a difference I noted between the comiccon and the anime fest); musings on Nicholas Christakis' Ted Talk entitled "The Hidden Influence of Social Networks" in relation to this phenomenon; and, the idea of reconnecting with someone after a long period of time and how, dependent on circumstances that bring them together vs those that separate them.

    However, I'm much to lazy and still a bit under the weather to discuss these things at this time, so I'll slowly work on a response in wordpad and when I feel my ramblings have formed a coherent response to this unique topic, I'll post it and will look forward to your response to it.

    enjoy your weekend, my friend, and while you and I will always be fellow mantids, I will always remember you as the Sliver King (although, admittedly, I find that for you, a transition-even aesthetically-from slivers to mantids is very befitting, even on a cosmetic scale).


  4. Clyde-

    The problem with using primate models for human behavior (besides the millenia of divergent evolution and *culture*) is that humans are also very close to bonobos, which exhibit a rather different range of social behaviors than chimps, that tend to be much less violent (and much more sexy!).