Sunday, November 23, 2014Cloudy 6°C
Arts

Is Toronto a nerdy city?

Posted by Guest Contributor / August 31, 2010

Fan Expo CanadaTwenty minutes into my time at Fan Expo Canada 2010, I found myself inadvertently siphoned off from the flow of regular foot traffic and fed into one of the long queues snaking through Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

It was here, amidst a sea of makeshift anime characters, bloated superheroes, and bloodied horror icons, that my attention was drawn to the young couple stationed just ahead of me in line. In contrast to the elaborate costumes of their fellow conventioneers, the couple's costumes were surprisingly conservative, and designed to capitalize on the Scott Pilgrim fad.

He was wearing a blue winter jacket with brown fur around the collar, a yellow tee, and grey slacks, while she had on a hoody, short skirt, and a bright pink wig cut in a choppy A-line bob. In his hand was a glossy 8x10 photograph of Firefly actress Summer Glau, and the snippet of conversation that carried over to me appeared to center on an upcoming autograph session with the Expo attendee:

"What are you going to ask her?"

"I don't know. Maybe ask her how she likes Toronto?"

"Ha! Dude, that's lame."

"Please. Look around you. Toronto's cool because it's lame."

Fan Expo CanadaThe exchange was brief, but it was enough to bring to mind some of the conversation that had been generated earlier this summer when Huffington Post journalist Lauri Lyons had anointed Toronto the new capital of cool. Quickly picked up by the local media, the designation had been received with the predictable mixture of surprise, humility and self-deprecation that is all too common in much of the press dealing with the city's self-image.

And while the general consensus was that Toronto should indeed be celebrated for its multiculturalism, extensive food selection and accessible arts culture, there was an underlying sense that "cool" was a bit of a misnomer for a city also experiencing a bit of developmental growth spurt and struggling with an infamous insecurity complex. But could that adolescent awkwardness also be the source of Toronto's charm? Is Toronto - home of Scott Pilgrim and the first public Zombie Walk - a nerdy city?

Fan Expo CanadaIt has been said that there are two widely held and somewhat contradictory beliefs that inform Toronto's insecurity complex, and both were explored in the 2007 documentary Let's All Hate Toronto: that Torontonians are somewhat embarrassed by their city, and that the rest of Canada hates Toronto and its self-centered citizenry.

Fan Expo CanadaBoth beliefs can be traced back through the city's uneven history to its humble beginnings as the Town of York in 1793, a rather inhospitable colonial outpost that stood in stark contrast to Ville-Marie, the bustling trade centre to the northeast. Indeed, whereas Toronto's early development was comparatively slow and often done on the periphery of the larger empire, the incorporated Montreal had been developed and nurtured as Canada's bombastic economic and cultural capital almost from its very inception.

Toronto Fan ExpoThe city maintained this position until the 1970s, when the October Crisis and election of the Parti Quebecois resulted in the mass migration of many of the city's businesses and Anglophone population to a "second class" Toronto.

Almost overnight, Toronto the Good had a significant increase in economic development, and at a time when changes in immigration policy and the patriation of the constitution had resulted in both a citywide influx of racially diverse immigrant populations and a cultural severing from Great Britain. Suddenly, a mid-sized city in the midst of a severe identity crisis was thrust on to the world stage and expected to fall into step with larger and older metropolises.

Toronto Fan ExpoIt was here that the city turned its attention south of the border, and began to develop a high-rise office culture according to the template put in place by the most famous North American city of the time - New York. This attention resulted in a shift from the colonial model to an American one, as well as to inevitable (and unfair) comparisons with the U.S. and a cultural distancing between Toronto and many smaller Canadian cities.

Toronto Fan ExpoSo in returning to the line up at Fan Expo, the costumed couple, and my initial question, how do these historical circumstances contribute to Toronto's status as a nerdy city?

When Edgar Wright's film adaptation of Brian Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim graphic novels opened in August, it was met with middling box office returns and general apathy from the American public. Although a number of reasons have been provided for the poor showing, many Canadian critics remain convinced that the film's Toronto locales were not palatable to an American audience used to seeing the city play other urban centres.

In his discussion of the film's financial failure, Jamie J. Weinman of Maclean's Magazine argues against the idea that it would even be possible to replace Toronto as the backdrop, and maintains that the city is not only integral to the "feel" of the film, but is also a key element in the viewer's understanding of the lead character as a sympathetic underdog facing off against formidable (and often American) foes.

