SHE SAID WHAT?!
Posted By Wendy
There’s been a lot of noise on the Internet for the past few months about the misappropriation of geek culture. According to some, now that science fiction, fantasy, and video games have become more mainstream, there’s an entire generation of fake geeks trying to claim the title in order to seem cool. And, to add insult to injury, there is supposedly a whole crop of women pretending to be geeks in order to land themselves a geeky guy.
When I was a teenager, that last paragraph would have been an oxymoron. Trying to be a geek to seem cool? That would have made no sense. Geeks were firmly in their geek corner, far away from the jocks and the druggies and the theater dweebs. Or were they? Looking back, I remember that the druggies in my high school weren’t such social pariahs as they were portrayed in movies such as The Breakfast Club. (They were more like the druggies in Dazed and Confused.) Our school had a robust art and theater program, and members of student council regularly participated in choir, school plays, and musicals. As for myself? Well, I was a nerd who hung with the druggie crowd, danced in the high school musicals, and was the president of the Latin club…which, in my high school was actually considered cool.
Looking back, it’s hard to identify who might be considered a “real” geek today and who those real geeks would say are fake geeks. Exactly what did it mean to be a geek anyway? Is there some kind of line in the sands of coolness you had to be on the other side of in order to qualify as a geek? Because I was definitely book smart, did the National Honor Society thing, loved science, and even competed in Latin tournaments called certamen up at MIT (shut up). So where did that leave me? Was I popular? I wouldn’t say so. Was I a geek? Not really.
However, I 100 percent identify with geek culture now. I was an avid reader of fantasy novels as a child, but I didn’t really “get” that they were a genre to be worshipped. I wasn’t exposed to Star Wars until college at NYU, where I was surrounded by film school nerds who would argue that the ewoks were actually speaking a mixture of various romance languages. I played Smash Brothers with the Tisch School of the Arts kids and read their screenplays, but was I one of them? Nope. I was in the damn communications department, where dreams go to die.
I didn’t really stumble upon stereotypically geeky subject matter until I was practically an adult. But when I did, I fell in love. I love watching my husband master RPGs I can’t fathom (and kicking his ass in Bejeweled). I love picking apart the plot of Mistborn or discussing why Hollywood can’t get Superman right (What?! Blog debate to come). I enjoy working in technology product development creating interactive courseware, rubbing elbows with other tech geeks and complimenting them on their BSG T-shirts. I didn’t really feel like I fit in with any particular group in high school, but now I get a special sense of belonging each time I recognize a Firefly reference.
So does that make me a fake geek now? In fact, are any of us now that we’re adults geeks at all—even those who previously identified as geeks? Who is measuring popularity at this point in our lives? Aren’t we just adults, made up of a mismash of interests that may or may not intersect with movies, books, and games that were either undiscovered in our youth or once considered uncool?
And as far as kids go, I’ll tell you this: I would much rather that geek culture be considered “cool” than any other typical teenage culture. My 18-year-old brother-in-law will soon go to the funeral of a classmate who was likely killed by a gang member. Gangs being considered cool in his high school, this classmate dressed to imitate them. I will take geeks (and even druggies and jocks and theater dweebs) over that any day.
So maybe the masses are embracing, and potentially bastardizing, geek culture. Maybe there are a bunch of fake geeks out there who don’t really “get” what it means to be a geek. Maybe I’m one of them. But as Lester Bangs said in Almost Famous, “The only true currency we have in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”
HE SAID WHAT?!
Posted By David Buchta
I’d like to open with a line from The Incredibles, spoken by Jason Lee’s villainous character:
“Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super… *evil chuckle* …no one will be.”
During my post-high school years I self-identified as a geek. My friends were geeks, all getting secondary-schoolin’ for various degrees in computer-geekery from web design to programming to advanced whatever.
We had LAN parties, carting our immense CRT monitors and modded PC cases into someone’s living room to play computer games and swap porn and music until we passed out. In those days you had to explain what a LAN party was, and people still wouldn’t get the appeal.
We eagerly took discarded computer junk off people’s hands and built franken-machines and servers in our spare time. For fun. We watched pirated anime in file formats so old and shitty only archeologists remember them now. We delighted in creating “dummy plugs” that would crash our roommates’ network connections during Counter Strike matches and taking a flea market taser to the guts of a running computer just to see what would happen.
And this is only one small sub-genre of geek. There as many different types of geek as there are types of electronic music, which are innumerable and overlapping. I never got into fantasy like Dungeons and Dragons or Tolkien, or sci-fi shit like Star Trek and that other famous one. I loved anime, sure, but I was never INTO it like true fans are. I was into comic books for about five minutes in middle school, and as soon as I discovered astronomy and the other sciences that relied heavily on math, I was out.
But I was still a geek. Not a jock or a goth or a stoner (as they were called in my south-east Idahoan school) or a drama nerd or choir dork (although I was in both). A geek, subspecies, computer.
We had a culture, still fairly obscure even in the early 2000s, and it was our own. We had shared experiences, international inside jokes, a belonging. By and large we were the cute friend-zoned people who weren’t popular unless a computer was broken or someone needed our notes. “Geek” was semi-derogatory, but we wore it like a badge of honor.
And then they started mining us.
I can’t go two steps—on the Internet or in real life—without having some kind of “geek” reference throat-rape me. That shit is everywhere. A reference to Star Trek/Wars or Firefly or whatever used to be a little treat, a hidden gem, all the more special because it was unexpected. Now if I don’t see fourteen references to a bunch of other shit I’m surprised.
It’s not about measuring popularity, or feeling special. It’s about taking something so intimate that it permeated every facet of many people’s lives and stealing it, repackaging it, and wholesaling it to the masses. The same masses that bullied, shunned, or scoffed at geeks in the first place.
I didn’t have it too bad growing up. I’m too lazy to go bonkers over things like a lot of true geeks do. I’m charming and have a well-honed sense of disarming humor (read: self-defense mechanism). Sure, some ladies turned down my buck-toothed advances because I was a nerd, but whatever. That’s life.
But I was never bullied. A lot of geeks didn’t have it so easy. They had to escape into the inviting fold of Geekdom, the people who understood what they were going through. I’ve heard more than one lucky young man or woman tearfully admit that without the support of their fellow geeks they wouldn’t have made it through adolescence.
And now that shared culture, which literally saved some people’s lives, is hawked at fucking Hot Topic. The current iteration of asshole hotties now sport fake faded Star Wars T-shirt and wear nerdy glasses and act like they’re sooo obsessed with obscure shit. Cuz it’s cool now.
Corporate America and pop culture have taken something special and whored it out. Everyone can be a geek now, even those who have never felt the pain of being a social leper because of their tastes.
Being a geek used to mean you had a posse. The world was cruel, but you had a crew, a family. You earned the right to count yourself among the geeky through trial by fire from the same people now lapping up the preprocessed sludge of what used to be your culture.
The word and the community it used to represent are meaningless now. Because when everyone is a geek, no one is.