Nerd-Checking and Ret-Conning Highlights of Panel at Last Week’s Comikaze
Last week, on the final day of the fifth-annual Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo, one of the panel discussions included one entitled “Who Can Be a Geek? Inclusion in Fandom and the Geek Scene”. Moderated by Bill Watters, the panel featured Rico Anderson, Thomas Parham, Meredith Placko, and Megan Mobley. While the panel discussion covered multiple facets of geekdom, a particular fascination of mine came when they brought up a term I had never heard before, “nerd-checking” (alternatively, “geek-checking”), which is when someone confronts someone about how real/true they are with their geekdom, whether in general, or for a particular geekdom.
Placko said that “nerd-checking exists, but, as much as I get it from men, I get it more from women!” This was a shocking assertion to me; yes, it’s totally understandable to expect men thinking that women are not truly geeky about something (whether correctly or incorrectly), but one would expect that women would empathize with each other and not give each other a hard time about it. But Placko suggested that “even in the nerdy community, maybe because there’s more celebrity, or maybe some are super passionate or making a buck off of the cosplay” or maybe because they’re jealous of that cosplay success, that they are covetous of it. This would be an interesting aspect of women nerd-checking other women – that it would be on account of competition and jealousy.
Placko added that “I feel that, as a whole, being a woman, specifically in geek culture and media, in general, where there’s so much heaped upon us” that “I have to be this and I have to be that”, “I’m really not down with that.” To further express her frustration with being boxed in to an identity, she said that people can be surprised that she is a sports fan “when they know I’m into comic books.”
While “the Internet has opened up so many avenues” to check out various fandoms and geekdoms, Anderson said that if you don’t know a lot, “then you’re not a true Trek fan” in certain online communities. But, “you read some of these comment threads” and “you may be amazed to read” some of the comments there. However, he said that no matter what people may say, he is “not willing to insult” others.
While there were other topics that came up in the discussion, one further topic of interest that was raised concerned the retconning (retcon = retroactive continuity) of characters who have a different gender, ethnicity, or religion. While, as a non-comic book reader, I had heard of this phenomenon and was curious as to how this panel would deal with it. Watters said that with retconning these characters, “a lot of them don’t have backstories, so you get a better sense of their motivations.” The thing with creating new characters, said Placko, is does it really matter how you change them? “It can be any ethnicity.”
It is interesting to see some retconning by Marvel, pointed out Anderson, “and reintroducing the characters and they’re Muslim or black or woman” and the character’s powers are still there, they just have a slightly different identity. Responding to the question of Why not create different characters?, Anderson observed that “it’s also important to include the characters that have been around for 50 or 75 years” because “it helps to capitalize on what has been working all this time and you can create new characters.”
While there were other topics raised in the course of this panel discussion at Stan Lee’s Comikaze Expo, I found these two to be new to me and particularly of interest.