I know this post is a bit unusual and controversial and I might get a lot of, er, interesting comments, based on what kind of followers and readers I have. But there’s a problem Geekery has that we geeks are aware of, but don’t want to even admit or think about. It’s the white elephant in the room, and this white elephant is taking up a lot of space in Geekdom.
The problem is immersion.
It might help if I define it based on the context here; Perhaps I do not think it means what you think it means.
Immersion is deep mental involvement. In this case, we are applying immersion to media; it is a strategy used by many manufactorers, advertisors, and producers to suck readers or viewers in. There are two different problems with immersion in geekery: 1) Immersion with mass marketing and money making, and 2) Immersion in media that can pose the danger of taking over the lives of those who are sucked in.
I’m kind of a big geek (nerd, fangirl, etc.). But I haven’t lived long enough to watch all the movies and shows I want to see or read all the books, manga, and comics that I want to read… (nor will I live long enough to accomplish it). I’ve only begun touching on what it means to obsess over fictional characters and live in nonexistent worlds and cry over, laugh about, and feel awed by all the wonder and joy and sorrow and revelation that never even happened. This aspect of the media is so rich and wonderful and full of so much raw potential and I’m glad we have the privilege to experience human creativity and brilliant ideas outside of our scope of knowledge about our wonderful Earth. And so of course I’m a geek. I blog about it. I talk about it. I read about it. I write about it. I attend conventions about it. I cry and flail and scream about it (not actual screaming, but you know. Inwardly). I collaborate on a geek news site. I write stuff that is geek material.
And so I guess it takes being a geek to realize that geekery has this very big problem.
What do you think? Is immersion dangerous? Unhealthy? Psycho?
The English 100 class I’m taking has helped me open my eyes to this issue. The textbook we’re reading is called Reading Pop Culture, a very enlightening collection of essays with varying perspectives, full of topics on propaganda, advertisements, the problem of YouTube and iPods, and how violence is good for kids. (I would have never considered that violence was healthy for kids until I read the article and thought hmm, interesting point.) Another source we had to read for an essay was the latest Rolling Stone magazine, which, you might guess, is not my favorite magazine to read (though there are some very informative articles in there). Immersion is written all over it; it’s the only way they’re going to get money after all. “Read me! See me! Turn this page! Think this! Think that! Trump is awful, and here’s why! You know you want this! Buy it now! This guy’s legit, so believe everything he says!” And so I wrote an essay on capitalism, how it’s being “oversold” by consumerism, and applied immersion into the mix. While doing my research and reading and listening to lectures, my fears that there was a particular problem with our society and culture were confirmed. I also learned that this particular problem applies to geekery. Nerdom. Obsessive fangirling.
Yes, I am telling myself that I have a problem. I think we all do. And this post isn’t trying to demonize geekery at all. I will stay a proud nerd and do nerdy things and enjoy epic movies and books as long as I live (because geekery clearly has its awesome traits, and I can talk about those in a slightly less controversial blog post in the future). But this problem stands out to me, and I think that all geeks should be aware of it, without straying from their lovely geeky selves.
Geekery is just the nerdy side of consumerist culture. Take Netflix binging. Or book and movie series. TV series. Comic Cons. Merchandise. Theaters. Marketing. News. Hype. Money. Do you see where I’m going with this? How strange is it that falling in love with a character or story leads to this mass marketing and money making? People see that something was successful (the first Harry Potter book) and so they make it even more successful (the Harry Potter movies) and it becomes a franchise, booming with money (merchandise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Harry Potter World at Universal Studios, conventions). I almost want to use the word “corruption” when I say that a story is being used to create profit. Just to get the crowds in and fabricate synthetic fans. To make it so popular that being a genuine Harry Potter geek loses its significance; the whole world loves and knows everything about it already and so there’s nothing too special about being a fan anymore.
The same applies to Star Wars. Sometimes it makes my day to see Star Wars stuff literally everywhere I go, but therein lies the problem. My precious little fandom isn’t so little anymore. Star Wars fans used to be a moderately mild sized group, but now it’s bigger than the democratic party. I’m talking worldwide! Marketing has taken a precious story, a work of art and creativity from one man’s mind and made it become a rage, a fad, something you can buy. They’ve cultivated shopaholism out of this genius simply because George Lucas’s sci-fi flick turned out to be amazing and was accepted well by the majority of moviegoers—people who actually appreciated the story for what it was. Don’t get me wrong; I love how the Star Wars fanbase is growing. But the way that manufacterors are ensuring a large fanbase is slightly sickening.
