Let's talk about asscrack, shall we?
Over the past two days, one of the biggest stories across social media is the gallery of asscracks from a Magic: The Gathering tournament held over the weekend in Richmond, Virginia. It started as a photo gallery on Reddit. By yesterday afternoon it had been covered everywhere from Buzzfeed to Time. Chances are good that even if you'd never heard of the game before, by the time you went to bed last night you'd seen photographic evidence that Magic players didn't have the sense to pull up their damn pants to cover their asscracks. As a diehard Magic enthusiast and passionate advocate for geek culture, let me tell you -- this sucks.
Now, I'm not denying that the photo gallery was worth a few laughs. More so than the asscracks on display, it was the original poster's humorous, understated poses and facial expression next to those cracks that really pushed it over the top. When I first saw it on Reddit, sometime Tuesday afternoon, I laughed. Then I read the comments, which contained a surprising amount of thoughtful "this is uncool and makes us all look bad" responses. And I was inclined to agree -- it's not particularly cool, and it does sort of make us look bad. Then I saw it all over everything, with numerous people posting it directly to my wall, since I'm the only Magic player they know, and I realized, man, this really sucks.
Now, if you're not a self-identified geek, you probably give zero fucks, and I guess I can't blame you. If you're not a Magic player but are a geek, you might also give zero fucks, but you'd be mistaken. It's only recently become remotely okay to be a geek, and even as certain geek activities are deemed acceptable -- playing video games, or liking the X-Men -- others are still heavily stigmatized. (Just try telling people you're a LARPer and see how they react once you explain what that is.)
The thing is, even though geek culture has started to seep into the mainstream, most of what we do is poorly understood by the mundanes. They don't really get the difference between, say, Magic players and Dungeons & Dragons players. When they see something like this, they're bound to assume that it's all of a piece, and that your geek subculture is just as full of neck-bearded, asscrack-hanging social misfits as that Magic tournament. Your attempts to explain the difference between your group of socially awkward followers of an esoteric hobby and the one they saw on their Facebook wall are likely to be met with blank stares and condescending nods. "Sure, it's different. You bet. I believe you."
Worse, this gallery of asscrack, as humorous as it may be, isn't even particularly representative. Lost in the mostly superficial "Haha, look at the geeks!" coverage is any real sense of the scale of what you're seeing. Yes, there are sixteen asscracks to gawk at. Did you know that the tournament in question was the second-biggest Magic: The Gathering tournament ever? There were 4,301 people competing at that tournament, and perhaps a few hundred more spectating or just hanging out. Pick a random gathering of 4,300-plus people for anything in America, from sports to a music festival, and I can pretty much guarantee you can find fifteen to twenty overweight and sartorially challenged dudes with their ass hanging out of their pants. Only there, you wouldn't necessarily get coverage across the Internet and everyone you know assuming that these people represented some kind of of typical specimen of your peer group.
I've been to a lot of Magic tournaments in my day, and I can say with some authority that you will find all sorts of people there. The vast majority are just normal, everyday folks you wouldn't look twice at in any context. Some minority, albeit a larger minority than you might find at, say, the mall, might fit a nerd stereotype, whether that means hanging asscrack, a lack of personal hygiene or just a general air of awkwardness and social ineptitude. Put 4,300 of those people in a room and yeah, you can easily find a few dozen stereotyped "losers" that you can make fun of for a quick laugh and a shitload of Reddit karma. But I'd bet my ten most valuable cards -- and we're talking about $1,200 cash value or so -- that you could have found sixteen dapper motherfuckers in that group with only slightly more work...; But of course, that isn't going to earn you your fifteen minutes of Internet fame, is it?
For the next few days, maybe weeks, I'm going to have to explain that, no, this is not representative of my community. Not the dudes showing their asses, and not the dude who decided it would be funny to expose those dudes for showing their asses. For who knows how much longer, I'm going to have to deal with an even greater stigma -- because being a Magic player wasn't already geeky enough -- against a game that I love, thanks to this guy's need to garner attention on the Internet.
That's kind of a bummer, but I've got it easy. I'm not only self-confident, I'm years past fitting conveniently into any nerd stereotype, and the kind of people who would try to pigeonhole me have absolutely no power or influence over me. I can rail against it here and have a chance at being heard. Plus, my pants fit and my asscrack is never exposed if I don't want it to be. It's my geek family I really feel for, especially those of us who are still trapped in high school (or worse, junior high), who will be subjected to even greater scrutiny, ridicule and dismissal as a ripple effect of this. It's not fair to them that a few slovenly players and one attention-grubbing jerk have catapulted us all into the spotlight in an ugly, stereotype reinforcing way. In catching a few of us with our pants down, he's done all of us a disservice.
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Find me on Twitter, where I tweet about geeky stuff and waste an inordinate amount of time: @casciato.