Recently when I was in Philadelphia I met a friend in a club in down town Center City. From the outside the Raven Lounge appeared to be about the same as any club. But when we got inside I realized this wasn't like the clubs I remember. This was a "geek" club, or rather, a "geek" mecca. Some aspects would be familiar to the average club goer - packed wall to wall with people dancing to the DJ's, girls dancing on the bar. But that's where the similarities ended, at least for me.
The Raven Lounge is a two stories, the bottom floor filled with old school arcade games like Ms. Pacman and the original Nintendo's, Sega Genesis, and Super Nintendo's hooked up to the screens. The DJ was spinning "8 bit" remixes of The Big Lebowski soundtrack, like if you had watched the movie through your Nintendo in the 80's, while upstairs a burlesque show parodying Dr. Who was turning on 21 year old nerds. This was apparently a regular thing with posters for upcoming burlesque parodies of the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars plastered on the wall.
I felt like I was sitting in the center of the nerd universe. Upcoming events included an "Old School Video Game Championship," a la the 80's cult movie The Wizard, a "Vogon Poetry Slam" honouring "International Towel Day" (a celebration of Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy," ) and "May the Forth Be With You" lightsaber battle. While wondering where they might find these lightsabers, I realized this was still a club though. The Geeks had become the cool kids.
This isn't completely new. Geek culture has been growing and getting more and more accepted and commercialized over the last decade. A far cry from when I was in high school desperately hiding my Star Trek addiction. Now, the top movies every summer are from franchises like Star Trek, Iron Man, or the Avengers. Comic Conventions nearly double in size each year and have spread across the country, and one of the most watched shows is The Big Bang Theory, filled with "inside" geek jokes. Everyone, it seems, wants to cater to the geeks.
There is still a thriving underground geek culture. Bands like I Fight Dragons perform wearing superhero shirts and using both guitars and old Nintendo controllers to make music. In Orlando, "Nerdapalooza" has grown from a small underground festival of chiptune, 8bit music, and fan art to a massive annual festival. Outside of these gatherings, geeks continue to feel a bit of pride in their passions and seem to maintaining a sense of community like "indie" kids before them. Someone walking down the street with a multi-coloured fourteen foot scarf will still only get the occasional knowing glance from someone who recognizes the nod to the Forth Doctor. And that's how they'd like to keep it.
Standing in the Raven Lounge, I had the feeling of being in an emerging counter culture every bit as real as previous ones, like watching a punk show at CBGB's in the late 70's, or catching Nirvana in a Seattle coffee shop in the '90's. Just like previous counter cultures, the hipsters and capitalists were knocking on the door. But for now, they could reveal in their own arrival. The geeks are the cool kids. They have inherited rock and roll.
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