Geek As Citizen: The Marketing Only Life, Culture, And General Annoyance

Tired Cute Pug
This little guy is tired of everyone overmarketing themselves.

Earlier this week I discussed how we have to accept the fact that marketing is part of our lives as geeks, careerists, and people living in the 21st century. Marketing is not an anomaly of the human condition, it is necessary, and frankly you have to learn how to do it avoid being overwhelmed. However there’s three sides to every story (if you get the reference), and there’s a flip side to our need to market ourselves and our businesses that enters into the whole ethical/citizen sphere I talk about.

I’d like to put this in an academically appropriate manner, but I can’t.

Don’t let your life and career become a (bleeping) pile of Marketing and Marketing only. Pick your own favorite obscenity or set of obscenities to use there, I couldn’t find an appropriate one. Also of course, my own discretion keeps me from swearing on this too much.

But seriously, don’t become a 100%-all-the-time-Marketer.

Yes, We Hate This

You know exactly what I’m talking about, even if you’re still selecting choice obscenities. You know that some people just become marketing and that’s all they do. They may be enormously popular stars who just exist to move merch and apply their names to things. They may be the would-be authors we know who have become hustle, not writers, and their writing reflects this pandering. They’re at times even us when we look at our next round of Personal Branding for that career move and realize how much of our time has been promoting ourselves and how much time hasn’t been spent being ourselves.

That nodding sensation you have? It’s something a lot of people experience. We all know someone famous like this, we’ve known a friend like this, and/or we’ve become it before.

We hate it, of course. We may understand, at least intellectually, the value of marketing. We know some of it is unavoidable. We can laugh it off. But when someone is just marketing, it engenders a kind of contempt because at some point you stop selling yourself and only become the selling of yourself – and less and less time is dedicated to actually being you.

Such a person is literally a lie.  They aren’t anything but a sale of an image.  We despise it . . . and we’re kind of afraid of this.

Yes, We Fear This

I’ve encountered people who fear this in my geek career work, and in general my thought is “good thing to be afraid of.” The idea of waking up one day and being only an image is enough to make you want to start preemptively developing the drinking problem you’d probably have if your life got that far down the hole of self-promotion. We can think of many a star or famous person who is just marketing, and we really don’t want to be that – though let’s face it, we’d kind of like the money.

Of course thinking that only fuels the fear.

The fear is understandable as mega-marketing and over marketing is a hallmark of our time. We’re used to bizarre publicity stunts, pandering reality shows that have anything but reality, star-worship, entitled musicians strutting around, and would-be Next Famous Authors pimping their latest questionable works. We seem to be in an age of marketing beyond the wildest dystopian fantasies of parody writers, coupled with clueless celebrities that don’t seem to know or care how shallow they seem.

(This is another chance for me to mention Twilight of the Elites, which will help you understand this).

The fear is understandable, and as citizens of our countries, communities, and subculture we know how dangerous this is.  We despite it because it is damaging, because it is shallow, and also because it annoys the hell out of us.  It’s a perfect storm of despisability.  It’s something I’m sure most of us would like to see addressed.

But when it comes to the geek community there’s a few specific issues we face.

Welcome To The Popular Place

The first issue, is now Geek Culture is in. Videogames are everywhere, Marvel is piloting a juggernaut of movie success, tech is hip, geeks are cool, Silicon Valley is filled with rock stars. Best of all our culture is both popular and part of it is actually doing stuff, from cool programs to making films, it’s the kind of popularity that feels – and in many ways I would say is – validated.

Except we also know it can be taken too far. We can witness the pundits of Valleywag waiting for the next Silicon Valley guru to say something stupid and entitled. There’s the arrogance of the I’ll-be-the-next-big-thing authors we encounter (and, yes, I’ve had people share personal horror stories). There’s an air of entitled sellout around geekery, not a prominent and widespread stench by any means, but that hint that it could get worse.

We are popular now. It provides temptations. It provides role models that aren’t a good idea to emulate as all they are is popular/controversial/person of the hour. That popularity puts us at risk of falling into the Marketing Trap because we ride the popularity wave and start selling ourselves . . . and then we fall into what always happens.

(I used to note if someone told me “Why don’t we do what X-Popular-Company-Of-The-Moment does” I was not going to be responsible for my actions. Though for me that usually means “extra snarky comments.”)

Rightful Revenge Of The Nerds

As part of the fact that it’s so fun that we’re popular is the fact that we may over enjoy it. I know I do, though I keep it to moderation.  Or I try.

It’s awesome that technology and geekery is validated, and it’s a nice partial antidote to anti-intellectualism in culture (even if we’ve got a serious problem with it still). It’s neat to see geek things being cool like we knew they were. If anything, I think the members of geek culture have been amazingly restrained in their critiques of mainstream culture as our ideas and images and works have been adopted, accepted, and lionized.

Thus it may be tempted to take a run and really promote your work.  It may be fun to strut a bit.

Videogames and vampires, paranormal romance and card games, all these things are so hip now and it feels so right that they’re popular, you might want to run with it because “now is the time.” This is in a way true, but you can run too far end end up with a Marketing Only Life (or Marketing only Hobby and then your one thing that gave you A Life is gone).

This is not a major concern of mine, but it’s there, echoing around the edge of my conversations and discussions and examinations. Enough I bring it up to be appropriately paranoid.

Technophile Paradise

The third issue geek culture faces is that we’ve kind of created and definitely are intimate with the tools that let people promote themselves. We use them, we make them, we get them. Technophile is part of Geek culture, and a good chunk of Geek in general.

This makes it easy to market ourselves and sell ourselves. In fact it can be fun and heady to have all this power, to use these tools, to run these numbers. It’s like a game, and there’s a definite high to it that’s seductive and frankly just a lot of fun.

It’s easy for us to fall into the All Marketing All The Time Trap because of that – because we make it and because it is Really Freaking Cool. You can so easily get lost in marketing your book or your indie game or your web magazine because the technology and the power is just awesome.  I can acknowledge this from personal experience as well, because even a few simple tools give you this massive rush.

But when it’s so fun, and engrossing, and neat, and something you know it can end up being all you do.

The technology also can abstract us from human concerns and understanding. When it’s numbers and hits and neat toys we can forget about people. When we forget about people, we may not realize when we’ve become All And Only About Marketing.  We forget how we look to people, and we may not have the kind of contact we need for them to tell us to stop doing it.

All Things In Moderation

As noted, I am all for Marketing ourselves, our works, our fan works, and so forth. It’s part of human culture, part of industry, and is not a bad thing at all.  I am all for good marketing. But it can be overdone as we’ve all seen in the media or encountered in people personally turning their lives into Pimping That Thing (which would be a good reality show name).

For we geeks, there are specific concerns I have, and bring up as a warning to make sure our specific temptations and inclinations don’t lead us into this trap. I’d hate to see us, now that it is “our time” end up having too many of our community fall into the Marketing Only Life, and have that potentially damage our subculture and what we can do.  Sure it can happen in any community, but I’m addressing mine.

The Overmarketed life is toxic to community. Everything becomes about moving and selling. Everything has a price, everything is sales, yet nothing is important. The enthusiasm we have for what we love shouldn’t be worn away by these things. If anything good marketing just helps us to more and spread our works.

But taken too far? Well, I’d rather not see a geek equivalent of the Kardashians or have us be associated with Yet Another Harry Twipotter ripoff. We can do more.  We do.

– Steven Savage