Geek Week and Fandoms

As you read these words, Dragon*Con has begun in Atlanta.

As I’m writing these words, however, several days before the Con begins, in the midst of last minute scheduling changes (for the Comics and Popular Arts Conference at the Con), I am about to keel over in anticipation. Between D*Con and the Doctor Who premiere, I’m completely beside myself.

And the icing on the geek cake is that I have received my copy of Geek Rock: An Exploration of Music and Subculture, and it looks FANTASTIC.

This week is turning rapidly into Geek Week. And the definition for Geek Week appears to be the opportunity to participate in as many fandoms as possible. Fandoms, actually, are important enough to geek culture that we probably should have put more about fandom in our criteria for geek rock. There is a difference, after all, from the casual Doctor Who viewer and the viewer who runs out of the theatre in her Doctor Who/Hello Kitty mash-up t-shirt shrieking “I LOVE PETER CAPALDI” before breathlessly articulating the reasons why Steven Moffat is a genius (yes, that’s exactly what I did after “Deep Breath”). While geek rock needs to meet a fair amount of criteria in order to be geek rock, a casual listener can certainly remain just that–casual. But the avid listener tends to “geek out” over geek rock, a process that involves learning, collecting, sharing, expounding, and proclaiming. The geek rock fan in the geek rock band t-shirt who owns every album and has read every interview and who attends every concert and who writes fanfic and who even managed to acquire the Japanese import on blue vinyl–they are part of the fandom in a way that the casual listener is not. They ARE the fandom, in some respects. Much like Doctor Who, which is rather geeky by definition, geek rock allows fans to participate at any level they wish, but encourages fandom.

And the thing about geek rock fandom is that it’s not just any fandom. Phish has a fandom, probably one of the most infamous fandoms in music, but Phish’s fandom isn’t exactly geeky. Or are they? The Phish fandom trades bootlegs, follows the band, collects, learns, trades, shares, camps, expounds, and proclaims. The Phish fandom actually goes beyond fandom, turning the band into a way of life (a phenomenon that I think–but don’t quote me–is borrowed from the Grateful Dead). Phish fans who participate in most devote levels of fandom are actually participating in a lifestyle and philosophy centered around Phish’s music.

Which brings us full circle, really. Because fandom for geek rock expresses itself in the only way it knows how–geekily. Maybe that’s the point–that any fandom is expressive of its object. If that is, in fact the case (and I’m not yet convinced it is, I’m just throwing out some ideas here), then there is really only one thing for a fan of geek rock to do.

I’ll see you at Dragon*Con.

Comics & Popular Arts at Dragon*Con

Want to hang out with Professor Awesome and Vickie (of Geek Rock) this weekend? We’ll be at Dragon*Con!

Dragon*Con is a huge annual science fiction/fantasy/etc convention held Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. Although there are probably hundreds of smaller conventions held throughout the year (and I do recommend you visit a small, local convention — fewer celebrities, but greater passion), there are really three giants: Comic-Con, Gen Con, and Dragon*Con, which finishes out the season. Some of you, still buzzing from Gen Con three weeks ago, are already packing for Dragon*Con this weekend. Dragon*Con officially draws over 50k attendees to the conference proper every year, but also has a huge parade through Atlanta that draws tens of thousands more.

One of the special elements of Dragon*Con is the fan tracks. Honestly, the main Dragon*Con events are OK, but they’re a lot like the kind of programming you might expect, sitting in a room with hundreds of other people listening to a celebrity give an interview with well-worn responses. Worth it? Yes, but …

Even better are the fan tracks. The fans organize between 3000-4000 hours of programming over dozens of tracks, from Alternate History to Young Adult Literature.  Animation, Podcasting, Puppetry, Stargate, Star Wars, Star Trek, Science, Robotics, Tolkien — if smart people like it, there’s a track for it. The main Dragon*Con events will always be pretty good, but rarely great, while the fan tracks can run the gamut from boring to insanely fun. And, as you can imagine, with thousands of hours of programming (not counting open-ended events like the gaming hall, the Walk of Fame, the unparalleled vendor’s area, and the wall-to-wall cosplay), there’s no way to do everything fun. You might get to see 1% of all the awesome stuff. So, you’ve got to pick and choose.

The absolute best sessions of all are the Comics and Popular Arts Conference sessions. Yes, I am one of the organizers of it, so you might accuse me of bias, but come to even ONE of our sessions and see if you don’t agree with me. Every single session someone says, “I can’t believe I didn’t know this was here!” It is not to be missed.

What is it? The Comics and Popular Arts Conference (CPAC) is a legit, peer-reviewed academic conference that runs within Dragon*Con. It’s not officially part of the Con and maintains an independent identity. CPAC has intentionally avoided having its own track, and instead partners with the regular fan tracks to provide programming. So, for example, the “Psychology and Gaming” session is part of the Tabletop Gaming track, “Comics, Semiotics, and Representation” is in the Comics track, “Gender in SciFi Film” is in the American Science Fiction Media track, and so forth.