And I will also mention that people are writing new movies and books to tear the canon apart, to CHANGE the original story simply to keep the marketing going. It’s all about fortune and glory, kid. NO! Something tells me this can’t be morally right. The story of Star Wars is sacred. Each one of us fans has seen the movies, and yet each one of us experienced Star Wars in our own unique, different ways. It’s special to me for completely different reasons than how it’s special for you. Have you ever heard the little sparkling magical instrument that plays during one of the Star Wars film’s main title??? That moment in the song means pure joy to me. No one knows how I interpreted a certain scene, a piece of dialog, a crescendo in the score or a certain tune. Nor do they understand the way John Williams has changed my life with his music or how George Lucas helped shape who I am as a writer and lover of science fiction. The list goes on. I don’t know how to put those feelings or emotions into words. Nostalgia is a heavenly feeling that no one can describe. (If you know of someone who does, let me know right now in the comments section down there, if you’ll be so kind.) And now this little thing called Star Wars that has changed the lives and touched the hearts and awed the spirits of so many people is now just another reason to get money. What happened to the vision that Walt Disney had? Sure, it’s for your entertainment, at least. But now it’s all about profit and manufactoring and trying to get bigger and better.
(Would you like to know the probability of me bursting into hot, angry tears at the screen right now? It’s high. It’s very high.)
That was immersion applied to marketing and consumerism. It’s everywhere, not just in advertising and marketing. It’s pulling so many people in, and the sad thing is that most of us are unaware of it.
But there’s the second type of immersion that is another big problem facing many geeks today: the media itself is using the same immersion tactics to pull fans in. Sure, they do it for the money, but we geeks don’t immerse ourselves into these stories with any thoughts on money. We’re being pulled into the suspense of things that never happened and it can take over our life worlds. Rather than spending time learning an instrument or taking a walk, or talking with someone or spending time with your family and building relationships or finishing writing or homework, you’ve decided to become even more Procrastination Central (even without Pinterest!) with movies and books and TV shows. They pull you away from your real life, make you forget all about your problems, numb you to actual situations, and immerse you into this synthetic universe of nonexistent characters and problems and suspense. You have to worry and gasp and cry over things that never even happened, generating artificial stress. And yet it sounds lovely and I could do it all day. Normal people say things like “Isn’t your own life stressful enough?” And they actually have a good point.
If we don’t watch out, we geeks may be sucked in … forever.
Nah, we know better. We’re adults, we’re responsible. (Says the person who barely knows how to adult in the first place.)
So what do we do with this whole immersion thing? My solution is to just keep doing what you’re doing. You there, dude in the sweatpants and BB-8 slippers with movie posters cluttering your walls: You’re awesome. You, fangirl who obsesses over Marvel because it’s helped to break those gender barriers she was afraid of, enabling her to endorse her true love of superheros: Keep being you. And all you people who work out and yet somehow can still watch a movie while bobbing up and down on a treadmill without getting sick: How do you even do that, that’s amazing!!! And yet, be mindful. Be wary of the dangers that lurk within. Don’t let temptation take you by the hand and lead you down the dark path of endless miles of episodes in an unusually long TV season. Give yourself limitations. Yes, be a geek. The world needs you. Love your stories, talk about them with people, attend the conventions and theater opening nights. Wear that epic Batman hoodie. Preach about why the world needs superheros. Never give up; never surrender. But don’t forget who you REALLY are. Remember your life. Your other passions. Your family and friends who, even though they might not understand your nerdy hobbies and and obsessions, love you anyways because all these unique things, along with the geekiness, make up who YOU are. And I think that’s pretty cool.
We can’t escape immersion. But there is a way to immerse in our favorite stories without losing ourselves to them. After all, that’s what stories are for, right? Good stories should encourage and inspire, not just to entertain; they should help us to understand and even appreciate life, not to forget it.
What about you? I feel that this was a very challenging post to write and it was probably quite the post to read, eh? So, tell me, what are your thoughts? Give me your agreements and disagreements. I feel like this topic might generate some conversation, so bring it on!
“Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something.
Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t.
They kept on going
Because they were holding on to something.
There’s some good in this world
And it’s worth fighting for.”
-Sam Gamgee from Lord of the Rings
Keep being a geek. It’s a powerful thing, burdened with glorious purpose.