2015 in Review: Geek Girls and Gender

The Geek Anthropologist

By Emma Louise Backe

For several years, TGA founder Marie-Pierre has been conducting research on the fraudulent phenomenon of “fake geek girls,” a category of women who ostensibly “pretend” to be geeky or interested in geeky things for male attention. This supposition that the geek identity is predominantly male and that geeky space must subsequently be policed for inauthentic intruders came to a head during the 2014 Gamergate controversy, in which certain groups of men not only felt that women participating in the gaming industry were somehow less committed or faking it, but also believed that feminist oriented criticism would destroy the industry and undermine creativity. While the bias that drove Gamergate may seem to be fairly niche, many of the sexist ideologies spill over into the broader entertainment industry, sphere of pop culture, and conception of “strong female characters.” The same logic of “fake geek girls” is…

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The Character of Sexual Harassment at Cons

My coverage of DC’s 2015 Awesome Con and an overview of sexual harassment at Cons around the country.

The Geek Anthropologist

By Emma Louise Backe

At an event where hundreds of individuals from around the country converge in capes and costumes, the symbols and trappings of heroism, we don’t like to imagine the possibility of violence unless it’s staged to reenact a great scene from Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica. But over the past several years, the geek community has come under particular scrutiny for the treatment of women at comic, anime and fan conventions. Well before #Gamergate, movements like Cosplay is NOT Consent brought attention to sexual harassment at Cons. Even though geeks have become increasingly mainstream over the past decade (see our series “Freaks and Geeks”), being a geek still carries with it a sense of stigma. Many self-identified geeks have felt otherized at some point in their lives because of their interests in comic books, otaku, tabletop gaming, LARPing, or the like. Perhaps due…

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Transitional Justice: From Sam Raimi’s Spiderman to Netflix’s Daredevil

My post on the political-historical geekout about comic book movies over the past 15 years.

The Geek Anthropologist

By Emma Louise Backe

It’s hard to imagine, but superheroes weren’t popular 15 years ago. The social baggage surrounding comic books and the “geeks” who read them was still largely stigmatized, even though many of the story lines were politically oriented. Ever since the 1940’s, comic books have steadily crafted an internal mythology, built on certain principles of American exceptionalism, ideological principles of morality and our place within the larger cosmos. The first movie to truly spark the shift toward the superhero inundated pop culture we currently inhabit was Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, released in 2002 not long after the Twin Towers fell and the Iraq War began. It seems to me far from coincidental that the cinematic depiction of superheroes and the resurgence of comic book figures were virtually contemporaneous with the attacks on 9/11 and America’s subsequent invasion of Afghanistan. In the wake of police brutality and public…

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Aliens Among Us: Extraterrestrial Anthropology

I want to believe.

The Geek Anthropologist

By Emma Louise Backe

I’ve always been something of a science fiction geek, but it wasn’t until my senior year at college that I realized the synergy between the science fiction genre and anthropology. Part of the reason why science fiction has been such a boon for anthropology, and why so many anthropological science fiction stories are written, lies in the fact that science fiction is a useful tool to think about culture from an outsider’s perspective. Quite apart from the world building aspects of the genre, the presence of aliens provides readers and audience members with figures, indeed, whole populations, with which to think through alternative notions of humanity. As Slusser and Rabkin write, “The alien is the creation of a need—man’s need to designate something that is genuinely outside himself, something that is truly noman, that has no initial relation to man except for the fact that…

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The Biopolitics of BioShock Part III: The Bioethics of Rapture

The Geek Anthropologist

By Emma Louise Backe

(Spoiler Warning)

“Whatever you thought about right and wrong on the surface, well, that don’t count for much down in Rapture.” -Atlas

 In the past two parts of this series, I have looked closely at the biopolitics of self-determination and free will in Rapture’s economic environment in relation to Ayn Rand’s principles of Objectivism, as well as the new aesthetic moral imperative constructed by Dr. Steinman that compelled new ways of seeing and perceiving beauty, contextualized within the history of eugenics. This final section will focus more broadly on the bioethical dilemmas Rapture’s technological innovations present, and the ways in which technologies like ADAM and plasmids reformulate established notions of humanity. Rapture not only presented its citizens with new economic and political options within the utopian society, but also revolutionized modern technology. Rapture scientists discovered that certain sea slugs contain ADAM, which can be genetically…