Unlike any other session, CPAC sessions take serious academic discussions of these topics and bring them to the fans. They’re accessible, but not dumbed-down. And CPAC scholars aren’t just superfans — we are folks who study this for a living. Interested in philosophy and ethics in comic books? Professor Matt Brown is the Director of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology. Interested in artificial intelligence? We’ve got Damien Patrick Williams, a.k.a. Wolven, author of “The Metaphysical Cyborg.” We’ve got Johnathan Flowers of San Jose State, author Kelly Sue DeConnick, Kari Storla (expert on female gamers) … well, just look at the schedule below to check out everyone we’ve got.

So, come to one of the CPAC sessions, meet an expert, and finally get the chance to really geek out about the things you love!

2014 COMICS AND POPULAR ARTS ACADEMIC CONFERENCE SCHEDULE [Printable version here, Professor Awesome’s University contributors in red below]


Description: Get a sneak peak at this year’s panel lineup, then hear from CPAAC’s keynote speaker Kelly Sue DeConnick!
Location: Hyatt, Hanover F

Description: Scholars @Joel Amnot & Johnathan Flowers investigate issues of gender, feminism, and masculine ft masculine ft in sci-fi films like Ender’s Game and Pacific Rim.
Johnathan Flowers: Mako Mori is (Not) Your Feminist Heroine
Joel Amnott: Who is playing Ender’s Game? Whiteness, Masculinity, and Film Adaptation
Moderator: Vickie Willis
Location: Marriott, M301-M302

Description: Psychologists Josué Cardona, Woody Harris, & Charles Rohr discuss the use of tabletop games and RPGs in therapy and clinical psychology.
· Josué Cardona & Woody Harris: Gaming Is Good for You: The Positive Effects of Video and Board Gaming
· Charles Rohr: Roll Knowledge (Psychology): Examining the Role of Tabletop Role Playing Games in Society, Psychology, and Treatment of United States Combat Veterans.
Moderator: Richard Nokes
Location: Hilton, Grand Salon C


Description: Scholars and fans examine the Stargate franchise as myth-building.
Richard Scott Nokes
Location: Westin, Chastain HIJ

Description: Scholars of comics, literature, & religion explore literary and theological themes in DC’s ‘New 52’ and ‘Swamp Thing.’ D. Humphries, N. Sheppard.
Durf Humphries: Old Testaments and the New 52: Conflicting Religions of DC Comics
Natalie Sheppard: Abandon Hope, Y’all Who Enter Here: Swamp Thing and Dante’s Journey Through The Divine Comedy
Moderator: Richard Nokes
Location: Hyatt, Hanover F
Description: Jennifer Hudgens discusses race & gender in Heinlein’s work, & Joseph Cadotte & Elizabeth Kidder discuss historical & fictional utopias & dystopias.
Jennifer Hudgens: RAH, RAH, Womp: Race and Gender in Heinlein’s Science Fiction
Joseph Cadotte & Elizabeth Kidder: The Broken Paradise: the Dystopia Lurking Inside Every Utopia
Moderator: Vickie Willis
Location: Hyatt, Embassy A-B

Description: Critical Social Theorist Clint Jones analyzes the Walking Dead, the Massive, and Snowpiercer to draw conclusions about modern society.
Clint Jones: Post-Apocalyptic Human Society: An Examination of the End Times in The Walking Dead, The Massive, and Snowpiercer
Moderator: Damien Williams
Location: Westin, Chastain 1-2
Description: Comics scholars Spencer Chalifour and Jared Hegwood examine symbolic and representational techniques from Superman to Jeff Smith’s RASL.
Spencer Chalifour: The Very Wheelwork of Nature: The Visual Representation of Alternate Realities in Jeff Smith’s RASL
Jared Hegwood: Subject, Signifier, Superman
Moderator: Matthew Brown
Location: Hyatt, Hanover F

Description: CPAAC Panelists meet and discuss experiences at this years conferences, and any improvements or adjustments to be made for the following year. (Closed Session)

Description: A discussion of the narrative effects of psychological concepts and themes from MANHUNTER to NBC’s HANNIBAL
Damien Patrick Williams
Cleolinda Jones
Location: Westin, Peachtree 1-2


Description: Comics scholar Karl Mohn and comics professional Kelly Sue DeConnick discuss the various ways that educators can use the comic medium to teach students about composition and narrative.
Karl Mohn: Comics and Multimodal Composition in the First-Year Composition Classroom
Kelly Sue DeConnick
Moderator: Vickie Willis
Location: Hyatt, Hanover F

Panel Title: Stargate as Stories, Myths, and Personal Identity
Description: The panel examines the rise of new media, & its effect on how we virtualize & mythologize notions of the self & the Stargate community. R.S. Nokes, D. Williams
Richard Scott Nokes & Damien Williams
Location: Westin, Chastain HIJ

