Baring Your Chest

Geek culture is all about the t-shirt. From the days when Superman yanked open his buttons, cool has been defined by the logo between your nipples.

I’ve been trying to work out (Superman’s nipples aside) just where this is going.

Five years ago, at Star Wars Celebration Europe, the Grand Moff Tarkin offered me sixty quid for my Gentle Giant Tour tee – and, frankly bemused, I turned him down.

At Kapow! last year, the ‘who’s got the coolest tee’ battle really heated up with some fantastic contenders – but was won by the bloke with the ‘Han Job’ image. Included here for full impact.

A couple of months back, thanks to the intervention of @loudmouthman and the networking of twitter, I was able to send Colin Baker a sixth doctor costume tee, purpose-made for him by Titan Merch.

And then yesterday, I had a phone call from a financial journo doing an article on t-shirts worn in the City. Three-piece suits are no longer required, it seems – if you work in the high gloss of Canary Wharf, it’s all about your tee.

And that made me chuckle. It also made me think.

The costume tee thing has been a recent stroke of Titanic genius – not just the good Doc, but everyone from Dredd to Venkman has appeared (or will) on chests at Cons all over the world. The Canary Wharf thing, though, implies that this has bust out of the Con circuit and is joining the rise of geek culture in the mainstream.

Look at the Haynes Manual x Star Wars tees – don’t they do exactly the same thing?

Taking this one step further, Threadless has cross-bred social networking with Etsy with geek tee cool and enables you to upload and showcase – and possibly have made – your own tee art. There are companies like spreadshirt and streetshirts which allow you simply make your own. And look at how far our friends at Genki Gear have come!

Where this meteoric rise of cotton cool will end, I have no idea – at the moment neither the sky – nor the neck – are the limit. As the lines between types of genre ‘platforms’ blur – films to toys to garments to games to artwork – the expansion is exponential…

It’s easy to see one thing, though. Whether Geek Chic or Hot in the City, it’s all about baring your chest.

Culture Shock

Culture Shock is a very strange beast.

It’s not the big stuff – the high-rise Miami condos and the golden beach – that’s expected, absorbed parts of the background noise. In a Brit’s constant exposure to American culture, both tele-visual and through Twitter, some stuff just sinks into your subconscious.

No, it’s the little stuff that has the power.

Some of it’s half-expected, but still humorous – driving on the wrong side of the road, overhead traffic lights and ceaseless intersections, fire-hydrants and strip-malls, the guys who put their bikes on the front of the bus (yeah, that one absolutely foxed me). Some of it’s sheer ‘I-don’t-fucking-believe-this’ comedy – the juxtaposition of sunshine and palm trees with Christmas decorations. Sign-spinners (tell me they’re not real)… and what is it about the denizens of Miami and bloody pom-pom dogs?

Some of it, though; some of it just brought me to a dead stop.

Partially it’s the poverty. There’s no shortage of it in central London, but seeing it another context is both surreal and, rather uncomfortably, too real for words. The suburbs are a tessellation of street-art, chickenwire and urban decay; over them, the skeletal overlords of the empty skyscrapers stand grim against flawless blue. Miami smells like concrete, like sun-baked stucco; I hadn’t realised how much the absence of rivers and parks bothered me until I got home.

In a city built on a swamp, where hurricanes are a fact of everyday life, such ‘urban’ things as I take for granted are luxuries. That’s kind of an eye-opener.

Coming back to the tele-visual thing – I seemed to be forever walking into filmsets. The Tobacco Road bar was waiting for Arnie and a shotgun; the very poverty itself was straight out of Robocop. The fantastic, 50s ‘Art Deco’ buildings seemed two-dimensional – had I leaned far enough over, I could’ve nudged them to fall flat. Seeing white bird feathers decorating a grave… it took a minute for me to realise that the ritual employed had, yes, been absolutely sincere.

No Danie, just because it’s a churchless graveyard doesn’t mean it’s an episode of Buffy…

The tourist in me took in The Everglades (damn those ‘gators are big!), the Coral Castle, the KidRobot store, and wandered along the sprawling pretentiousness of Art Basel… evidence of which was washing up on the beach a couple days later. Plus a shout, here, to the wonderful Tate of Tate’s Comics and Videos – when he realised who I worked for, he and his team granted me Ambassadorial status. That’s a whole new and different form of Culture Shock!

