I recently discovered a cool site called The Mary Sue, which bills itself as “A Guide to Girl Geek Culture”. There’s a lot of neat stuff on there, and I end up checking it out almost every day. One of today’s articles, however, really hit home for me and I felt I had to share. The post, by Becky Chambers, is called What It Means To Be A Geek, and Ms. Chambers wrote it after her girlfriend’s sister pointedly denied being a geek, even though she obviously is. Apparently there’s a certain stigma to being a geek…
I’ve always been proud of being a geek and that’s what I call myself both on the ‘net and in real life. I have been known to wear my geek badge with a certain amount of militancy on occasion. I got my first computer when I was 15 years old – a brand-new VIC-20, the two shows I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch were Star Trek and Monty Python (which probably explains a lot…), I still have my Grim Jack and Battlestar Galactica comic collection, and I know there are at least a couple of pictures out there of me in costume at various science fiction conventions and other events – no, I’m not going to provide links. But I have friends who, like Ms. Chambers’ girlfriend’s sister, don’t want be labeled as ‘geeks’. I have friends who won’t admit, outside of a very small circle of people, to any interests that might even be considered ‘geeky’.
I blame, in part, the media for this. By that I mean the way television, movies, and the news media portray what they call ‘geeks’ – usually guys who are fixated on computers and Star Trek and have absolutely no social skills. The Big Bang Theory is a great example of this (yes, I know that two of the characters have had “meaningful relationships with the opposite sex”, but even then their complete dorkiness is played for laughs). Most non-fiction shows about science fiction or fantasy fans are limited to the ones who take their interests to the extreme – can we say Trekkies and Trekkies 2 by Denise Crosby, anyone? If anyone out there can name a series or documentary that portrays geeks in a good light, please leave me a comment – I’d love know if my perception on this is skewed.
Even TV shows that are not about geeks fall prey to this – look at NCIS and Criminal Minds for example. On both, the ‘girl geeks’ (Abby on NCIS and Penelope on CM) are caricatures of real people – fun, quirky, and strong, but caricatures nevertheless. The ‘guy geeks’ (McGee on NCIS and Reid on CM) have fared a little better; they started out as stereotypes but have managed to grow a bit beyond their geeky boundaries, although the dork factor is still trotted out when they need a joke.
Back to the The Mary Sue article… The whole article is really worth taking the time to read, but what that resonated with me was this:
“The thing that all geeks have in common (other than carbon) is not what we are interested in, but how we go about consuming our interests. “Consuming” is the perfect word for it, because geeks are rarely a passive audience. We devour our interests. We are driven to know how things work. It isn’t enough for us just to enjoy something. When something piques our interest or elicits an emotional response from us, we have to know why.”
I love this description and, more importantly, I identify with it. I recently spent hours (when I probably should have been job hunting…) going from website to website to website reading about Theodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa because it played a crucial part in a mystery story I had read and I wanted to know more about the painting and the story behind it. Along those lines, another part of the article that really drew a visceral reaction from me was this:
“If you like something so much that a casual mention of it makes your whole being light up like a halogen lamp, if hearing a stranger fondly mention your favorite book or game is instant grounds for friendship, if you have ever found yourself bouncing out of your chair because something you learned blew your mind so hard that you physically could not contain yourself — you are a geek.”
Yup, that’s me. I am a geek, hear me roar.