To Geek or Not to Geek
The internet has been abuzz over the past few months about the topic of “Booth Babes”, attractive women who dress in costumes at conventions around the world as promotional models for a product, and whether or not they deserve to be a part of the “geek” culture. To take it a step further, there has been an attempt to solidify what exactly a “geek” is and more so, who doesn’t fit into that category.
For those not in the loop, a big internet brawl started not too long ago when Ryan Perez, then a writer for Destructoid, went on a twitter rant calling writer and self- proclaimed; – audience approved – Geek, Felicia Day, a “glorified booth babe.”
Day, who herself has many credentials that account for her being more than a “glorified booth babe”, is the creator, writer and star of a popular web series based on MMORPG gameplay titled, The Guild ; a fact that could have easily been found out by simply going to her wikipedia page.
This sparked a slew of messages to Ryan Perez’s twitter, a wide array of blogs responding either positively or negatively to the situation and eventually ended up with him getting fired from his position at Destructoid.
I say all that, to say this:
Not too long after this incident occurred, an artist and writer by the name of Joe Peacock wrote an article on CNN’s aptly named “Geek Out” blog titled, Booth Babes Need Not apply. In it, he addresses the idea of the “Booth Babe” as being an outsider and even goes as far as to call them “poachers; a sentiment that, while the phrasing is not actually relevant, is shared by many who have had their culture appropriated and, in some ways, dismembered for mainstream culture. What I don’t think is shared, however, is the idea that females who are both beautiful AND into anything remotely related to the idea of “geekyness” are, as Peacock so eloquently put it, “model-cum-geeks.” There’s quite a few issues I have with this article and how it phrases certain things, but I’ll stick to the main point of why i’m even mentioning it in the first place.
What I’m talking about is the girls who have no interest or history in gaming taking nearly naked photos of themselves with game controllers draped all over their body just to play at being a “model.” I get sick of wannabes who couldn’t make it as car show eye candy slapping on a Batman shirt and strutting around comic book conventions instead.
-Joe Peacock, “Booth Babes Need Not Apply”
Now, among talking about promotional models, aka “Booth Babes” but describing average women, Peacock goes through great lengths to make it clear that he is in no way associating beauty and geekyness with counterfeit identities and tries not to make the same mistake that Perez made by making it clear to his readers he thinks Felicia Day is the genuine article. What he fails to do, however, is clear up a major point and even the point of what is wrong with articles that both address a “problem” while reinforcing them as well.
That is to say, arguing that Booth Babes are not geeks in the same sentence as you claim genuine geeks are really booth babes, makes it that much clearer what your ideas of women and anything geekyness related may be. I am not so naive to think that being beautiful has nothing to do with the success of Felicia Day – or for that matter the FragDolls or Olivia Munn, as Peacock points out – but by completely ignoring the contributions of women to any culture because they share similarities, namely gender, with perceived problems of the culture, aka Booth Babes, is hypocritical at best and misogynistic at worst.
The fact is that Booth Babes aren’t actually part of the culture but are more apart of the people that benefit from said culture; the people who sell the magicka cards, the developers of the game, the writers or creators of the series, etc.
So, in the same way I wouldn’t fault a cardboard cutout for making Twilight seem more one-dimensional, or a porn star for heightening the expectations that make it increasingly hard for normal, non-bleached anused women to become comfortable with intimacy, I don’t fault Booth Babes for being a large draw and topic of discussion for conventions.
Who I do blame are the people taking pictures with them. In some cases, it’s the same people who turn up their noses and wag their finger in blogs, and in conversation, are the first to get a picture with a half-naked woman at conventions.
If people are upset about it, don’t like their presence, or don’t think they have much to offer other than eye candy, perhaps they should take it up with the companies who hire them and not people who genuinely care about the same topic. A common theme seems to resonate with both Perez and Peacock and that is the idea that these women are doing this for attention. Factually, these women are doing it for money. It’s their job, they are getting paid to stand there and take pictures with you and smile like you don’t smell like you haven’t showered in four years; I’ve been there, I know what it smells like.
