Geek Policing

Joseph Reagle

Geek policing: “Fake geek girls” and contested attention

Joseph Reagle, Northeastern University 


Idiot Nrrrd Girl Princess Leia - Spielbricked

Subcultural capital confers status on its own or in the eyes of the relevant beholder. (Thornton (1996), “Club cultures”)

Identity work … anything people do, individually or collectively, to give meaning to themselves or others. (SchwalbeMason-Schrock (1996))

Geek hierarchies border police … [by] excluding both those not enough and those too much invested in the fannish object. (Busse (2013))


Passion vs attention

Girls who genuinely like their hobby or interest and document what they are doing to help others, not garner attention, are true geeks. The ones who think about how to get attention and then work on a project in order to maximize their klout, are exhibitionists. (Brown (2012))

Policing defined

  1. the reciprocal definition of identity (e.g., am I a geek?) and
  2. social boundaries (e.g., is liking an X-Men movie sufficiently geeky?).

Hoarding vs sharing

The answer is no, and I can say it in Na’vi or Klingon, which are pretty much the same. I have some theories on that, which I will share with you never. –Comic Book Guy (Wikipedia (2014))

Gendered policing

“Orlando Bloom ruined everything”

fan activities … tend to be gendered [and] fall on an implicitly acknowledged hierarchy. (Busse (2013), p. 87)

Contested attention

“Fake geek girls”

was a conflict over:

  1. what is attended to (knowledge or attractiveness),
  2. by whom (geekdom or mainstream), and
  3. the meaning of received attention (as empowering or objectifying).


knowledge vs. attractiveness

They decide to put on a “hot” costume, parade around a group of boys notorious for being outcasts that don’t get attention from girls, and feel like a celebrity. They’re a “6” in the “real world”, but when they put on a Batman shirt and head to the local fandom convention … they instantly become a “9.” (Peacock (2012))

By whom?

geek & mainstream

So I am a Misogynist? Why? Because I frown upon Posers who are sad, needy fakers who use up all my air at Cons? Sorry, while you Cos”Play” Im actually at work. Thats my office. Fuck you. (Tony Harris 2012)


empowering vs objectifying

Along with the “Grrr, don’t mess with me or I’ll choke your blubbery ass” is “I am a lap dog.” Along with “I am a sexy object, covet me” is “the smaller my outfit, the better I look, the more I am worth.” (Whiskeypants (2012))

Andro/sex -ism

Despite the more welcoming notion of geeks-who-share, the discourse manifested the values of dominant (androcentric) members.

Women faced significant double binds, and the discourse exemplified a critical boomerang in which a critique by a woman circled back to become a scrutiny of women by men.

nothing seems more damaging to a woman than the simultaneous attack on both her body and her brain. (Letamendi (2013))



  1. subcultures are gendered
  2. identity policing entails boundary policing and vice versa
  3. geek capital is contingent upon attention
  4. negotiations of identity and social boundaries are dominated by the existing culture (i.e., critical boomerang)
  5. more progressive understandings may emerge, thought it is not without a cost


Macaca nigra self-portrait

Media credits

Media are linked to their sources in slides, except for the following:

Troll Cops cosplayer IMG_10079

Slave Leo

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