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I’m Such a Nerd (with Katrina Bowden)
If you want to be her lover, you have to LARP with her friends.
Ben’s script is great. I am really happy to see my Warhammer joke make it into the end.
This is exactly what I was hoping something titled “I’m Such a Nerd” would be.
The rise of the Geek in popular culture is something I’ve been observing with both fascination and disdain. It’s a bit like that Intel commercial where Ajay Bhatt walks into a room, gets treated like a rockstar, and is about 30 seconds away from a sweaty, tech-induced orgy.
What did Bhatt do to deserve this?
He invented the USB.
But it’s not just the programmers who have ascended the social ladder. It’s the gamers, the comic book collectors, the science fiction lovers, fan fiction writers, obscure 90’s indie rock listeners, hackers, bloggers, and twitterers—everyone and anyone whose ever had a single Geeky thought traverse their corpus collosums—all now eagerly and openly lay claim to Geek status.
“I’m such a geek!” “Oh my god, I’m totally geeking out!” “I know this is totally geeky, but…”
The inner Geek that people once kept buried in a deep and labyrinthine closet for fear of complete and utter social alienation has now become the ultimate cultural cache. Without that inner Geek, you’re just normal, and normal is social death.
Perfectly beautiful and socially adept people have taken to broadcasting their geekiness, actually downplaying their physical attributes in favor of flaunting their obscure tastes and former lives as social outcasts. Social media wonder and self-ascribed geek girl Felicia Day commands 1.5 million followers on sites like Twitter, while the fantasy girlfriend of every male in the galaxy Alyssa Milano boasts less than a third of that.
Don’t get me wrong, Alyssa Milano is very, very popular. But Felicia Day is more popular, at least among the Interneterati (technology inspired neologisms, by the way, are very geeky and therefore cool. Use of the word “neologism” however, is not), and these days commanding the web lurkers of the world means having a massively mobile online army at your fingertips.
Actress Ming Na, whose career has found new life on the Syfy Channel’s Stargate Universe, recently revealed in an interview that she loves Star Trek, Star Wars AND Dungeons and Dragon—the trifecta of geekdom. These days, coming out the Geek closet isn’t a shameful confession, it’s a career move—and a good one at that.
Ming Na, like so many other public personalities who’ve realized that careers can be made and sustained on a diet of Geek, acknowledges that we’ve entered a Geek renaissance:
But you know, I just have always loved it, and I realize now that I’m older that a lot of geeks come into great success and so now instead of feeling like the odd man out, I’m feeling very proud to be one of the power players. Because, you know, there’s geek power. I think it’s really great!
Not to be outgeeked by her co-star, actress Alaina Huffman’s recent appearance in Maxim featured her two cents on why she has “geek cred”:
I played Black Canary on Smallville and I was in another sci-fi show, Painkiller Jane—prior to those roles, I wasn’t as in to science fiction but I totally geeked out over Black Canary. I get it. It’s so surreal and fun. I just love how limitless the genre is.
The Geek cup overfloweth with more delights than a record store on Tuesday. Star Trek is cool again. Chris Pine is GQ’s Breakout Star of the Year. Our President plays with Lightsabers and speaks articulately. The Syfy Channel enjoys record ratings while its parent network NBC flatlines. Geeks are the heroes of shows like Chuck and Glee, or the romantic protagonists in sitcoms like Big Bang Theory. Internet geeks like Tumblr’s David Karp grace the pages of Business Week as one of the Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs of 2009 (he’s a whopping 22). College students dream of working for social media or tech companies like Twitter, Facebook, Apple or Google. The criminally depressing cubicle has been replaced by slick open computing environments, designed specifically for computer geeks who won’t settle for dusty PC’s running IE6. Geeks seem to be taller, hotter, thinner, and more successful than ever before.
Now is not the time to be hiding your secret Transformers collection or dusty stack of GI Joe comics. Chances are your ability to be taken seriously in this life will rely more upon your esoteric knowledge of comic book retcons than your knowledge of the stock market.
For a big-time Geek like me (yeah, I get the irony of saying so in this essay), all of this should be a dream come true, like waking up to a world that suddenly loves everything I love and not only wants me to have more of it, but actively and wholeheartedly throws all of its energy into producing piles upon piles of Geek-related stuff that I can buy and consume and watch over and over and over again. Before I can even think, “Gee, I wish someone would make that comic/sci-fi/fantasy book into a movie,” it turns out someone already has (or is planning to). It’s a veritable Geektopia.
So why do I feel so irritated?
Maybe it’s because the very concept of popularity is built upon its opposition to the Geek, and the very existence of a popular Geek seems an abomination to the whole natural order of things.
Maybe it’s because I always thought being a Geek was something you earned through severe and unforgiving rites of passage like dreading lunch every day in high school because the only person kind enough to sit with you has down syndrome, or never being asked to school dances, or thinking death might be a reasonable alternative to gym class.
Maybe it’s because some of those who’ve recently begun hanging out at the altar of Geekdom just don’t seem to get it.
