I was chatting to my friend from school at the weekend and he commented how, even back then, I have never really been part of any 'group'. At school I was neither a trendy townie nor one of the introvert theatre group nor a sporty type or a (shudder) Venutre Scout. I sort of existed, by myself, shuttling between them all. I've always hated the concept of tribalisation and in my adult life it's been something that has annoyed me about all manner of things .... indie.
Oh how I hate the term. In every incarnation I have encountered it, it - and it's attendent antithesis - has created up the same elitist, isolationist, tribal divisions.
In the late 80s it was 'Indie Music' - the logic went like this: all chart music is crap and therefore not proper music. Therefore the only proper music was stuff that was not in the charts. The so-called 'indie music'. The more popular this music became, the less 'indie' it was until eventually the band would disappear or /shock/ they would chart - therefore instantly moving from 'indie' to 'commerical sellouts'. Oh the fun I had watching people at Uni trying to out-obscure each other. Nowadays it's like something from a surreal sketch show but it was very real then. And the looking down the nose at anyone who liked yesterdays sweetheart group or, God help them, the more serious crime of .... bandwagon jumping! Oh yes folks, worse than being a trendy chart zombie was being an indie kid who didn't know about the obscure band and then started to like them as they were getting noticed! Find your own niche group to obsess over... this one is mine. I mean, honestly, what was going on there?
After Indie Music came 'Indie Comics'. Once again, the same riff applied. If it was made by Marvel or DC, it was pretty much dead in the water, derivative, mass produced rubbish churned out for the braindead masses. What you need to be reading are 'indie comics'! Obscure, badly drawn pieces of tatt which come out less regularly than a decent Boyzone single mustering a storyline that you can barely follow. Oh but they are so good, oh but they are written by writer such-and-such and he's great and ... GAH! Thankfully, I had my mate Stephen to guide me towards 'decent' indie stuff (although I suspect he still couldn't fathom my X-Men habit) but from other fans I got the same old litany. What made it worse was that the indie snobbery was coming from the comic shop owners themselves. I distinctly remember being virutally laughed out of Nostalgia and Comics in Birmingham once because of my rather mainstream comic selections.
Of course, nothing generates quite the indie tribalism as 'Indie Wrestling'. Yes folks, none of the shine and showbiz of the WWE for the Indie Wrestling fanatic! If it isn't done in grainy film, shown in an old bingo hall or sports centre and features two or more men you have never heard of before then it simply must be bad. Now, I will admit that the difference between the punch-kick-finisher style of the WWE and the more technical/high risk style I have seen at many indie feds makes the two things almost different products, but essentially they have the same basis, require the same suspension of disbelief and aim to entertain within the same medium.
Indie Music, Indie Comics and Indie Wrestling - three things where the ability for people to create false divisions has plagued me. I simply cannot understand the reasoning behind the split? Is it because these people are seeking individualism in the arms of the obscure? Well, that would have accounted for the music at the time, but the others? Is it because of a deep seated hatred of the monolithic structures behind the big players - the EMI's, Marvels and WWEs of this world? Maybe it's because there is a degree of fairness that has been breached with regard to these properties. They are seen as equally as valid, equally as good as the more mainstream offering but the latter has far more promotion and exposure than the former and therefore is seen as superior by the un-exposed masses? That could well be it but I don't think I have ever seen the tribalism portrayed with that degree of analysis before. Snobbishness powered through a sense of social justice and anti-capitalistic zeal. Hmmmm....unlikely!
I love my (formerly) 80s (formerly) indie music and I still listen to it now. I'm also going to see Girls Aloud next month with my daughter and quite looking forward to it. I picked up my first ever Dark Horse comic last month - the company that was once the epitome of indie comics is now publishing the Season Eight comic of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I bought it alongside my Justice League and Avengers comics. I still mark out like a little girl when I watch the WWE and yet find it possible to catch Ring of Honour sometimes on the Wrestling Channel and enjoy it. Just like at school, never in one group or another. Just floating.
Which brings me to the phenomenon of 'indie roleplaying games'. Naturally my nerves are jangled by the continued use of that phrase. Coming from a city with one games shop which is very well stocked by still rather mainstream, these things come slowly into my world and I have come slowly into theirs. What I see are games made by people who clearly love their hobby, have some interesting innovative ideas and the know-how to self-publish and promote them. Hey, thats great and indeed it has inspired me to do similar things. However, what I also see are the same smoldering embers of internal division and tribalisation. Those that 'get' indie or story games and those that are happy to stay with 'traditional' games. Theres even an air of intellectual snobbery that runs through some of the conversations.
What I find comical about these things is that they seem to be the failings of all hobbies, large or small. I regularly hear football fans talking about Division Two football as 'proper football' as if they Champions League matches we have seen over the last couple of weeks were somehow all the more fake because of the lights and big-name players and lack of half-cooked pies on terraces at half-time. It also seems the smaller the hobby the more ludicrous the nature of the tribalisation. Take reading comics, for example? Hardly the biggest hobby in the world is it? A good selling comic might clear 70k copies WORLDWIDE. A comic on the brink of doom from Marvel/DC might get 20k copies. An out-of-this-world indie comic might clear 10k. Those aren't massive numbers. For RPGS, I guess you can knock a zero off those numbers!
I think thats my point as a whole. There is no one-true-musical-taste, no one-perfect-comic, no one-true-wrestling-style, no one-best-football-team and no one-godlike-roleplaying-game. They don't exist. What does exist is a wide variety of music that makes people happy, comics that allow a wide variety of people to thrill, numerous federations that scratch the wrestling itch for many and football experiences that match what the watcher wants. And a large and bountiful array of roleplaying games that we can enjoy - whether they are the product of a division of Hasbro or the maniacal brainchild of some teenagers computer in Wisconsin. If they entertain, theres really no problem.
So I say 'pah!' to 'indie' and tribalisation and 'hurrah' to fun and inclusiveness!