Friday, February 10, 2012

The Cult of Personality

There is a dark underside to geek culture. It's really a part of human nature in general, but it seems to rear its ugly head in geek culture much more than it should. In the last few weeks, that ugly head has been rearing higher, uglier and shouting more loudly than I think it has in the past. The internet is a big component to this. Give people relative anonymity and the freedom from physical repercussions that they would get for delivering this level of nastiness in person, and you have a recipe for trouble.

The Cult of Personality

When we like someone, or the work they have done. We want to elevate them. That happens often times with creative people. We raise them up and up and up, until they are elevated to the levels of "genius" and "god." They can do no wrong at this level of elevation. The problem is, these are still people...humans that are capable of mistakes and stupidity and carelessness, just like the rest of us. These elevated creators speak, and the cracks in their divinity start while their humanity shows.

Then you have two choices: you stick by your elevation and defend the person, ignoring what you have to in order to keep them up on that pedestal that they've been elevated up onto, or you look at the facts and come to terms with the fact that the perfection that you've created in your mind isn't realistic. There is only one infallible creator, and not everyone accepts the existence of him (or her depending on the flavor of your faith). No one in any medium, whether comic books, movies, music, high or low art, literature or any other artistic endeavor, produces a perfect body of work. For every Watchmen there is a Neonomicon.

A fallacy of this line of thinking, which honestly might be derived from one of the Geek Social Fallacies, is the idea that if you do not totally except every bit of work of one of these "geniuses" as being genius, you are not a fan. Apparently, being a fan is like betting on Texas Hold-Em're either all in or you aren't in the game. This is, frankly, the tip of the iceberg of a potentially dangerous personality issues. Some people derive too much of their identity and/or self-worth from their fandom that they construe any "attack" against what they are a fan of as being a personal attack. You see this online a lot, and I have even dealt with it offline when someone attached to one of the popular online gaming forums left a gaming group we were both a part of, because I "hated on the board" because I felt (and still feel) that their reviews were poorly written and mostly missed the point of reviews.

We really shouldn't support this sort of behavior, as geeks or as humans. I don't think that I should have to explain why we shouldn't support or enable bad behavior, so I'm not going to bother with it.

There is a flip side to this phenomenon, something that grows more out of fan entitlement than out of fan worship. That is the idea that the fans know more about the property than those producing it, even when evidence (trivial things like sales) shows otherwise. This is an entirely different cult of personality, one that can often be driven by personal agendas that people want to be more widely followed. We see a lot of this in the "edition wars" between the fans of the various editions of D&D, particularly with those fans of more recent editions attempting to push their social agendas into the mainstream. Then they reply with anger and attacks when those agendas are not accepted, or are mocked openly.

We are a varied people, us geeks. There's nothing really wrong with that, we just have to learn to be more accepting of ourselves, others, and the opinions of others.