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megpie71: Avon looking unimpressed, caption "Bite Me" (bite me)
Friday, May 11th, 2012 10:46 pm
I'm busy re-reading some back issues of Tiger Beatdown at the moment (great blog, love it to bits), and I'm currently going through the stuff from about late August last year - back not long after Sady posted her critique of either "Song of Ice and Fire" or "Game of Thrones" (whichever one is by George R R Martin, anyway) and started getting inundated by the nerdrage. And one of the things I'm realising is that while I may be am a geek (I geek statistics, for fuck's sake; there's not much more out there which is geekier), I don't really identify myself as a member of a particular geek community.

There's a reason for this. The majority of the most vocal geeky "communities" out there tend to be represented in public by people who are possibly their least likeable members. The ones who are blatantly and openly sexist, for example. The ones who are ardent Mansplainers. The ones who take out their rage at the Mean Girls and Jock Guys from high school on the internet at large. The ones who perpetrate the worst acts, and then try to excuse it on grounds of being geeky, being fans, being nerds, having been bullied at high school, or basically anything other than "I'm finally on ground where I feel unassailable, so I'm going to make everyone else's life hell".

Basically, a lot of the problems I have with identifying as a geek, or identifying as a member of any particular geeky or nerdy community (including fandom, in a lot of ways) is that I get a strong feeling that I'm immediately supposed to become entirely passionate about the subject in question. For example, I consider myself a fan of Dr Who - I've been in love with Doctors One through Seven for years now (since I first started seeing episodes of Dr Who at around age five or six - so about 1976 - 1977), and even found a few good things to say about the telemovie which introduced the Eighth Doctor. But recent Dr Who fandom, I find, is entirely too damn polarised. One has to be 110% passionate about the subject, one has to be completely and utterly engaged with it, one cannot criticise things AT ALL (when at least part of what I loved about the Old School fandom was their willingness to engage with the wobbly sets, point out the plot holes, make fun of the scenery chewing, and the regular double-entendre of "we must act now!"). Instead, in order to prove one's membership of fandom, one has to be completely passionately devoted and delirious about the subject to the point where I'm certain the actors and writers must find at least some of this just a little scary. That's not the fandom I want to be identified with.

I'm a fan. But that doesn't mean I'm blind to the faults of what I'm seeing. For example, I have a lot of problems with a lot of what Stephen Moffat (the current show runner for DW) writes, and have done since I was first watching "Coupling" on DVD. Yes, he's capable of writing good dialogue; yes, he has a nice touch for comedy; yes, he can handle drama very nicely too. But he also has a rather nasty streak of often unremarked-upon sexism in his writing.

I have problems with the current formula timewise, because it tends to lend itself more to the one-shot sequences - one of the things I liked about the old format was the way that a plotline was strung out over multiple weeks. I dislike the high-tech effects, too, because quite frankly one of the things I loved about BBC science fiction back in the late 1970s and early 1980s was the way that the BBC's effects team worked to suggest so much with so little. Watch "The Ark In Space" - there's a moment in there where an actor manages to pull off a very convincing performance as someone who is undergoing an horrific transformation into a totally alien creature, and all he uses to do it is a green-tinted bubblewrap glove. These days it's all CGI or high budget effects, and we lose that wonderful combination of good scriptwriting and good acting skill which put the BBC stuff several cuts above what came out of the US studios in my book.

I don't like the constant "reunion" episodes at the end of each series - that was one of the things the old format had very right, I thought - the ability to convey that the Doctor went out of the lives of these people, and their lives went on without him. What isn't pointed out quite as obviously is that as far as the Doctor's life goes, he had to go on without them - and he'd lived over nine hundred years by the time Tom Baker's tenure was done (I'm not too sure how old the character is by the time Christopher Eccleston stepped into the role, but I'm sure by now he's hit his millennium). The Doctor has had to learn to be very good at leaving people behind, and learning to live with that. Bringing everyone back at the end of each season for a grand final reunion is just rubbing it in, to my mind.

