There is something special about being a nonconformist, an outsider who is unique and set apart from the mainstream. This urge to feel special is so strong in some circles that the tendency towards gatekeeping is palpable even when it doesn’t really reflect reality anymore. Celebrity and social media influencer Chloe Dykstra takes the example of nerd culture to illustrate this. Joining David Jensen and Cecily Chambers, she shares her insights on why people who identify with nerd culture cling to gatekeeping even as nerd culture itself is being increasingly identified with pop culture. In many ways, Chloe is a troublemaker. Among her many projects and interests, she talks about Pizza and Porn and Coffee and COVID, which really show her love for breaking the rules for the greater good. Apart from these, she also talks about her views on the protest movements, COVID-19, Instagram and more.
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Gatekeeping, The Nonconformity Norm And Breaking Rules With Chloe Dykstra
We have Chloe Dykstra. She’s an American cosplayer, model and actress. Not only has she produced and co-hosted the web series Just Cos on YouTube, she is also a cast member for the SYFY show Heroes of Cosplay. She’s a freelancer, game journalist and entrepreneur. She tells us about what it’s like to be an outsider who becomes the ultimate insider.
Chloe Dykstra, I’m so happy and thrilled for you to be on the show.
You’re such an amazing voice and influencer of many generations but clearly, Millennial generation. We have been working with this concept about how to affect change. There are three persona types and something we call a Minimum Viable Collective. If you’re a group of activists like we’re seeing every day that is impressive on the streets in the US and globally. They’re demanding change, racial recognition, social economic recognition or all the way up to the boardroom. We think that there’s this concept that is necessary of the Minimum Viable Collective that includes a hipster, a hacker and a hustler. We want to know which one are you?
Maybe a hipster because a hipster sits back and lets stuff happen. I look for cool different ways to do things. I love to create and contribute if I can. I’m always looking and I’ve started learning how to create my own opportunities. There’s always an aspect of creating your own opportunities and your own shows. I also think that when you are a hustler and you’re pushing forward, sometimes you can miss opportunities that are already happening, that somebody else has created, and that is cool to contribute there. You have to be flexible and change especially when you’re in Los Angeles. There are always a lot of different jobs and stuff.
I would have put you as a hacker.
Why is she a hacker for you?
She’s a mix. She’s been a hacker since day one of her life. She has always looked for ways to do things differently. She’s always been an anarchist. She’s always wanted to find ways to hack the system to get around the rules. She was an early adopter of the internet and this digital world. She had a digital persona probably from the time she was thirteen.
I remember my internet nerd days way back in the day.
Internet nerd days, that means hacker. You have a hacker root, but maybe you’re a hipster now.
If we’re talking about the actual definition of hacker. I grew up on the internet. I was a child of the internet.
She has hacker roots and become a hipster now. It’s not necessarily because she’s changed, but because the definition of what is cool has changed in society. As it became cool to be more of an outsider and be into these niche communities that are different and on the fray, that has now become what is cool and what is considered a hipster. As the definition has changed within society, Chloe has become a prototype for what a hipster would be. I see a duality there between the two.
Chloe, you’re evolved or associated with a celebrity culture. How does the hipster part or that outsider that Cecily is describing crosses over? If we take your classic definition of celebrity, a famous movie star pushing their way into a system in order to tell great stories, they could be an outsider. Do you still continue to own that outsider status when you cross over to celebrity? I’m trying to understand, does celebrity get in the way in our model of hipster, hacker and hustler?
The problem with the word ‘outsider’ is that also has a lot of definitions and people could view outsider differently. There’s something about what we call gatekeeping in nerd culture. There’s a very weird gatekeeping aspect. A lot of people who consider themselves outsiders want to feel special and unique. I think that outsider is also a way to limit yourself in a weird way because you’re afraid to push into the other circles. The fact is everybody is a human. Everybody has feelings, passions, likes and dislikes.
There’s something weird about nerd culture where it’s like, “You can’t come in. You weren’t oppressed in high school by the bullies. You don’t get to be part of this. You didn’t watch anime when you were fifteen. Get out. You haven’t done the work. You haven’t heard enough.” It’s silly because the fact is nerd culture ultimately is supposed to be a culture of being accepting and also liking video games. You have to have something nerdy and you have to be nice. This one seems to be hard for a lot of nerds. On top of that, we now have all of the giant blockbusters in these films. All of them are super hero films and video game films. We’ve got The Witcher TV show. Everything that was gatekeeping before is now literally everything. It’s not nerd culture. It’s pop culture now. People are still clinging onto being an outsider because they’re scared to realize that we’re all consuming content individually.