In all of this though, there’s one thing that stands out as the greatest Culture Shock of all.

Twitter has made the world smaller; broken it into bite-size pieces and allowed everyone to find their own involvement. It’s also become saturated with spammers and life coaches and soulless marketeers – it’s very bloody noisy.

And it’s all too easy to lose track of your friends.

The opportunity to meet some of those friends – people I’ve been talking to for nearly four years, people from the Little Blue Bird’s first nesting days – was a wondrous thing; I have no words to really do it justice. However small the world may shrink and however swiftly its changes may pass us by, some things are worth taking a moment to remember, and to take a hold of.

Just like the city itself, they have to be done in person.

And that’s not just Culture Shock. It’s magic.

You can read another viewpint on my visit here.

A little Culture culture

How many of you have had a creative idea in your head that you’ve been tinkering with for years… only to see it manifest by another author/artist/muso before you’ve had a chance to shout about how good it is?

My feelings, pretty-much exactly, when I saw the cover of Iain M Banks’ new book.

(On the other hand, of course, it does tell me that the idea was a good one!)

Whatever the personal ironies (they’re all over the use of the fractal eyes theme, dammit!) it’s a kick-arse cover, and Mister Banks himself will be at FP to sign his latest Culture title, Surface Detail, on October 7th at 6pm.

Don’t miss this one – it’s likely to be big!

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What Is A Geek? A Little Word For Lauren Laverne

The Guardian, Thursday 13th August. An interview with Lauren Laverne, presenter of ‘The Culture Show’, the BBC’s front-line magazine programme, focussing on the latest developments in the worlds of film, music, fashion and the performing arts. And a class comment that’s had me rolling in the proverbials all though my holiday weekend.

Lauren, it seems, has missed a significant social and cultural revelation.

Her quote runs thus: ‘Radio’s… for geeks and I’m a geek so it completely resonates with me and I’ve loved it from day one. But it’s run by people who haven’t left a studio in decades. Those kinds of boys just don’t know what to do with girls; it’s just a bit like [comic shop] Forbidden Planet. Would you want to go in there? It smells weird and sells funny stuff. That’s what radio studios are like. Ladies just walk past.’

Oh Lauren, Lauren. In 2003, Peter Jackson (you have heard of him?) directed ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. In case you missed it, this was the first part of a fantasy trilogy written by one J R R Tolkien – and the films were really quite important. They consolidated the movement that began with Joss Whedon’s ‘Buffy’ on the Small Screen and the explosion of comic-book (yes, you’ve never read one but bear with me) superheroes across the Big One… and The New Age of Geek began.

I’m curious to know how the presenter of The Culture Show has missed this – and how Forbidden Planet has been a part of that movement.

In fairness, it must be said you’ve not lost out completely – you’re socially aware enough to know the word ‘Geek’ is cool. But ‘those kinds of boys’ to which you refer know exactly what to do with girls – they’re having a laugh with the large numbers of smart and streetwise ladies that hang out in (yes, in) FP. Perhaps if you took a look at that ‘weird stuff’, you might be able to talk to them? About – y’know – films and stuff? The very Culture you’re presenting a show about? If you’re ‘a girl in a man’s world’, then relating shouldn’t be that hard for you.

Just an idea.

Of course, if best-selling books and movie merchandise are just too freaky, then you’re absolutely welcome to loiter outside FP London and see who really does walk past…

But you’ll miss: –

Amanda Palmer
Mike Carey
Kim Stanley Robinson
Pat Mills
David Lloyd
Iain Banks
Howard Chaykin
Kevin Smith
Cory Doctorow

And that’s just the beginning.

I know you don’t know all these names, but you know enough. These are the people that have helped redefine the word ‘Geek’ to mean what it does today – that have stood on the crest of the wave of social evolution that you’ve apparently missed.

Forbidden Planet is at the top of Shaftesbury Avenue.

You won’t be needing the peg.

(Just for the record, this is my personal blog. What’s written here has not been endorsed by Forbidden Planet or the Titan Entertainment Group in any way. But on behalf of hot, smart, savvy and streetwise Geeks (of both genders) everywhere I kinda had to say something. Y’know?)

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