Felicia Day recently launched the Geek and Sundry YouTube channel, an effort to create a channel with regular programming dedicated to geeky interests. It is an interesting idea, and the lineup of shows that has been put out thus far has been pretty good. As part of the launch of the channel, seasons one through four of The Guild were posted to the channel as single videos (with annotations and outtakes), and season five was put up over the course of several weeks, one installment at a time. And alongside these relaunches of the earlier seasons of The Guild (and probably presaging the start of the sixth season), they put out a new music video titled I'm the One That's Cool which reveals, among other things, that Vince Caso is left-handed. The video is fun, showing all of the members of The Guild as performers in a indie pop band intercut with scenes of them from high school being picked on for being dorky nerds. Through the song the lyrics talk about how the people who picked on them have been left behind, while now the people who were outcasts have taken center stage as the new embodiments of cool.
I have mixed feelings about this song and this video. It is a catchy tune, and the message of nerd empowerment is certainly appealing, but I always find these declarations that "geek is now chic" or "nerd is the new cool" or whatever similar statement is made to be empty and foolish. The dominance of the adult world by ideas and devices produced by "geeks" is not new - the only real change is that geeks are producing computers now, and not engineering the various devices that made modern life better for most of the twentieth century. The world pretty much seems to have worked this way for quite a while: the smart introspective kids are picked on by the popular and pretty kids when they are young, and as everyone gets older intellectual achievement becomes more critical and the former geeks more or less make the world. But at the same time, the popular kids often end up running banks and investment firms or otherwise going into professions where they prosper. And so not only does the sort of "now I'm cool and you're not" line embodied by this song seem petty, but it also rings hollow.
We're geeks. The fact that internet culture lets us find each other and discover that we are not alone doesn't mean that we are cool to the rest of the world. Despite her talent and intelligence, Felicia is a relatively obscure figure outside of the niche culture of video games and internet fandom. At its most popular, the new Battlestar Galactica television show only attracted about a half a million viewers per episode. That may sound like a lot, but it is less than ten percent of the viewership that got the network television show Flash Forward cancelled after just one season. If you watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica in the United States and went out the next day and randomly asked people if they had seen it, you would need to talk to literally hundreds of people before you would be certain of finding a fellow fan. Despite all efforts to try to assert the coolness of being nerdy and geeky, the "popular" culture is still dominated by American Idol, Hell's Kitchen, Gray's Anatomy, and Biggest Loser. Think about that for a bit: A television show about morbidly obese people trying to lose weight is leaps and bounds more popular than all of the science fiction shows that are on the air, combined. Give a hundred people pictures of Snooki and Pat Tallman, and it is likely that most will immediately be able to identify the Jersey Shore alum, while sadly I would predict that only a handful will even recognize my favorite Babylon 5 telepath as a celebrity. Put simply: Science fiction fans, gamers, fantasy fans, math lovers, and all the rest of us simply aren't cool except inside of our tiny corner of the internet. I wish the world was different, but I don't think it ever will be.
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