I don’t know if you know Adam Grant’s book. This great professor at Wharton wrote this book called Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. By what you described about how pop culture has almost identified and adopted nerd culture as the status quo, are we saying that that doesn’t exist anymore? That outsiders don’t change the world because they have become popularized?
It goes back to the definition of what an outsider is. People who are looking for new ways to change things and new ways to do different things, I don’t know if I would call them outsiders, non-conformists maybe. The other thing that is an issue for people who are non-conformist is now everyone has access to microphones and webcams. Anybody can create content. Instead of what it was before, which was 50 people, it’s now hundreds of thousands. Everyone has a voice, which is great. Ultimately, it is good because this country is founded on talking and having that free speech.People cling to the outsider narrative and gatekeeping because they’re scared to realize that we’re all just consuming content individually. Click To Tweet
I know that sounds controversial because I know where we’re getting into. The fact is protesters, we need that. That’s our right as well. It’s nice to have this internet because we have this day where we’re sharing right. We were sharing all of this information to amplify voices that were normally diminished before. It’s a good thing, but it is very hard to be different and that’s okay. We should strive to be ourselves and love ourselves instead of trying to be a different kind of person.
Can we go back to gatekeeping and can you explain that to readers from your perspective about gatekeeping, the negatives and the positives?
Gatekeeping is a way to feel special. There’s something about it where a lot of people were beat up for their interest. I personally was bullied quite a bit at high school.
Because you were a hacker?
As a “nerd,” there’s some aspect of feeling oppressed and it’s because of the things that you like. In some cases that is. Some D&D nerds are bullied for being D&D nerds. There’s also something where when you are learning how to socialize in high school, and if you socialize differently or you’re not as fast to catch on, or maybe you have depression or anxiety, then there’s a natural weird predatory thing that bullies in high school will glom on to you. It’s never anybody’s fault. Nerds are nerds and people are also going to do this in high school. There’s been a hierarchy and it’s great. We want to dismantle this, but I always feel like there is in puberty a time when kids are being kids. They want to feel better about themselves and they are insecure. They naturally end up putting others down. I have some friends that are stuck on high school.
I graduated when I was seventeen. There are two years where I was like, “Fuck you, guys.” Over the years, I would even start getting messages from people who were particularly mean to me, apologizing for their behavior. The fact is maybe there are a couple of bad apples but they’re not horrible people, they’re kids. For some reason we hold onto this badge of like, “These kids hurt my feelings every day.” These experiences will range. Some people are going through traumatic instances in high schools where they’re attacked or beaten up. That is something that does take time to get over. That is work that you need to do and it’s fine if you’re still hurting about it. That’s very valid but when you utilize that to say, “No, you don’t get to be a part of our culture. You don’t get to like the things that I like because I had to suffer as a result of it,” it’s gatekeeping. That’s what I’ve seen quite a bit of. When you were a woman going into this as well, there’s quite a bit of that too. They go, “You’re a woman. You modeled. You don’t get to be part of this.” I always went, “I don’t care. If you’re going to get mad at me, there’s nothing I can do. I am the person that I am.”
In the mischief making, one of our other ideas is making the right trouble. It’s about breaking the rules, but breaking the rules is not that you get indicted and go to prison because you’re extorting money as a result. Your mischief is creating greater good and helping people. Can you talk a little bit about how you have lived that in your life?
I lost work for quite a while. I couldn’t get a paying job because I had a boyfriend that didn’t want me to. I had to start making my own shows and figure out ways to do this stuff myself as opposed to I’m working with companies that I was doing before. I came up with a show called Pizza and Porn. It came out of me hanging out with some friends and girlfriends. We’d drink wine, eat a bunch of pizza and watch bad parody porn. We decided to stream it. It was on my crappy laptop. We didn’t have fancy cameras. Our way of keeping the penises out was we’re still turning the laptop away. We had little cuts that we would put over the nipples and the penises. It was always a fun game like, “Could I do it in time?” My YouTube channel got strike out. It was bad but it was so much fun.
We ended up making it a live show and having a venue. We’d have porn stars and comedians come on as guests. I ended up becoming friends with quite a few of the porn stars. They would voice out to me how grateful they were that we were breaking down the stigma. People don’t look at porn stars as people, they look at them as porn stars. There’s a lot of judgment towards these people. People think that they’ve got STDs and do drugs all the time. I had one of my favorite people on and his name is Tommy Pistol. He’s great. He’s got some kids and we were talking about what it’s like to raise kids when you’re in an adult film star. It was interesting. I saw that they were happy to be able to talk instead of the 30-second clips that you see on Xtube or whatever.