Yes, I have issues with the idea of using sex to sell something that in many cases shouldn’t be sexualized, but by attempting to shame or degrade these women by calling them “cum-geeks” doesn’t do much to suggest that one shouldn’t take your words with a grain of salt.
Even so, if booth babes were not paid for this but rather were doing it for attention, how would that make them any different from other cosplayers? Besides of course they probably didn’t put much time into their outfit as cosplayers do.
A geek is anyone who likes anything so much that they devote a portion of their life to following, contributing or participating in that culture with little to no gain. Yes, small time bloggers who make it big count as their success is more a product of their dedication and not of their entrepreneurship.
Now i’m going to say something that will upset quite a few of you guys out there, but there is a chance that some Booth Babes are in fact, Geeks. Were they that way when they started, maybe or maybe not, but – and this will be an assumption on my part – after a while of participating in these conventions, maybe a little of it rubs off? Among other things. I mean, how can we know for sure that there aren’t a few “Booth Babes” out there who are genuinely interested in video games, or who have the entire collection of Star Wars figurines on a shelf in their home, or maybe even has watched, and will continue to watch, the entire Doctor Who Series from back to front and front to back?
I have a friend that once participated in a website where men paid to talk to “geeky” girls. Now, one could argue looking from the outside, that these women aren’t geeks but are rather pretending to be geeks for pay. However, knowing this person first hand and knowing that she is definitely more of a geek than I am, I know that isn’t the case. Being a geek doesn’t exclude you from the pull of a few extra bills in your pocket.
The issue that I have is not with the dislike of women who spend their days dressed as hot characters from comics and video games for a buck because, while I hate to admit it, I do understand that.
The issue I have is that we are even attempting to categorize and isolate what exactly makes anyone worthy of the title geek. If Felicia Day or Olivia Munn, who have contributed much more than I, or anyone I know, have to any culture, can’t be afforded a title of geek, then what is the point? If the FragDolls, who work hard as both players and people to maintain their skill while doing something for our community can’t be considered geeks, what is the point? What is the point of creating a culture where all are welcome to pursue their interests only to dictate who can claim that culture?
Yes, I understand that as video games become more popular, a lot of what is associated or connected to it becomes used for mainstream purpose. Yes, I understand that is upsetting for those that are actually interested in the topics and not just the aesthetics, but let’s not go the route of the proverbial witch hunt to make a point.
I have a friend that once told me “The Cake is a Lie” and as I rejoiced – this was back when Portal was just getting really popular – in having someone else who also had the Orange Box, I realized she didn’t actually know what that meant, but she had heard it so much that she was saying it because it was a catch line; much like the “That’s what She said,” or “Whatchu talkin’ bout Willis?”
One does not need to be a officianado of all things geek to be a geek, simply having one area of geekdom will suffice. I enjoy the shit out of video games, but I don’t really consider myself a fan of any series or comic-book (though I do readily enjoy watching random episodes of X-Files and think the Star Wars storyline is A-MA-ZING, though I don’t care for the movies themselves – at least the ones made in my early teens).
I think the issue here is that we are confusing a disdain for the incorporation or mainstreaming of something we would readily do for free (dressing up as our favorite characters and taking pictures with people) with beautiful women who do in fact do this for free. Even more so, I think a lot of the male writers in particular are upset in the same way lesbians get upset when they see two girls making out for fun or when the waiters at Hooters flirt with them for tips (on both accounts).
Felicia Day owes nothing to anyone, nor do the FragDolls or Olivia Munn. Yet, they continue to create, they continue to promote and they continue to be an active part of a community that seemingly isn’t so fond of beautiful people taking over a realm that was once reserved for the fat, pimply, and awkward kid that sat in the back of the classroom eating his own boogers.
The fact that their supposed attention seeking is a key complaint for why they should be hated is very telling that as a community we still have far to go to rid ourselves of our sexist past.
Perhaps this is a point lost on those who have achieved some form of success in pursuing geek related tasks? Thankfully, not all seem to be going this route, as Wil Wheaton seems to still have a firm head on his shoulders.