Toronto Fan ExpoIn effect, Toronto is not only allowed to play itself, but in playing itself becomes a sort of narrative shorthand designed to engender sympathy and gesture to nerdy insecurity. Toronto - with its position as a second tier city, its problematic relationship to the empire, its
internal growing pains, its antagonistic relationship to its Canadian peers, and its insecurities in relation to its American neighbours - is the quintessential nerd outpost.

Not long after the initial encounter in the line up, I ended up crossing paths with the costumed couple again as I doubled back through the convention centre. As I shuffled past them discreetly, a grown man dressed as Link from The Legend of Zelda smiled in their direction and waved. "Cool costumes!"

The young man's response? "Not really, but thanks."

Toronto Fan ExpoWriting by JP Larocque. Photos by Dennis Marciniak. Additional material from Westward ho? The shifting geography of corporate power in Canada, Journal of Canadian Studies (2002), with reference to "Toronto Rises as the New Capital of Cool," The Huffington Post, July 20, 2010 and "Scott Pilgrim Loves Toronto," Maclean's Magazine Online, August 23, 2010.

Discussion

26 Comments

Greg / August 31, 2010 at 09:47 am
user-pic
Being nerdy is chic right now. The core group is just surrounded by the geeksters.

But yes, to your initial question.
Kenny / August 31, 2010 at 10:04 am
user-pic
Nothing wrong with nerdcore and geekalgasms nowadays, the only problem with this newfound openness is the fact that a good number of people only act nerdy because it's the cool thing to do. Then they also add pretentiousness which make'em even more intolerable.

Scott Pilgrim's box failure has nothing to do with Toronto's setting, it has to do with the fact that it is a total niche film, the general public can't get into it if they weren't into it to begin with.
Kenny / August 31, 2010 at 10:05 am
user-pic
Nothing wrong with nerdcore and geekalgasms nowadays, the only problem with this newfound openness is the fact that a good number of people only act nerdy because it's the cool thing to do. Then they also add pretentiousness which make'em even more intolerable.

Scott Pilgrim's box failure has nothing to do with Toronto's setting, it has to do with the fact that it is a total niche film, the general public can't get into it if they weren't into it to begin with.
Jerry / August 31, 2010 at 10:15 am
user-pic
"Is Toronto a nerdy city" is not a question answered by an article talking about Fan Expo - 5000 people does not make the entire city nerdy.

That 200 people dress like zombies once a year does not make the entire city nerdy.

That 100 people have a pillow fight in Dundas Square does not make a city nerdy.

Your rambling reaching article gave me an eyeache.
5andman / August 31, 2010 at 10:44 am
user-pic
Nerdcore?
Geekalgasms?
It's all good .... that's why we're a cosmopolitan city.

But, can some of the Nerds & Geeks (male & female) take an occasional shower and use a scent, please?
That's all I ask, as a citizen of this great city.
JasonJ / August 31, 2010 at 11:05 am
user-pic
The comments by Kenny are right. The issue is that people think cool is having and giving an attitude. Cool is being inclusionary, not exclusionary. It's being into something for yourself, not cause you think others will think you're cool cause you are. Haters are not cool.

Myself I likely wouldn't go to Fan Expo myself, but if you're into it, that's cool as long as you enjoy yourself - it's your right. But on the other hand, I'd join in on a pillow fight or go watch the Rollerderby gals.

Regina / August 31, 2010 at 11:06 am
user-pic
I don't get this article.
Alison replying to a comment from Jerry / August 31, 2010 at 11:14 am
user-pic
You obviously didn't read the article because it provided reasons for Toronto's nerd culture beyond Fan Expo, the Zombie Walk, and the Dundas Square pillow fights.
JasonJ aka Wicked_eh / August 31, 2010 at 11:18 am
user-pic
Forgot to answer the question: No, events like these and all the other events that give people in this city things to do is what makes Toronto a cool city. The issue is that we don't show our pride enough - we should be thumping our chest more - like New Yorkers. We are the most multicultural city in the world and our acceptance of other cultures has made more people wish to move here. Where else can you get sushi, falafel and caribbean food all on the same block of the street and not only that there are several areas in the city where you can find this. The rest of Canada hates us our of jealousy
alex / August 31, 2010 at 11:19 am
user-pic
what are the characters from the last picture (eggheads/tampons)?
Jerry replying to a comment from Alison / August 31, 2010 at 11:43 am
user-pic
Ohhh I read it.

