Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When Geeks Rule the Earth

     When I was growing up I used to hang out with a lot Punks and Skaters. One of the things which always impressed me was the way they dressed. A lot of their shirts had anti-social or anti-government slogans and expressions which they would carefully stitch or sew on themselves, and the creativity involved was so new to me and I found it absolutely fascinating. To express one’s individuality in ways that were outside of both the status quo and the normal merchandise medium really felt to me like some kind of pure underground movement of rebellion.

     These days, you can go to any Hot Topic and find pre-made shirts, pants, backpacks and any number or accessories which are, ironically, splayed over with anti-establishment catch-phrases and ideas. The idea that you can now walk into a corporate owned store and purchase anti-corporate, anti-government, or anti-social merchandise is both baffling and repugnant to me. What happened to the idea of individual expression? Where is the staunch refusal to buy into the mass consumerism and blind corporate obedience? Apparently, it’s for sale and hanging on a clothes rack.
Unique Identity Crisis

     However, I’m not actually here to talk about the steady decline of the underground. I want to talk about the world of Geekdom. And how it means absolutely nothing anymore.
I’ve already said how I grew up hanging around with the more rebellious fringes of society, and while I did (and do) wholeheartedly embrace their love of the “Anti-”, I wouldn’t say that I quite fit in with their crowd. I was definitely socially awkward, but I expressed myself quite differently. You could usually find me with a book or a comic or with a video game.

     Being a nerd in the early 90’s was often a lonely experience. I don’t think I met more than five or six people in school who knew what Dragonlance was, or who had played a Final Fantasy game before FFVII. And don’t even get me started on trying to find someone who loved comic books as much as I did, or who collected them for reasons beyond trying to make money. The world of the geek/nerd (I use the terms interchangeably), while not as vocally or visually flamboyant as other outside groups, was still a universe filled with lonely nights and barely-contained mockery from those who embraced the “norm”.

     See, back then, when you were passionate about something, whether comics or music or disrupting the “system”, it was up to YOU to express that passion. And, to those not within your circle, you often looked like a complete weirdo while you did so. You spent hours talking about how badass Raistlin Majere was, or about how someday you were going to bring down all those “Suits” and their bland cloned lives, because to you and your close knit-circle it was genuinely exciting! You simply couldn’t contain how you felt about it. In other words, you “geeked out”. And your fellow geeks never looked at you askew as it happened…they were too busy geeking out right along with you.

     Today brings us a very different world. The world of the geek is literally everywhere. There are comic book movies, video games and…comics. Doctor Who lunchboxes and T.A.R.D.I.S. pens, mugs, costumes, phone covers and galore are available at even the tiniest of shops. You can’t walk anywhere without running into someone’s fandom popping out. Geeks have truly inherited the earth…or, at least it seems.

     The cracks in the walls of this fabled Nerdtopia first began to appear to me while watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Now, I do understand that quite a lot of critics (correctly, IMHO) dismiss this show as being faux-geek. However, as it’s intended audience is the nerd crowd, and the shows main characters all fit the stereotype, I find it useful for this discussion. In the episode I watched (the exact episode eludes me), Sheldon Cooper, the show’s anal-retentive “super geek”, was getting all gooey about some comic book characters and wanted to have an elaborate conversation about their merits in a battle. His supposed geeky friends, rather than joining in, instead mocked his keen interest and changed the subject to more “male-friendly”, normal conversation matter. Sheldon was defeated.

     Did you notice what has happened here? A group of people, often found wearing T-shirts with super-hero logos on them, and who obviously have the passion to pursue careers in the scientific fields of study…find passion-fueled conversations preposterous. How in the hell did that come about?

     I think I have an answer: because being labeled a “Geek” is more important than actually BEING a Geek. Knowing the correct fandoms, being versed in the plethora of references and recognizing them when in public, while also wearing as many garments and accessories and stickers of popular nerdy things has now trumped possessing the all-consuming fire of Passion. And that, my friends, is the very antithesis of geek culture. It is an exact parallel to what happened in Punk and Skater culture: the merchandising of a former fringe group, to bring in those who are actually part of the status quo/norm.

     Go to any coffee shop these days, and you’re bound to see a Captain America T-shirt or someone with a Sci-Fi TV-show-themed mug or other commodity. But what you’ll see much less frequently is a heated conversation about the shows or media behind the logos. More than likely, what you’ll see is the fervent giggling as someone points out the multitudinous displays from whichever particular fandom they also happen to enjoy. This entire movement has turned into a sort of Nerdy-Ouroboros: the only passion anymore is all about being a Geek…which itself is a term used to express passion about something else! I’m honestly surprised the world hasn’t imploded from the paradox. Doc Brown would not be amused.

     So, what am I trying to say by all this? Is it wrong to be obsessed with geeky/nerdy culture? I certainly don’t think so. My teenage-self beams every time I see one of my beloved superheroes up on the big screen. And, every time I’m reminded of just how prevalent Video-Game culture has become, I smile and thank the heavens that people are appreciating the medium for what it is, instead of relegating it to the toy section. However, with great obsession, comes great responsibility. We owe it to ourselves as Geeks and Nerds to make this name mean something! If we want to have a world where we can all be free to have as much love and passion for something without fear of judgment, then we need to actually HAVE that passion without fear of judgment, or without judging others for being so obviously in love with an idea or movement or fandom. Otherwise, using terms and labels is meaningless. Really, they already are meaningless, but that’s a discussion for another blog post.

     Go out and engage in the things you’re passionate about. Don’t be so obsessed with knowing when to give the expected nod to a subtle Doctor Who reference when it’s dropped; rather, talk about how amazing it would be to travel the universe in a T.A.R.D.I.S. or argue about which iteration of the Doctor you’d prefer to travel with, or why you think Spider-Man is much better than Batman or why the world of Dragonlance or Final Fantasy (any of them) would be such an amazing or horrible world to live in! Geek out! Dare to look goofy because you care so goddamn much about people and places and ideas that don’t actually exist in our grey, mundane world. THEN and only then, will Geeks have truly inherited the earth, my friends.
Now, go live long and prosper.

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