In “On Geek Culture,” Ian Williams collapses geek and sport cultures into each other by claiming both are tribal manifestations of brand loyalty:
In my beloved roleplaying game circles, doxing and threats of violence over the internet occur regularly over which edition of Dungeons and Dragons people prefer. Go to any video game forum and one can see pages of arguments about which console is the “right” one to enjoy. On and on it goes, across intellectual properties and hobbies, right down to nearly breaking out in actual physical violence.
This is remarkably similar to diehard sports fan culture. It’s not merely that a disagreement exists over which consumed product is superior; it’s that the fan of the other team is an Other. This, again, blurs the lines between what we think of as geek fandom and non-geek.
On its face, the idea that geek-love for a particular franchise is the psychological equivalent of devotion to a particular athletic team makes sense: both are characterized by an over-identification with the central figures in an ongoing drama, be it the trials of a fictional protagonist or the tribulations of a team seemingly committed to never cracking .500. And in both cases, these figures are representatives of corporate media, such that it doesn’t matter to the BBC who plays the Doctor, so long as the show itself is successful, anymore than it matters to the NFL who wins the Super Bowl, so long as the game itself is an obscene encomium to American capitalism.
For Williams, the corporate nature of the objects of fandom overrides the differences between how those objects are related to. “Neoliberalism,” he claims, “has made geeks of us all: jocks, nerds, and dweebs alike,” and so he suggests that we make “a concerted effort to free the media being consumed from the corporate realm.” As sentiments go, that’s a lovely one; but as statements about reality go, it indicates that Williams isn’t remotely familiar with geek culture. That should’ve been apparent when he linked to a fight at a Star Wars club and claimed “[t]his is remarkably similar to diehard sports fan culture.”
His entire argument relies on that analogy, but his diction betrays that he lacks confidence in it. Depending on how remarkable you prefer your similarities, a honey badger is “remarkably similar” to the least chipmunk. They share a kingdom, phylum, and class, which any 19th Century naturalist will tell you means that they’re more similar than not. Ask the same 19th Century naturalist which one he’d rather be locked in a small box with, however, and you’d quickly learn that the differences between them are more significant than their similarities are remarkable. (Only one, for example, is a vainglorious carnivore.) Point being, the rare instance of verbal arguments leading to physical altercations in geek culture shouldn’t be the basis of an analogy to a sport culture in which such an escalation is common.
So, Williams’s argument on the corporate nature of geek culture relies on an analogy that only works from a logical remove so distant as to be useless. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a corporate component to geek culture, as there certainly is, but that component operates in a vastly different way than its correlate in sport culture. If you’re a Mets fan, you watch them play on SNY or at Citifield and you purchase uniforms and gear from officially licensed MLB manufacturers. With a few notable exceptions—homemade posters or creepy homespun Mr. Met costumes—your participation in the team culture is mediated through corporate entities. You don’t often witness the melting visage of a paper-mache Mr. Met roaming the stands of Citifield, but you can’t attend a comic conference without seeing twenty Wolverines sporting alarmingly sharp-looking claws. That’s because the participatory nature of geek culture is expansive—the object originates in a corporate entity but isn’t limited to it—whereas the more you participate in sport culture, the more money you deposit in the pockets of the corporations that own it.
This is a basic fact of geek culture: while a person can participate it by buying a Batman costume officially licensed by DC Comics, he or she can also—and for the most part does—participate in it by purchasing ceramic plates and blackout drapes and transforming them into something resembling a Batsuit. I understand the desire to vilify corporations for their pernicious effect on contemporary culture, but I don’t think such condemnations require us to minimize the differences between subcultures in what, to my eyes, seems like an attempt to create a monolithic subculture. I’m not sure what good a united front of geeks and sport fans would have on American society at large, especially if the bond between them is a weak analogy based on violent tribalist tendencies.