The Geek Mindset

This is a response to yesterday's geek article from JF Quackenbush, because there are some things I want to clarify on this subject, but this article can also be read on its own.

A couple days ago, I was in a comic book store, talking to the owner. It came out that he was too embarrassed the read comics on the subway. He didn't want to be seen in public with them. Keep in mind, this is a man who has spent decades of his life, most of his professional career, selling comic books. And he was still on some level ashamed of his association with them.

The truth is, I sympathize with the people who want to reclaim the word "geek". What these people are really saying is that they shouldn't feel ashamed for reading comic books, or science fiction, or playing role playing games, or video games, or programming computers, or the other myriad markers of so-called "geek culture". As Quackenbush said, they were probably made fun of as kids for these things, and so their insecurities about them are deeply buried in their psychological development. They are trying to overcome these insecurities, and so say "No, it's okay to like these things." And, of course it's okay to like these things. You should not be ashamed for being who you are.

Problems arise when insecurity causes a kind of overreaction, and "geeks" start thinking they're actually better than other people because they like these things. This is why Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons looks down his nose on other people and makes fun of them. Because he feels so deeply insecure about himself that condescension becomes self-deluding overcompensation. I think that J's real point (or at least mine) is that people like CBG aren't losers because they like comic books or whatever, they're losers because they're socially maladjusted wrecks, and escaping into comics is a way that they deal with that.

Not that there's anything wrong with escapism per se. It is not the affection for escapism that makes a loser a loser, it's simply another symptom of a larger problem.

My original problem with the geek label was that using it is just another form of separating one group of people from other people and saying that this group is weird and different and must hang together because of that. Fuck that whole mindset. I like comic books, and science fiction and fantasy, and cartoons and computer programming. I don't feel that this makes me weird or different and there's absolutely no reason I should, anymore than someone who like mystery novels or knitting or, I don't know, butterfly collecting, should feel that they are weird or different because of their hobbies and interests. The whole concept that people who like these things are different and weird is a very recent phenomenon, dating back maybe 60 years or so tops. In many other cultures you still have to explain what a geek is, because it's such an odd concept.

So perhaps having the definition of the word "geek" expand to include people who like Twitter or Facebook is actually a good thing if only because it dilutes the term and moves towards its eventual abolition. After all, if everyone is a geek then no one is a geek.

The Geek Problem or You Are Not Luke Skywalker

Some years ago, I read an article in a mainstream magazine that basically said, "There's no doubt about, being a geek is cool. Everyone is dressing like geeks, watching superhero movies, using computers, truly geekdom is in." And I remember thinking, "What planet is this guy living on?" Yes, people may be using the Internet on their iPhones, dressing in Buddy Holly glasses and wearing plaid sweater vests on their way to see The Dark Knight, but they're also laughing at Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons or at Triumph the Insult Comic Dog making fun of people at San Diego Comic Con. Certain elements of geek culture have been appropriated by the mainstream, to be sure, but geekiness itself is not "cool"; in fact, if I understand the words correctly, the two are by definition in opposition. (Like the old oxymoron "it's hip to be square".)

There has over the years, of course, been a movement to reappropriate the word "geek" as positive, as something to be celebrated, usually on the model of the homosexuals' reappropriation of the word "queer." This movement seeks geeks to be proud of their culture and their differences from the mainstream, to celebrate it, to shout "we're here, we're geeky, get used to it." Of course, geekdom is not exactly analogous to homosexuality for a huge number of reasons, but one can sympathize with the people who were bullied in school and now want to declare absolutely to the world that there's nothing wrong with themselves.