I’ve been writing about television for the site Television Without Pity for about ten years now, and while I love having the opportunity to think more intensely and talk things out when it comes to the shows and stories I love most, that part of the job pales in comparison to interacting with the fans of the shows and seeing the communities they build around those shared interests.
It’s practically impossible—for me, at least—to think about shows (especially in the genre) without immediately attaching a kind of parallel narrative about the fandom of the show, its connections with other fandoms and geek interests, and what the things we love say about us as people. Not really in the same way as scholarly “media studies” work, or even the snarky metacommentary and inter-fandom sniping that goes on (no matter how often it’s hilariously true), but in the very personal and heartfelt ways fandom appreciation creatively expresses itself.
Being a TV recapper for so long, I’ve sometimes felt stuck in that blurry area between “consumer” and “producer” of content. I mean, I write stuff that people find enjoyable for some reason, but in my role as recapper it’s not really my toys I’m playing with.
Thanks to the internet, we dwell in a highly informed and transparent fandom space that didn’t exist ten years ago. We know more about production, storytelling, and all those practical behind-the-scenes details—in all areas of fandom, comics and TV and movies and games—than we ever did before. That puts us in the driver’s seat, a lot of times, when it comes to evaluating the what and the why of the things we love.
At the same time, we’re moving into a cultural time and space where “geek” concerns aren’t… you know what, I’m not going to beat that drum. First of all because it leads to ugly ghetto behavior and gatekeeping (who is the legit fan vs. the fake geek), secondly because I’m talking about that in the first column, but third of all because I don’t like that perspective on this, period.
Because one thing I’ve learned in these ten years—covering everything from live singing competitions to showrunner changes on long-standing sci-fi shows—is that I am pretty much a fake geek. I was raised by nerdy grad students and learned to read on CS Lewis and Anne McCaffrey and Elfquest, but never really connected with my fellow geeks on a different level than I did with anybody else.
(In fact, it became a bit of a strategy with certain relationships: Letting somebody tell you all about Robert Heinlein for six hours is not that different from letting a guy teach you how to play pool, except for how it’s actually interesting and fun.)
So much of my job has been about bridging that gap, between “geekdom” and the “mainstream,” often mediating between them, that I find now I just automatically think about things in their opposite language: I’m more likely to describe a scene in The Good Wife or The Apprentice using SF and fantasy references, or talk about real-world religion and social-dynamic psychology in discussion of the actual science fiction shows I write about.
But as a part-time member and occasional critic, one thing I’ve always loved from the outside is the genre community itself. You have to be strong, and smart, and attuned to the unseen, to be a geek. You have to recognize the power in the unrealistic—and the magic in the hard-sf concrete, too. That’s a lot to hold onto. That’s a big skillset, and it’s one that I really appreciate—whether in my futurists, my best high-fantasy and RPG friends, or whatever it is. That’s the nucleus around which geek groups and fandoms actually self-organize.
And it seems to me that the mainstream is developing those muscles about as quickly as the internet can make it happen. So what’s more interesting and powerful to me than the simple beauty of geekdom is the fact that we are all here on Day One. You’re bearing witness to a sea-change in the way we associate and communicate with one another, which means birthpains, which means a lot of fighting and occasional bullshit.
And that—the highs and lows of a culture in almost total transition—are what we’re going to be talking about. Don’t panic.
Jacob Clifton is a freelance writer and critic based in Austin, Texas. He currently recaps The Good Wife, Bates Motel, and Defiance for Television Without Pity.com. Check out jacobclifton.com, Twitter and Facebook.