I don’t know if you know Cindy Gallop.
She’s the Michael Bay of business. She likes to blow shit up.
One of the things that she has is make more porn. She’s got this whole idea that the porn model is a good model for any business. What you’re describing resonates because she sees it as a good thing. She couldn’t get a PPP grant as a result of having porn in her business LLC.
That’s exactly the stigma. It’s bad. In some ways we feel like we’re moving forward and then some ways we’re reversing.
How does that turn into a whole person? We had a conversation with Matt Heller, who’s a Millennial specialist and expert. He was talking about Millennials as a generation and their needs to be a well-rounded connected individual compared to other generations.
Things are freaking chaotic for us that we have to invest in ourselves and self-soothe. Is that what you’re talking about?
I felt like he was saying more that Millennials are so afraid of being out of control because of the atmosphere that we’ve been thrown into, leaving college into the work world. Now with everything that’s happening and also opioids, and all the things that have come up.
We’ve inherited that we have to deal with it now.
He was saying that Millennials have an extreme fear of being out of control. He thinks that we structure our lives around trying to be in control, which I completely agree. I can see that as well, but he was also saying that our practices of getting into yoga, organic eating, and all of these things are very much a way to be in control and maybe are sometimes a little bit more surface. I was making the point that I’m seeing people in my peer group going into these embodiment practices. They are being present with themselves and trying to dig in. They are getting into their shadow side and seeing like, “Why does this set me off in this way? Why do I behave this way with that person?” They are dissecting it and trying to be present about their existence on the planet and coming out more embodied. Do you feel like you see that, Chloe, with your peer group as well?
I think that we are in pure chaos. There’s something weird about the fact that we were raised by Boomers. Their way of parenting was not ideal. Naturally, now we’re going into this world where everything goes. We’re starting to wake up and open our eyes to all different things that were previously wrong. When I was a kid, there were a lot of things that happened to me that I did not realize were bad until I got older. The past couple of years have been hard for us, especially for women and for minorities, to wake up and realize the chaos that we’ve been living in.
I see a lot of control elements for sure. If you look at KonMari and how popular that is in minimalism and how people love to organize. They love to have control over their lives because they don’t know where they’re going to be living next year. Yoga and all of this stuff is a practice of trying to exist in this world, calm ourselves and find strength in ourselves. I have a very skewed way of viewing the world. Ces and I both grew up in LA and we’ve been in different aspects of the industry. It’s tough for me to be able to say what is normal and what’s not. I do see quite a few people who grew up in LA or people who’ve come to LA constantly stressed, constantly freaked out and Millennials specifically because now we’re expected to start creating our own lives. It’s difficult when we can’t even nest and we can’t get comfortable.
Matt was saying that Structured Mischief could be a wonderful way to implement steps forward for Millennials because they are missing leadership. If we were to have Structured Mischief laid this path of a process on how we could take these things that we want to change and not only push for change, but figure out a path forward. He was saying that he feels like Structured Mischief is very Millennial-friendly, which I do agree.
In some ways, we have escape rooms, we have little pop-ups. A lot of people are going out into the desert and doing mushrooms. We do have this curiosity and we do want to learn and do these things, but it’s also difficult in the face of everything that’s going on. I’m very privileged that I have money and a house, but I’m aware that most people don’t. To spend money on things for yourself is also a difficult thing to do. To spend time on things that is not work or looking for a way to settle down is also hard for Millennials to do. I love the idea of structured mischief as a way to get Millennials to open their minds to stuff.
Also, this idea of creating the right kind of trouble. I don’t want to make the broad statement that Millennials are troublemakers. Some people have made that conclusion in the corporate world like you’re angry and all those kinds of stereotypes. Putting that aside, it’s this idea of a call to action like, “I’m going to make mischief and I’m going to make it for good to better myself, my community, and my country.”
What’s a good example of a structured mischief?
All the protests that we’re seeing every day. Not the part that turned violent, but all the violence has calmed down. If you look globally, there was a little bit of violence in London with the protest. Part of that is people pushing back towards the forces that are resisting the change.
There’s a lot of inciting behavior for sure.
There has also been a select group of disruptors from the outside that had intentionally tried to create chaos. That’s a whole other topic, but putting aside, the structured mischief that is going on is the fact that these protests march continued every day. It didn’t happen for a weekend or a week or two weeks. I think it’s going to be a summer of protest.
It’s going to go on up until the election and I hope it does. It’s weird when people like, “I was at the protest all day,” but I did pop by a protest. I’m a big Coronavirus nerd. I’ve been following it since the beginning. For me, it was hard because I support protests. I am afraid of it but I just ethically can’t. I found ways to do it where I was able to go and hand out water safely from the side. I’ve been encouraging people who are protesting to take care of themselves. Make sure they get checked and tested when they can.