David Toronto / August 31, 2010 at 11:45 am
user-pic
Thank you for the article and photos.
I didn't know that this event was
so large.
Turd replying to a comment from alex / August 31, 2010 at 11:49 am
user-pic
Virgins.
Mark / August 31, 2010 at 12:20 pm
user-pic
Cool post. Thanks for this.
Epizephyrii replying to a comment from Jerry / August 31, 2010 at 01:16 pm
user-pic
Jerry: 5000? Try 59,000 last year. This year was even bigger than last. And the zombie walk is bigger than just 200 people. You're sense of scale is out of whack.
Matthew / August 31, 2010 at 02:04 pm
user-pic
FanExpo is big, but I'm guessing (I don't know the numbers) that it's not nearly as big as some of the other major comic/sci-fi conventions in North America. Perhaps it would be best to ask rather than is Toronto nerdy, does it's large population give a niche market enough people to have a decent sized audience for something like FanExpo.

Is Toronto nerdy? Yes. Is it any more so than any other major city with a similar or bigger population, from personal experience, the answer is no.
Jerry replying to a comment from Epizephyrii / August 31, 2010 at 02:22 pm
user-pic
Jerry: 5000? Try 59,000 last year. This year was even bigger than last. And the zombie walk is bigger than just 200 people. You're sense of scale is out of whack.
------------
Sure, okay, 59000. I'll give you 2000 zombies too. Who cares.
It still doesn't mean the city is nerdy. Because a city can't be nerdy.
It's a pointless question with a bunch of gasbaggy nonsense answers trying to be some post grad thesis.
me replying to a comment from Jerry / August 31, 2010 at 05:13 pm
user-pic
You know, Jerry, sometimes you should click away instead of shitting all over something.
Sean / August 31, 2010 at 06:48 pm
user-pic
I called my boss a nerd last month and he thanked me!?

He seemed to be in a good mood yesterday. Heard he went to the Fan Expo on the weakend.
Adam replying to a comment from Jerry / August 31, 2010 at 07:27 pm
user-pic
Jerry










































The Point
Andy / August 31, 2010 at 07:31 pm
user-pic
It was RIDICULOUSLY OVERCROWDED!!!! At 29 bucks just to get in it was a total ripoff!!! I will never go again.
asad / August 31, 2010 at 11:05 pm
user-pic
this was the worse fanexpo ever , from over selling the event to moving it to a smaller room at the convention center . the venders dominated the scene , before you can chat forums , more meet a greets , why more debuts and showing . a lot of people i met said they were planning on writing complaint letters , because if this happens and next year , ill be only going to anime north from now on
Skibby / September 1, 2010 at 11:06 am
user-pic
This is what editors are for: to prevent columnists from making fatuous, sweeping statements about city character based on a comic con they went attended.
Sheryl / September 1, 2010 at 11:33 am
user-pic
Why not mention how Hobbystar locked out thousands of people due to 'overcrowding', yet still allowed people to purchase day passes and get inside? Or its blatant disregard for fire regulations? Or how the CEO of the company blamed the flustercluck on lack of knowledge of the north buildings layout, when the convention was HELD THERE from 1998 to 2005?

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5nixgXT8z4";>Youtube vid</a> (gets going around the 2nd minute. Some f-bombs, so NSFW)

<a href="http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=131115976934678";>'Boycot Hobbystar/FanExpo' FB </a>. The larger FanExpo FB (not to be confused with the 'event' page, which still exists), which was managed by Hobbystar has disappeared after getting slammed with complaints regarding the weekend)

Derek replying to a comment from Skibby / September 1, 2010 at 01:39 pm
user-pic
Did you read the article? FanExpo serves as the starting point, not the ur-example of Toronto nerdiness.
Balsa / March 21, 2011 at 01:46 pm
user-pic
Boardgame nerds are just one subculture... It is certainly a more family friendly alternative considering that some sub-cultures ie. videogames have a tendency to cater to teen and mature audience (hence offensive content)...

Boardgames give families and friends face-to-face interaction.
I recommend checking www.woodforsheep.ca for ideas.

Add a Comment

Other Cities: Montreal