Geek Culture and why the editorial process is broken

“Geek culture is stupid and its fans are losers.”

“Sci-fi novels are trash and their writers are hacks.”

“Superhero movies are just about muscular blokes blowing stuff up.”

“Role-Playing Games are for total nerds!”

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I don’t believe these sentiments. Well, not all of them and not completely…but they are widely held ideas about geek culture that the mainstream media repeats mindlessly. I’ve written a lot about the hidden masterpieces in the sci-fi genre and the value and importance of geek culture in general. I’ve done this for some pretty high profile venues including The Guardian, Buzzfeed, Wired UK, SFX, IO9 and Aeon magazine. Writing for these venues is a privilege, but it also comes with challenges.

I enjoy writing serious criticism on geek culture. I think it deserves it. As I argue over here, geek culture is now a seriously influential part of our lives. But, to put it bluntly, geek culture still isn’t taken seriously in many mainstream venues. And when it is given attention at all, it’s rarely considered critically. It’s a superhero movie right, why give that the depth of consideration you would give to, say, a contemporary art exhibit that gets 0.01% of the audience?

I think we know why.

I had been dealing with this problem privately, building up contacts with media outlets, only to find that pitches for anything resembling serious criticism met a wall of editorial silence. Until I read fellow writer Monica Byrne’s experiences with Wired magazine, which closely mirrored my own. I don’t believe Wired magazine is the only mainstream media venue guilty of projecting a monocultural view of contemporary culture. I think the problem is endemic and hardwired into the editorial process.

To get into the mainstream media any idea must first get past a clumsy system of second guessing by editors, and editors who rarely if ever have expertise equal to the writers approaching them with specialist knowledge. I’m fortunate to have a great relationship with my editorial team at The Guardian, where I’ve developed reporting on science fiction literature from occasional pieces asking why it isn’t better written, to consistent and serious coverage of the field. But that has been a long process that began, quite literally, with over a year of consistently commenting on the Guardian’s book section before I ever published a piece “above the line”. That’s clearly not a process I can repeat at every mass media publication!

And why should I? I think it’s clear now that the future of writing does not rest with with newspapers or publishers. They will continue to play a role, but it’s the direct relationship between readers and writers made possible by the internet that is now the driving force. When geek culture has received proper critical attention it has come from independent voices like Anita Sarkeesian. And the response to that criticism has also come from independent voices. Demagogues spouting attention seeking bigotry they may be, but there’s no doubt the “leaders of gamergate” understand their hate filled audience perfectly.

This week I launched a new Geek Culture essay series via Patreon. The first essay will be on our culture’s fractious relationship with criticism itself. Future essays will take a look at, among other things, the complex issues of male identity woven into geek culture. I’m excited to write these essays, and hope you’ll choose to back them.

You can read some of my thoughts on the Patreon platform and why I’m using it in my regular newsletter here.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

2 thoughts on “Geek Culture and why the editorial process is broken

  1. Fantastic, Damien. I think that you’ve really hit on something important. You’re right, media is changing and with it the importance of genre.

    It’s almost a given that Fine Art in an established museum will be “challenging” some “normative”. In contrast, the recent Hugo fracas was dynamic, to say the least. Regardless of which side you stood on, it is undeniable that there was a very real power struggle going on. Conversely, other literary awards would almost 100% be dominated by progressive works, which is not a problem except that, like the academic world such media is closely associated with, its insularity risks alienating its would-be audience, thus laying the foundation for its own obsolescence.


    1. Our ongoing culture war will have time out at some point, and I don’t believe either progressives or conservatives will be at all happy at the outcome. They’re both demanding a centre built around their ideals, when it’s already clear there ain’t going to be no centre! In a way both sides arethe remenat of cultural assumptions that simply no longer exist.



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