The curious specimens at Star Trek conventions used to define American geekdom, but this summer fans of everything from cult movies to comic books gathered for festivals of their own. Largely thanks to networking done over the Internet, hard-core pop culture fans have found each other, and Hollywood has quickly started courting this newly united, and highly influential demographic.

Lebowski Fest is a prime example, said Tom A. Peter in The Christian Science Monitor. It is a gathering devoted entirely to the Coen Brother’s film, The Big Lebowski. Like other festivals, it features concerts, costume contests, and trivia challenges. But Lebowski Fest also includes bowling—the passion of its slacker hero. “Some might argue that a festival for The Big Lebowski is decidedly more cool than, say, a Star Trek convention, but it’s still a public expression of deep involvement in a fan community.”

Not only are more fans consuming media, they’re also becoming more involved in producing it, said Victoria Loe Hicks on Nothing illustrates this better than the Harry Potter phenomenon. “By a spectacular accident of timing, the most potent cultural narrative of recent years coincided with an explosion of interactive, Web-based technologies that have become the scaffolding for today’s youth culture.” And, presto! Young fans created Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron, two of the most popular sites devoted to the “Potterverse.” Both have “sophisticated architecture and graphics, hundreds of volunteer staffers, tens of thousands of registered users and traffic that occasionally surpasses a million visitors a day.”

Geek power has made the annual Comic Con gathering in San Diego “the world’s largest pop culture event,” said Sandro Monetti in the Sunday Express. It’s even bigger than Cannes and the Oscars “on the Hollywood calendar.” When Comic Con started in 1970, just 300 fans showed up. This summer it drew 130,000. Big studios used the event to unveil the “first footage from their upcoming projects to an audience of amateur bloggers with laptops on their knees who instantly spread the word about what looks cool and what sucks.”