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Geek Myths That Keep Dark Lords In Power

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The views expressed in this article are personal views of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Play Without Apology as a whole.

Featured image courtesy of Frieda Mak.


A few weeks ago, Pammu used this very section to lay out a clear mission statement: “Geeks have a responsibility to be better human beings.” As she pointed out, this is especially true against the backdrop of routine political violence and normalized authoritarian rule in the Philippines.

On the surface, this seems like a trite no-brainer. At a bare minimum, contemporary geek media has an low-key undercurrent of vaguely defined youth revolt. The trope of enlightened everykids rising up to overthrow corrupt authority figures has been part of geek media’s narrative DNA for at least a half-century.

Sure, its flavor varies. At one end of the spectrum, there’s messianic Chosen Ones and rugged individualism. At the other end: borderline mob justice and gulag fantasies. Along the way, there’s organized mass resistance, Guy Fawkes masks, and signals that can’t be stopped.

But with all these options to choose from, many geeks have yet to take up arms (figuratively and otherwise) to oppose Duterte. Why is that?

There are probably as many factors as there are fandoms. Still, it’s possible to identify a few key myths that influence how we regard our current political situation. (And yes, I’m totally guilty of believing in them myself, sometimes.)

 

Myth #1: That our circumstances will mirror the heroes’ own

Anyone who has regular access to geek media usually takes several things for granted: at the bare minimum, we have the disposable leisure time to play, watch, or read stuff.

In the case of niche premium content — like The Handmaid’s Tale or Hamilton — it calls for access to specialized technology. It can seem basic if you’ve already set a routine around it. But consider all the moving parts: subscription memberships; an internet connection fast enough to stream (or torrent); digital payment methods with enough funds to pay for it.

But perhaps even less obvious, it means we have the language skills and media literacy to make sense of it all. And when we can’t understand it (I’m still looking at you, Evangelion), we know which sub-Reddits, Tumblr profiles, or Discord channels to look for possible answers.  

The Frodos, Katnisses, and Luke Skywalkers of the real world may be too busy evacuating their fire-bombed hometown to binge-watch a movie trilogy. (Yes, even a streamlined fan edit.) It’s a damn shame. The next youth leaders, policy advocates, rabble-rousers, and sharp-minded critics could be throwing away their shot because they’re literally dodging bullets.

Don’t be fooled: there are no Chosen Heroes in meatspace. But there’s also no opportunity for would-be protagonists to undergo an archetypal Hero’s Journey, if they get killed by goon squads on motorcycles before they can even cross the threshold into the unknown. The Chosen Hero is a comforting ideal, but The Person Who Lived is a vital pre-requisite for all of this.

 

Myth # 2: That authoritarianism is incompatible with creature comforts

It’s tempting to regard petty bourgeois luxuries as anathema to authoritarian rule. On a gut level, this makes sense, partly because our concept of authoritarianism is shaped by grimdark dystopian fiction.

It’s in the interests of despots to maintain the appearance of business as usual. A vibrant creative sector and thriving knowledge industry goes a long way to selling the appearance of normalcy to disguise the erosion of rights. 

The Galactic Empire would probably be okay with co-working spaces, vaping, and pop-up craft markets. The ranks of present-day Death Eaters would most likely include cosplayers, Mac users, and CrossFitters, who just so happen to also serve You-Know-Who. Looks like organic, farm-to-table meat is back on the menu at the Uruk-hai food park, boys! 

You get the idea. I don’t even need to bring up those well-tailored Nazi uniforms. Sometimes, evil isn’t just banal — it coexists with the fun stuff. 

 

Myth #3: That it’s not our fight

Okay, this one’s a bit tricky. So you’re ethical (or just plain humane) enough to recognize that things are seriously fucked up: vigilante killings, warrantless arrests, and de facto martial law. But you’re also woke enough to recognize that you probably shouldn’t act on behalf of a marginalized group you don’t belong to: the urban poor, Lumad, peasant labor, you name it.

But if that’s the case, where does one draw the line? How do you build solidarity while staying in your proverbial lane?

Well, one possibility is to let the most vulnerable groups set the terms. Just ask them. Listen to what they need: Funding? Resource persons? Warm bodies? Legal protection? A safe meeting place?

Besides, there are plenty of groups putting out volunteer calls for broad, multi-sector activities. Consider the following:

If you’re not ready to step out of your comfort zone just yet, that’s fine. Everyone has their own pace. There are groups that organize largely within a familiar middle-class base:

 

Myth #4: That we’re powerless to do anything

This one’s a real hope-crusher. Extrapolating from Uncle Ben’s axiom, if we don’t already wield great power, then we probably don’t have much responsibility to change things.

But here’s the rub. The history of organized movements in the Philippines proves that shit gets done when we act in numbers.  Yes, even loose-knit ad hoc networks like the various People Power revolts.

But let’s move away from the familiar textbook examples (Rizal’s Liga Filipina, the Katipunan, the dissidents of the First Quarter Storm). There are plenty of localized examples of successful collective action by labor unions, peasant groups, indigenous communities, and other political communities. They’re often hidden by language barriers, inaccessible archives, and conscious sabotage. Then, there’s just plain laziness to seek them out. 

I know that large groups can have a negative rep in geek culture. But that’s where our perceived intellect comes into play. Tactics and strategy can be the difference between a brute force Zerg rush and the Ewoks’ guerrilla victory on Endor’s forest moon.

 

Nearly a thousand words later, I’m not sure that I know how to overcome these myths.

Like that hackneyed metaphor about the boiling frog, we’re just so immersed in these skewed perceptions, it takes nothing short of active effort to unlearn them. But to mangle a proverb, I’d like to believe knowing (that is, being aware of these myths) is half the battle.


Real Talk Tuesdays is where we encourage contributors to share their feelings on issues in “the real world”. They may or may not have to do with geeky things. If you stumble across something that you think we’d be interested in, drop us a line!

Editor’s Note: Links and relevant articles have been included following the article’s publication.

Paolo Jose Cruz

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