Description: Comics scholars Daniel Amrhein and Kari Storla trace feminist themes from the origins of Wonder Woman to the Tomb Raider reboot comic by Gail Simone.
Daniel Amrhein: Why Wonder Woman? Tracing the Rise of a Feminist Icon
Kari Storla: “She’s just one girl”: A post (modern) feminist reading of the Tomb Raider reboot
Kelly Sue DeConnick
Moderator: Vickie Willis
Location: Hyatt, Hanover F
For official maps to help you get around the con, be sure to check here: (Where home is Hyatt Regency Atlanta,
265 Peachtree Street Northeast,
Atlanta, 30303, US )

Professor Awesome’s Icy Counter-Challenge

Professor Awesome has been called out by several different people to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Me, a mere slacktivist? Never! So I offer my counter-challenge to my students, so that they may participate in a meaningful way:

Any student who wishes to dump a bucket of ice on Professor Awesome’s head may do so, with the following stipulations:

1. You must donate $10 directly to the ALS Association. Even undergraduates can afford that. Because many object to the ALSA’s support of fetal stem cell research, you may alternately donate $10 to the JP2MRI if you prefer.
2. You must film it and post it to encourage your friends. The more Professor Awesome suffers the icy indignity, the more money will be raised.
3. You must do it by Wednesday, August 27th, after which point I’ll be out of town. You can make arrangements with me via Twitter @rsnokes. Surely you can scrape up $10 by then!

Not sure if you want to take Professor Awesome’s counter-challenge? Consider these words from the Anglo-Saxon poem, “The Seafarer,” and meditate on how your heart will delight to make me wretched for a noble cause:

How wretched I was, drifting through winter
On an ice-cold sea, whirled in sorrow,
Alone in a world blown clear of love,
Hung with icicles. The hailstorms flew.
The only sound was the roaring sea,
The freezing waves.

And if that doesn’t inspire you, try this:

Ok Go and the Geek (Rock) Video

Ok Go isn’t exactly what I would call a geek rock band. Although they are most assuredly clever, their music doesn’t really fit the criteria for geek rock; in my opinion, they are straight up, unabashedly, indie rock. And they make some very good indie rock. But it’s not geek rock. Not quite.

Their videos, however, are an altogether different story. Ok Go’s videos are geeky as hell. Their latest video, for “The Writing’s on the Wall,” is a study in perspective and optical illusion. The song is great, as Ok Go songs tend to be–honest, melody driven, unpretentious indie rock that is happy to be indie rock. But the video is fantastic. The video elevates the song into something akin to geek rock.

I would even make the argument that all Ok Go videos do this–bring their music into a place where their music doesn’t necessarily go on its own. For “The Writing’s on the Wall,” it’s clear that the amount of time, dedication, and perhaps most importantly, study that went into the making of this video required geek-level knowledge. To even make a music video today is itself almost an act of geekery. After the rise (and fall) of MTV, the music video has (sadly) seen better days. Making a music video speaks to either a deep dedication to music, or a deep dedication to sales. Ok Go is clearly in the former category (see above: indie rock).

The phrase “the writing is on the wall” is cliche at best, hackneyed at worst, depending on one’s personal preference. The song itself is strong, well-constructed and unsurprising, with lyrics that are  largely unexceptional. A confessional break-up song, the lyrics follow the song title; the narrator explains that the relationship is clearly over, and all he wants is to see his partner happy again for a moment before they break up. There are no surprises or twists. This is a break up song.

The magic is in the video. The optical illusions and twists in perspective are the envy of textbooks on cognition and optics. I have no doubt that this video is being shown in psychology classes. And the reason the video elevates, or enhances, the song and pushes it towards the realm of geek rockery is that the video (much like all visual rhetoric) overlaps an additional layer of meaning, a commentary on relationships and perspectives. Not only is the video a work of mechanical and theoretical mastery of illusion (much like actual stage magic), but the pairing of the video with the song creates a visual and aural rhetorical commentary on  the optical illusion of being, of I-ness and you-ness and us-ness, of the boundaries of self and other (and world). The video achieves a level of geekery that the song, on it’s own, does not, and the video almost works to pull the song with it into a geekier realm.

The video with the Rube Goldberg Machine, “This Too Shall Pass,” is by far my favorite Ok Go video, and one of my favorite all time videos.

The phenomenal intricacies of this Rube Goldberg machine pair perfectly with the song. While nothing about the song is inherently geeky, the video, again, elevates and compliments the song towards the realm of geek rockery. In itself an amazing feat of engineering, the video also creates a visual interpretation of the song, even down to the sonic and visual complements of the song to the machine.

There are, however, two official videos for this song, the second one featuring the Notre Dame marching band:

And the very fact of there being TWO videos, with two different sonic and visual interpretations of this song, is pretty geeky. Not content with one fairly geeky visual elevation, Ok Go made a second, prominently featuring a collegiate marching band both visually and aurally–marching band being, as several popular movies tell us, “geeky.”

But still, I wouldn’t call Ok Go a geek rock band. Their music, on it’s own, doesn’t lend itself to enough of the criteria to be geek rock. But their videos are a different story, pushing them closer to the line of geek rock them most other straightforwardly indie bands achieve. And perhaps this is part of their charm, because they are willing to explore and create wherever their music takes them.

Which is pretty geeky, if you ask me.