The International Writers Magazine" Geekhood
The Magic of Geekdom
No person truly knows what a “geek” is. This is ironic, as, barring some dubious exceptions, no human has walked this earth who was not one. One might therefore wonder why the term still carries with it token and even negative connotations.
The author John Green asserted that calling someone a nerd or geek to insult them is akin to claiming they are “too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness”.
Thus, Green rendered such an act pointless, but further exploration shows such words are arbitrary as well. “Geek” derives from the Low Germanic word for circus performers, and “nerd” is an invention from Dr Seuss’s If I Ran The Zoo. The meanings of these words are dictated by the age, culture, and education of the user, and so they are also subjective and inconsistent. However, this short essay will use the term “geek” for ease.
“So,” one asks, “what is a geek?”
Stereotype is unavoidable, and it triggers images of bespectacled introverts with a comprehension of quantum mechanics and a week of playtime logged on Diablo II. Momentary thought shows this generalisation to be unfair and out-dated, while the truth is simpler and more pleasing.
The reality is that geeks do not conform with society’s collective blushing on matters of passion, and they live with unashamed joy at whatever literature, film, interest, or niche hobby they wish. They love so fervently that they care not for the voguish apathy from which the chains of serious, proper, "adult" discontent are forged. The actor and writer Simon Pegg corrals his experience of this with disarming charm and candour:
“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”
Pegg describes an joyous state, so, why are geeks considered outcasts?
When the attitude of a minority unsettles that of a majority, the latter will either seek to understand or, more often than not, alienate the former. Vilification has been the chronic response since the turn of the 20th century, when an explosion of science and culture propagated a new, accessible enlightenment, and much of the general population grew reactionary and suspicious in response.
This is because geeks are an affront to society’s aversion to higher meaning, whether it’s questioning true love or the existence of a post-mortem consciousness. We humans work collectively on puzzles of literature, art, and science with such caution and restraint that we become afraid to give an answer that may not endure scrutiny, and so most will avoid such issues.
To preserve this status quo, muggles - by which I mean the mockers and the hecklers; a fitting, not-at-all-plagiarised contrast to the magic of geekdom proposed herein - subvert the introspective nature that is inherent to them as human beings. They bask in triviality so they might keep unexpected moments of profundity to themselves and away from derision of their peers. The irony is that a person who feels no passion is not possible, the obvious psychopathic examples aside.
For decades, muggles achieved this hypocrisy by accusing geeks of fixating on ideas that mean nothing. They distanced themselves by declaring a superiority of interests, and pretended to have passion enough to consider only the quotidian minutiae of life, yet this is in itself a form of geekdom. Cultural shifts, technological fads, and momentary fashions have always sparked great volumes poetry and humour. Raymond Carver’s short stories, for example, demonstrate with sumptuous subtlety that the apparently prosaic can be both beautiful and an ornament to higher truths. In Why Don’t You Dance? (Carver, 1981), a young couple investigate an ersatz yard sale, and eventually dance to a record belonging to the seller, a man who, Carver implies, has lost his reasons to dance. The narrative gravitates around the beauty of the shared moment, which is emphasised by the man’s contrasting loneliness and joy at the young couple. Here, Carver's canvas may seem commonplace, but his painting is exquisite.
Despite their fantastical content, comic books share this quality with Carver's fiction. A close friend, Clara Lucea, demonstrates her love of the Marvel universe:
“Old relatives say ‘you like comic books, aren’t they for children?’, and, it’s true, I was drawn to them as a child due to the colourful characters and the tongue-in-cheek dialogue. Not to mention that I wished I had superpowers like them. I loved X-Men because of the portrayal of women, whose purpose was not solely that of the pretty sidekick. It had characters with desires and vulnerabilities. These comics introduced me to a variety of emotively charged, terrifying themes: hate, discrimination, war crimes, terrorism, genocide, inner moral conflict and fear of losing oneself. Not bad for a child’s picture book.”
To remain in meaninglessness, naysayers would label such marvelling as superficial and comical in its solemnity; they would accuse triviality so that their trivial complacency might remain unbroken. Things are changing, however.
Playgrounds and workplaces are an ever-shifting landscape. Many now aspire to geekdom due to the success of television and screen adaptations, which demonstrate both the richness and humour of what many cringe to call "geek culture". National literacy rates surge whenever the media notices writers such as J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and George R. R. Martin, and, though still coaxed into token cliques, geeks are now accepted with a cocktail of optimism, indifference, and well-meant curiosity.
Muggles respond to this by taking the material loved by geekdom and promoting their own superficial popularity with it. All may read, watch, and talk what they wish, but one walk along a high street will reveal young teens scoffing at the Lovecraft poster they’ve sarcastically purchased, or disingenuous hipsters who ramble with sardonic volume about novels they haven’t read. A casual appreciation of Batman is harmless, and only the unreasonable will tell someone off you for being unaware of every line of V for Vendetta. The deception is therefore as self-inflicted and pointless as it is shameful.
Do not mistake my exasperation for elitism. The mounting popularity of Game of Thrones and Sherlock Holmes is joyously progressive, and I grin at busy, hardworking people enjoying the same stories as layabouts like myself. The young woman who devours Steven Erikson novels during her lunch hours; the father who watches Phineas and Ferb though his children no longer care: they’re geeks, because they love something, and, though their delight may be furtive, they rightfully make no attempts to hide it.
Arrogant scowling at those who haven’t read a book, however, does not make one a geek. Recommending a novel to a film-loving chum is splendid enough, but if you're the sort who sneers at someone’s preference of the cinematic medium, your very existence requires a long and thoughtful sit-down.
To be a geek, a person must only love with such honesty and enthusiasm that they soak up and revel in every detail of their passion - and show it without shame. Does this mean that lovers who gaze at each other in wonder are geeks? Is a mother singing gently to her new-born a geek? I’d venture so. To be a geek is therefore the simplest of deeds. One need only be subject to the truths, joys, and tribulations of the human condition, and that covers just about everyone.
© Phillip Sutcliffe-Mott November 2013