By Michele Brittany, SoCal Correspondent
Last weekend at the Stan Lee's Comikaze, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center, I attended a panel I would not have normally have chosen: Pop Culture Parenting with the Geeklings and Parental Units. Although I don't have any kids of my own, I had heard that there are geek groups successfully taking root in the greater Los Angeles area. The panel was moderated by Mark Cronan who was joined by GeekMom writer and founder of Geeklings and Parental Units group Melody Mooney, co-founders of Geek Girl Society Portlyn Polston and Autumn Rain Glading, writer/producer of Parallels and The Lost Room Laura Harkcom, photographer Kendra Jean Moras, and engineer and super dad Sky Craig.
Cronan started off the 50-minute panel asking the panelists what their favorite app or gadget to come out this year for kids. Polston, who is co-owner of the Newhall, California comic book shop Brave New World, said that comics are always good, which solicited chuckles from the audience. Craig said that he has been trying to provide a mix of programming that his daughter watches. Moras shared that GoBots, funded through Kickstarter, are a monthly subscription toy that provides adds-on each month. Mooney said that the audience might be surprised by her answer that she had just come across the educational LeapFrog LeapPad. Polston and Glading said that they are not using toys as much as craft oriented activities geared for older children, particularly within Geek Girl Society, a group for 8 to 16 year old girls.
When asked why a geek community, Craig answered that he has one child so he was looking for other children for his daughter to play with. Moras, who recently moved to Los Angeles, took to Google and found Geeklings and Parental Units. She described as a "village" of like minded children and parents. With an interest in science, Harkcom was looking for a community of like minded parents and children for her five-year-old daughter. Glading saw a need for a geeky community and with Polston, they founded Geek Girl Society as well as Geek Girl Forever – for grown ups that want to play too! Mooney had been using Meetup, but when she was getting the sense of community she was looking for, she established Geeklings and Parental Units.
The audience got to hear what each group does. Mooney explained that Geeklings and Parental Units' group organizes family outings to such places as the zoo or the recent JPL Open House last month. Talking about space exploration, Moras added that the Columbia Memorial Center is small but it doesn't have the large crowds and is a fantastic outlining location for families interested in space. In addition, she excited the audience with mention of a geek fencing group that she is developing tentatively called Light Saber Academy. Glading said that Geek Girl Society typically plan theme nights such as a kid's comic-con. Polston added that at Brave New World, she and Glading choose comics with care that have the right content, such as vocabulary. Harkcom conveyed her interest in robots and her group attended a robotics championships that the kids enjoyed. Craig provided the example how his group works. They might set up a board game night for the parents while the kids play together with their toys.
Cronan, who was the one of two men on the panel of seven, asked the panel if they had found that fathers are more likely to attend an event if it is geek oriented. "Yes," Craig said. "I think it helps a lot." Moras agreed. Mooney said that when she was coming up with a name for her group, she decided on "parental units" as a way to be more inclusive of an entire family.
Glading and Polston mentioned in an earlier response that cosplay has a huge draw for the girls in Geek Girl Society, so Cronan asked about what the panelists thought when to start and are there any concerns parents should consider? Glading stated her group incorporates badges that include cosplay. And, she added that she has had a lot of dads involved. Polston explained that the girls in the group are craft oriented so she said, "why buy when you can make it [costume] with your kids!" In the Mooney household, her kids still are in the phase of "dressing up" so she doesn't necessarily see it as cosplay which is taken more seriously and is about self-expression. Moras' mother is involved with making costumes for her children. Her son believes that cons are parties, however her daughter is the opposite and isn't interested in dressing up.
As parents, Cronan asked the panelists "at what age do you introduce your child to the big IPs? And, what if they gravitate to the dark side?" Harkcom said her daughter likes the darker themes because she thinks they are fun. Mooney related that her daughter is also interested the darker characters, which she finds are dramatic. Glading stated that as her daughter got a little older and wanted to read YA novels, Glading pre-read the novels so she could help mediate the subject matter her daughter would experience reading. Moras expressed a similar parenting style; she talks with her son when the material is heavier. She then added that her son, who was initially interested in Jedi knights, but has recently shifted his focus to the darker side of Darth Vader.
The Star Wars saga is probably the most significant IP for geeks so as a continuation of the prior question, it was asked when does a parent introduce their children to Star Wars and more importantly, which episode does one start with? Craig introduced his three-year-old first to Star Wars: A New Hope, followed by Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and then, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Moras stated that there a suggested order to watch the films that's a little different from watching them in sequential order. This way, the Yoda and Darth Vader secrets are not revealed prematurely. Mooney indicated that her daughter first watched Star Wars Rebels, an animated television series that began a year ago. Mooney said the movies will follow once her daughter's attention span lengthens. Glading said her son's interest was first piqued by the pod racing sequence and much later on, the film. Polston summed up that "kids cue into their parents interests" and will naturally take an interest themselves.
All photos taken by Michele Brittany.
Michele Brittany is an independent popular culture scholar and semi-professional photographer. She has edited James Bond and Popular Culture: Essays on the Influence of the Fictional Superspy (McFarland & Company) as well as the forthcoming book Essays on Space Horror in Film, 1950s – 2000s. Follow Michele on Twitter: @mcbrittany2014.