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The Biopolitics of BioShock Part II: Aesthetics Are A Moral Imperative

The Geek Anthropologist

By Emma Louise Backe

(Spoiler Warning)

“As your tools improve, so do your standards. There was a time, I was happy enough to take off a wart or two, or turn a real circus freak into something you can show in the daylight. But that was then, when we took what we got, but with Adam… the flesh becomes clay. What excuse do we have not to sculpt, and sculpt, and sculpt, until the job is done” –Higher Standards, Dr. J.S.S. Steinman

Just as Rapture advanced a new precedent in economic and existential freedom, the values of Ryan’s city liberated the scientific community as well. The ethical strictures doctors adhered to became warped by the priority to expand the imagination and explore the realms of possibility for the human body. The creation of plasmids from ADAM demonstrated that the humans could be elevated to god-like potential through new, superhuman capacities…

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The Biopolitics of BioShock Part I: Would You Kindly? Objectivism and Free Will

The Geek Anthropologist

By Emma Louise Backe

(Spoiler Warning)

“I am Andrew Ryan and I am here to ask you a question. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? ‘No!’ says the man in Washington, ‘It belongs to the poor.’ ‘No!’ says the Vatican, ‘It belongs to everyone.’ I rejected these answers; instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose Rapture!” –from the desk of Andrew Ryan

As you descend into the murky waters of Andrew Ryan’s Rapture, you are posed with a simple question: Are you a man or are you a slave? The question is a straw man—no one would willfully identify themselves as a slave, an individual treated as property without agency or independence. Andrew Ryan’s Rapture was constructed in the 1940s as an unfettered space where citizens could explore the depths of their human potential. “I built a city where the artists…

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Terraforming the Imagination: How to Build a Convincing Fictional Universe

The Geek Anthropologist

Fantasy and science fiction writers do it all the time—build a world, sometimes an entire universe, which is different from our own. But it takes a certain verve and finesse, a particular ability to imagine the crucial, yet prosaic, dimensions of a society or a civilization so that it is completely believable. You want that world to function in a way that is so convincing that you understand the history, economy, politics, ecology and overall structure that informs and produces a dystopian future or fantastical dimension.

There are innumerable examples of how to go about doing this world building. There are pieces like Poul Anderson’s “The Creation of Imaginary Worlds: The World Builder’s Handbook and Pocket Companion” (1974), which addresses the physics and biology of worlds themselves, urging writers to conduct enough scientific research so that their new galaxies aren’t scientific impossibilities. He urges, “The writer must then go on…

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The Devil in Disguise: Modern Monsters and their Metaphors

The Geek Anthropologist

Throughout the past decade or so, we’ve had a resurgence of monsters. Werewolves, vampires and zombies have all experienced their zeitgeist moment, capturing the public’s attention and circulating through television spin-offs until the next monstrous trend took over. The latest incarnation of our fears, Guillermo del Toro’s The Strain, will premiere on FX on July 13, featuring a new breed of vampire. Other shows, like Hemlock Grove, Salem, and In the Flesh feature a horrifying panoply of nightmarish creatures. But it might be useful to think about why pop culture is raising the dead, and what it says about our contemporary fears.
Monsters have for centuries been manifestations of society’s fears and anxieties. As Stephen T. Asma explains in On Monsters, Monster derives from the Latin word monstrum, which in turns derives from the root monere (to warn). To be a monster is to be an omen […]…

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Seeing Is Believing: Visual Culture and Ancient Aliens

The Geek Anthropologist

For centuries, humans have stared at the heavens, attempting to scry a pattern from the stars scattered across the night sky. As a species, it is my belief, and the belief of other anthropologists like Claude Lévi-Strauss, that we crave order, and, subsequently, we create stories that categorize and organize the chaos and contingencies of the universe. Indeed, the word pareidolia means the creation of meaningful or significant shapes from otherwise abstract forms. Cultures have mapped out constellations from the stars, composing stories that accompany the shapes they distinguish in the bulbs of light that glimmer across the Milky Way. The designs that different cultures create are shaped by the culture in which they’ve been raised. The differing ways that cultures across the centuries have mapped the stars and celestial bodies serves as an apt demonstration of the ways in which culture shapes and primes the way we see and…

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