I suppose the mainstreaming of the Geek was bound to happen. It makes perfect sense especially considering how, in the last decade, the technology sector has firmly established itself as the dominant force in today’s economy. Like any subculture, it’s only a matter of time before the cool hunters and trend forecasters pick up the scent and figure out a way to repackage and sell something to us that we already have—in this case, an inner Geek.
Can anyone be a Geek?
One look at WIRED Magazine would suggest that yes, anyone can be a geek. Geeks can be tech-based, science-based, knowledge-based, entertainment-based, ad infinitum. As Geek culture bleeds over into all realms of our mainstream American culture, this democratization of the Geek has spawned its own internal Geek hierarchy.
American Nerd, Benjamin Nugent’s semi-autobiographical history of the geek/dork/nerd, addresses the oxymoronic phenomena of “the cool nerd,” or the rise in popularity of what Paste Magazine recently called the “meta-nerd.” In both instances, this particular branch of Geek subculture worships what Nugent calls “the cultural capital of quirk,” “individualized obsessions” that seemingly buck mainstream trends. What used to be the necessary ironic enjoyment of lame/dorky/geeky things by hipsters the world over has come full circle and transformed into rich, genuine enjoyment. Cool kids, the former antithesis of the Geek, are now essentially one and the same. Irony has all but left the room as more and more people adopt Geekiness as their cultural capital of choice.
But what happens to Geekdom when everyone is a Geek, everything is Geeky, and Geek culture blurs incoherently with mainstream American culture?
It leaves those of us who don’t consider Geekiness something you can do to your hair, or wear on a t-shirt, or buy at the store feeling strangely dissatisfied. It’s not that there should be an authoritative Panel of Geeks whose job is to review individual applications to Geekhood, deciding who can or cannot belong to the club. But the club has gotten awfully big, and “Geek cred” just doesn’t seem to mean what it used to. After all, any real Geek should know that you don’t need to lay your Magic: The Gathering cards on the table to prove your Geekiness.
While mainstream culture continues churning out what it decides is cool or not cool (or cool because it’s not cool), there will always exist the hopelessly incurable Geeks whose Geekhood is neither a costume nor an aesthetic choice.
I suppose in the end we incurable Geeks should be grateful that the world is conforming to our cultural tastes and that for the moment, it’s relatively safe to discuss time paradoxes and Star Trek in public. The secret club of Geeks may not be our exclusive domain anymore, but we can at least try to enjoy the fruits of Geek mainstreaming while it lasts.
Based on the ongoing barrage of questions for SyFy’s Craig Engler on Twitter, I get the sense that hardcore science fiction lovers are up in arms over the cable channel’s decision to change their name to the made-up word “syfy.” But what are we really so angry about?
Much of this seems to stem from TV historian and original Scifi channel developer Tim Brooks’ comment that, “The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular.” At the time, uber-geek Wil Wheaton responded “SyFy’s Tim Brooks insulted the hell out of geeks everywhere. So on behalf of all us geeks, I say SyFy can go Fyck Itsylf.”
But not so fast. What Brooks said about the “name” Sci Fi isn’t exactly untrue in the sense that if you throw that word around, those geeky adolescent boys in their basements are exactly what comes to mind for the general public.
Now, I’m not sure if anyone’s ever done a serious anthropological study of science fiction demographics, but one way to get a gauge on what we look like is to go to a convention. Any convention. Let me tell you, there aren’t a lot of women there. But there are some.
So is the new Syfy channel trying to recreate itself in order to be more inclusive of these other demographics, “the general public and the female audience”? Absolutely. It’s a cable channel, not a fan club. It operates with the sole purpose of creating for-profit entertainment, and profitability necessitates attracting a wider audience. The good news is, the execs at Syfy seem to have noticed that as the quality of their programming increases, so too does the type of audience the channel attracts.
Growing up, I was the only one in my family that enjoyed watching science fiction. My two sisters somehow managed to deal with adolescence much better than I, and didn’t spend all their time imagining a future where high school didn’t exist, only Starfleet Academy. Fast forward to sometime in 2005, when the reboot of Battlestar Galactica made its viral trip around the pop culture circuit. Suddenly both my sisters were hopelessly addicted. Here was a show that we could talk about together. The quality of writing, the incredible suspense of not knowing how the fleet would survive, all of these things made the show incredibly satisfying for all three of us. Did it even matter that the show was science fiction? For me, yes. That’s why I watched it in the first place. But for my sisters, no. They just heard it was an amazing show. And this is a very good thing for people like me.
I get the sense that the strange anger over the Syfy name change has more to do with injured geek pride and the fact that geek subculture is currently enjoying mainstream status. All those “other” people who don’t know what it means to grow up alone in the basement watching Star Trek have no idea how to properly appreciate science fiction, right?
Of course they don’t. That’s why we don’t need to really worry about anyone taking away our geek/nerd status any day soon. At least not without a time machine and some magical popularity dust. With our geek statuses firmly intact, we should sit back and enjoy the fact that the people out there want to invest money and energy and time into creating quality science fiction for not just us, but everyone. It’s mob rule out there, and right now the mob is favoring us. Relish the moment. Because seriously, if I have to turn on the television and see one more freaking “new” crime show, so help me god…