Are there particular gurus you’re following like David Katz? Who are you listening to?
I’m not good with gurus. It is part of the structured mischief in my life because my mother was extremely into gurus. As a result, I felt very pushed away from that. If you want to call it, Marie Kondo, we’re talking about KonMari, I love that stuff. I love minimalizing my life and focusing on the things that I care about. It’s hard because there are 50 different things going in and out of my brain all the time to try to get rid of a lot of the stuff. I was a hoarder like real bad. My apartments were messy. They were horrible. I was not taking care of them and to be able to have a clean space and to focus, I have become my own guru in a way. I know that sounds weird, but I figured out the things that are my priorities. I use a paper planner. Part of my joy in my life is to plan things out and make it look pretty and have my priorities. I’m very left brain. I have to organize it myself, but I’m open to the gurus.
What are your biggest takeaways on COVID? You talked about how you protected yourself and others, but do you see there being a million deaths within a year?We should all strive to just be ourselves and love ourselves instead of trying to be a different kind of person. Click To Tweet
I think this is going to be going on for a long time. A lot of people are going to die as a result of it. It’s horrible.
Until there’s a vaccine. It’s also going to impact the way we socialize. I’m referring to this as never normal. People keep saying a new normal. I’m like, “No, this is a new never normal.” There’s so much disruption that has occurred in COVID, and followed by the George Floyd protests that have helped to show that there are these systemic changes that are afoot. COVID is not something until there’s a vaccine that people go back to socializing, going to concerts and eating out in bulk. Restaurants are open and people are indulging themselves but I don’t think on mass.
I do feel that some people are taking this seriously. The fact is if we all wore masks, it would be as effective as a shutdown, but people don’t want to and that’s the problem. It becomes politicized and now it’s a huge problem because people go, “I’m showing that this is bullshit by not wearing a mask,” which is extremely stupid because a virus is not right wing or left wing. It’s going to kill you if you are one of the lucky few that happens to get it. I have been looking at this as a new normal because humans always adapt when something horrible happens. We adapted after 9/11. There are ways that we find to meet the challenges that we’re facing.
I don’t know if you guys are watching a lot of TV shows and movies. Do you get triggered when you’re watching these movies or when you see somebody hand somebody mail directly? Do you have that weird panic reaction in your brain? When people get closer to get into somebody’s space to fight, there’s that weird panic reaction. It’s going to take years to undo that once we get the vaccine. I also think that people think that this is over and it’s not. It just started and in the US we’re going to be seeing some very upsetting numbers. It’s horrible, but I also think that people hopefully start taking it seriously because they’re going to start seeing people that they know get sick. Unfortunately, that’s what has to happen for people. It took Tom Hanks getting sick for anybody to realize that Coronavirus was coming towards us.
It was a real thing that people can get and can also survive.
I was reading this article in i-D Magazine and it was an interview of Pharrell by Kanye West. Pharrell was saying that there is no new normal. Life is going to have such a different kind of gravity to it going forward. Saying that there’s a new normal minimizes the shifts that have occurred. All the social unrest has come on the backside of COVID. I do feel like there are some silver linings to COVID is my point in that.
When you’re talking about the unrest that’s happening, new normal is not something I would use to describe that at all. That was the virus specifically. It’s unfortunate that this is happening during the time of a pandemic. It also forces people to look at it and take it seriously, and see how much it means to people that they’re out in the street risking their own lives to protest.
Everyone is working from home. They’re able to go to the protests.
Also, they’re seeing tons of it on the internet. They have time to be browsing this and seeing these videos, and seeing the police brutality that’s happening. At the protest alone, on top of all of these other things, we’re bringing up names that nobody was saying before. It’s happening and it’s amazing. We’re calling in people and the representatives. They’re taking it seriously now.
Chloe has a podcast called COVID and Coffee.
We ended up chilling it out a little bit because the misinformation was so scary that I didn’t want to report anything wrong. At the beginning, we have 5 to 10 articles a day and you could look at the studies specifically, but now it’s 25 different vaccines. There’s Donald Trump saying, “Drink bleach.” It was too much. We went, “We’re not going to do this anymore.” Nobody wants to talk about Coronavirus. There’s nobody who’s like, “Let’s talk about that old Coronavirus.” We’ve heard so much about it. We live in this world that is like COVID.
