Review of Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry
Suzanne Scott. Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry. New York, NY: New York UP, 2019. Paperback, 304 pg. $29.98, ISBN 9781479879571.
Geeks, nerds, fans, and the like are in the middle of an interesting era. Although big-name companies like Marvel Comics are devoting more energy to diversification and inclusivity, fans themselves appear to be growing increasingly divisive over concerns related to “authenticity.” This ongoing question of who is allowed to be a fan and what that entails for people of different genders is at the heart of Suzanne Scott’s Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry.
Stemming from the toxic fan culture wars over the past decade, Scott’s work is less concerned with female character media representation and more invested in interrogating how female fans continue to be marginalized by both the industry and fan culture at large. Due to Scott’s focus on the time period from 2006 to 2017, her work is significantly informed by the growing presence of men’s rights movements, anti-feminist agendas, and, of course, the results of the 2016 United States presidential election. Scott perceives the political climate to be one in which white, cisgender, heterosexual males endure under a logical fallacy, that “more for someone else [minorities] will inevitably mean less for me [white, cishet men]” (3)—regardless of whether the topic is immigration, reproductive rights, or fandom. As Scott explains in detail in Fake Geek Girls, it would be remiss to overlook how these misogynistic practices outside of popular culture have grossly impacted the making of an androcentric geek culture.
In her introduction, “Make Fandom Great Again,” Scott establishes this political lens, while also positioning her work alongside critical theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, as well as media scholar Henry Jenkins. While acknowledging that there is over half a century between the former and the latter, Scott deftly brings their voices together, along with her own. As she explains, Adorno’s, Horkheimer’s, and Jenkins’s foundational work on convergence culture gave her an entry point into more critically examining its effect on female fans. Although the convergence culture industry has empowered some fan identities, it is important to stress how it has continued to silence others. Furthermore, as Scott notes, “a key distinction is that fans themselves are now working as the agents of the convergence culture industry, reinforcing these industrial predilections and routinely using them to alternately dismiss and harass female fans” (12-13). And this is precisely what Scott theorizes about in the six chapters contained within Fake Geek Girls.
Chapter 1, “A Fangirl’s Place Is in the Resistance: Feminism and Fan Studies,” examines the feminist roots of early fan studies and the debates over whether incorporation or resistance is the better way to participate (also known as the affirmational/transformative dichotomy). In preparation for her subsequent chapters, Scott maps out how the convergence culture industry’s continued pressure to participate in the “appropriate” brand of fandom has marginalized female fans and the historically feminist practices behind the initial fan studies movement. To illustrate this phenomenon, Chapters 2 and 3 both look to specific representations of fan identity in the media, highlighting how frequently female fans are pathologized. From the 1986 Saturday Night Live “Get a Life!” sketch and a 2008 Entertainment Weekly comic to the 2011 “Idiot Nerd Girl” meme, there is no shortage of examples that depict the distinctive difference between the purported legitimacy that comes with being a “fanboy” and the dismissiveness and skepticism associated with being a “fangirl.” Scott asserts, “By identifying geek girls and fangirls as too ‘normal’ or ‘mainstream’ to be ‘real’ fans, male fans belie (or attempt to combat) their own normalcy within the convergence culture industry, positioning themselves as simultaneously the oppressors and the oppressed”. (95)
Accordingly, the unfair pressure placed on fangirls to prove their authenticity has driven many of them to fall prey to fan labor schemes perpetuated by the convergence culture industry, as highlighted in chapter 4 “Terms and Conditions: Co-Opting Fan Labor and Containing Fan Criticism.” Flowing from a discussion that takes place at the end of Chapter 4, Chapter 5 focuses on Chris Hardwick, host of Talking Dead and founder of Nerdist Industries. Here Scott analyzes the ways in which Hardwick performs as a fanboy and how he is able to use his fan identity for professional gain in a way that is currently unavailable for fangirls. The final chapter, “From Poaching to Pinning: Fashioning Postfeminist Geek Girl(y) Culture,” Scott critically examines how fangirl clothing companies such as Her Universe have perpetuated a curated fangirl lifestyle. To challenge this pre-packaged fangirl existence, Scott offers the concept of “strategic pinning” on Pinterest – inspired by the early-nineteenth century “strategic scrapbooks” created by women’s rights activists – as well as various crossplay activities, in order to highlight diverse fangirl experiences.
Fake Geek Girls: Fandom, Gender, and the Convergence Culture Industry is without doubt an important text for media scholarship and fandom studies. It’s meticulously researched, politically relevant, and it significantly revisits and reimagines early convergence culture theory. That said, due to its heavy theoretical nature, it lacks readability and, at times, appears disorganized. Due to its price point, it would be ideal to assign for a class. However, it is not textbook material. It is a book to digest slowly and sporadically, rather than read front-to-back, and Scott does not take time to explain terminology so as to make it more accessible for an interdisciplinary audience. Although an informative and interesting book on gender politics and fandom studies, due to its overall structure it is best suited for the serious media studies scholar alone.