Now, yes, I do have these problems with New Who. But that doesn't mean Old Who was completely faultless either. As I said before, there were the wobbly sets, the zip-up-the-back rubber-suit aliens, the chewing of the scenery, the stories with the Obvious Filler chase scenes, the Monster-of-the-Week format, the recurring monsters who weren't used to their full capacity. For example, the Daleks were sometimes used as rent-a-thugs - yes, in some of Terry Nation's scripts, back before he wrote "Genesis of the Daleks". Then again, Terry Nation actually meant for the Daleks to die off at the end of the first storyline they were introduced in, but they became fan favourites, so he was stuck writing them for about twenty years. There's actually a lovely story in the commentary or interviews on the DVD set of "Genesis of the Daleks" where the script editor points out that "Genesis" was the second storyline they'd requested from Terry for the Daleks - the first one was a rather predictable chase sequence, and it was knocked back as a result. So then he sat down and did a full retcon on the origins of the Daleks, and a new legend was born. But that was the other great thing about Old Who - while there were some absolute shockers, there were sometimes these unregarded gems in the middle of things. For example, the 5th Doctor story "Kinda", which actually turns out to be a very interesting piece of genuine science fiction storytelling (provided you're willing to ignore the giant snake effect at the end).

I count myself as a fan of the Final Fantasy series of games, too. But I'm aware they're not perfect. They're written from a Japanese perspective, which means that yes, there's a lot of embedded sexism in the way that gender roles are visualised, and yes, there are a lot of in-game tropes that I sometimes don't have the cultural background to understand. In the earlier ones, the graphics are clunky, and in the later ones the hero-figures are, quite frankly, irritating (Tidus and Vaan both inspire me with a strong desire to thump them over the head). The fixation on providing add-ins to the Final Fantasy VII continuity annoys the crap out of me (particularly the whole business of Crisis Core - Genesis wins my personal prize for "video game character I'd most like to slap"), as does the tendency to create sequelae to just about everything (whether or not there's actually a story hook to hang things onto). The outfits for the female characters in the later games tend to be somewhat stripperific (exhibit one: Fran the rabbit-woman and her "playboy bunny" armoured lingerie), and Tetsuya Nomura definitely majored in "impractical armour", since I think the last properly-armoured major character in the FF series was Cecil, in FFIV! Don't believe me? Check Dissidia. Bartz from FFV is wearing a tunic. Terra from FF6 wears a mini-dress and leggings. Cloud (FF7) is in cargo pants and a knitted top, with one paudron. Squall (FF8) wears leather pants, a t-shirt and a leather jacket (at least he wouldn't get too seriously flayed in a motorcycle crash). Zidane (FF9) is wearing boots, a poofy shirt, and trousers (all apparently fabric). Tidus (FFX) is at least wearing that glove-cum-arm-protector thing. But really... there's at least two (if not three) of these people who live in cultures where a battlefield generally means there are bullets flying around. Is it too much to expect they're going to have at least a little bit of protection from high-velocity lead poisoning?

(And yes, this is my geeky side coming out again - I'm a practicality geek, I'm a plothole geek, and I qualify for life membership of the Overthinkers Club. I am the type of person who will spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make the worlds of Blake's 7 and Firefly co-exist, who will write a long and involved post about the political and economic situation of Minas Tirith post-Ringwar, and who will spend much time and effort trying to figure out what the fsck is going on with the world of Final Fantasy VII to create the Shinra Electric Power Company).

I find things interesting because they make me think. Even if what they're making me think is along the lines of "how the fsck does that work again?" I'm not set up correctly for unthinking adoration and devotion of my source material. I'm more set up for mild-to-moderate irritation at various qualities of it, and a willingness to make snarky comments about it. I get pissed off when the only fan-space I'm allowed to inhabit is one which requires total and utter worship of the creators and everything they do - I think that fan-space not only insults me as a fan, it also insults the creators of the original work, because it sets them up as beings incapable of handling critique, incapable of handling dissent, incapable of handling any different viewpoint to their own. I write myself, and what I find I appreciate most as a writer is not the person who writes a simple "loved it, plz rite moar!", but rather the person who asks questions, the person who offers bits they liked and why they liked them, the person who engages in dialogue about what I've written (I so rarely hear from these people - I've started being a bit more open with being one myself in the hope of encouraging more of them!), and the person who isn't ashamed or afraid to tell me "this sucks, and this is why!". I'd like to believe that the creators of some of my favourite fan properties have a similar attitude toward criticism.

My point is, being a geek, or a nerd, or a fan, should not mean that we switch our minds off and become uncritical worshippers. In fact, I believe very strongly that as a fan (of a series, a genre, or a writer), I'm in a better position to offer criticism, because it's coming from a position of overall love.

I'll be honest, though - I'm more than just a fan, more than just a geek. So I'm always going to be a little on the outer with these communities, always feeling I don't quite fit in, because I just cannot maintain the posture of unquestioning adoration which appears to be required. I can do enthusiasm. I can do critique. But I think I'm a bit too old and cynical for adoration these days.