In the media, there’s so much fear that is being created. I understand from your perspective, you feel like the fear is valid but also, I feel like there’s not enough talk about what people can do to help themselves be healthier. People need to be aware of how much they weigh and what they’re eating. They need to be aware that the thoughts can create an illness as well. You need to be strong in mind as well as body.
I mentioned, David Katz, but he’s not the only one talking about the crisis that we have in the US specifically, but also more broadly of people being aware of their immune system. The things they put in their bodies that are affecting their immune systems and having a slow slide to death that Coronavirus can exasperate, facilitate or accelerate because you’re not taking care of your immune system. In general, the idea that people are like, “It’s going to pass,” and not thinking about the deeper implications of what it’s doing from a societal perspective, from a business perspective, from a governmental perspective, and how things need to pivot and change around that. When you were doing COVID and Coffee, were you looking at those topics or were you looking more at the virology and the epidemiology aspect and the medical part?
Coffee and COVID was a safe space to learn about all of the information that was happening. It was talking about everything and it was also talking about how back in the day, people didn’t think about sanitizing their groceries. They didn’t think about the things that they were touching on a daily basis. They didn’t know what kind of masks to wear. There was all of this information that was coming in. I was sharing studies about masks, what’s safer and what’s not safe. What kind of gloves you wear like nitrile instead of latex. It was all that kind of information. I was also talking about the daily news like when they would bring the Mercy over. I’m talking about the Diamond Princess, anything that was in the news that was noteworthy. We would talk about how we were feeling too and answered questions.
Beyond COVID and Coffee, what are the other passion projects that you’re creating mischief around?
Whatever I want to do. I’ve been fortunate that I can play. I used to work at a place called Machinima. Our whole job was essentially to pitch shows. I love doing dating shows. I love being a matchmaker. I’m doing one called Can Brandon Get a Girlfriend in Quarantine? It’s a long title that exactly tells you what it is. He’s one of my best friends in the world. We’re trying Tinder dating on Zoom. We haven’t done it yet, but we are going to be broadcasting first dates with women on Zoom and on Twitch. I have a lot of different ones. I love writing. I write screenplays. I’ve been contributing to an anthology. There are little things that I love to do here and there. There’s not one major thing.
You’re a storyteller. You’re telling different kinds of stories that come into your life.
There’s a weird feeling that I get when I’m doing a certain thing. I feel like I get that feeling of, “I’m going to keep doing this.”
I was curious in terms of the duality between the power that you can have with social media and also the power that it can have over you. Do you feel like you could speak to that a little bit more and how you balance the two things?
It’s a nightmare for everyone. Everybody says they love Instagram but they also secretly hate Instagram. I hate Instagram. I don’t use Instagram very much. I prefer Twitter because I feel words are more powerful than in images in my own experience. I think the platform is designed to hurt you. People are assholes on Twitter, but Instagram is like when you scroll through pictures, every photo is like, “I want to share this exciting aspect of my life.” You see this thing and you go, “I don’t have that.” Even if it’s clothes, dogs, babies, all of that, it’s all designed for you to go, “You’re cooler than me.” There are five selfies on my Instagram and the reason is because I’m not paying attention. I post 2 or 3 times a month on Instagram and it’s usually like I was playing with my new camera. I don’t like that platform. I don’t think Instagram should be something that we use a lot. It should be limited to once a week. I found that not looking at it has changed a lot in my life. When I do open it, it’s like an ouch and I close it again.
What advice would you have for us as structured mischief as we’re trying to put out this idea in the world of creating the right trouble for people?
You guys should demonstrate some structured mischief. It would be fun for you guys to find a way to create a little trouble with this show or find ways to do that. It’s also good to provide a lot of examples for people so they know exactly how to go about it. I would even talk about how you could do it. Every week, maybe provide a couple of examples of structured mischief.
It’s interesting you say that because I’m going to come back to something you said at the beginning where you said you called yourself an anarchist. You said it not literally. I was going to say, do you have a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook? We have a book we’re working on in association with the show. The show is helping us to drive part of the research on the book. Part of my idea was the book is a combination of Adam Grant’s Originals with The Anarchist Cookbook. It’s a how-to. How do you make proper mischief? The Anarchist Cookbook, I don’t agree with the principles behind it but it is a cookbook of ways to take action.
Thank you for taking time with us. We’ll see how we are in 6 or 9 months on COVID and hopefully, we’re in a better place than we both think we’re going to be.
Thank you for having me on.
- Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
- i-D Magazine – article
- COVID and Coffee – podcast on YouTube
- The Anarchist Cookbook
About Chloe Dykstra
I do the acting/writing thing. I like dogs, but not in the weird way. She/her. Jokes here, photos on IG.