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.


Right. But the label

Right. But the label describes something real, something halfway between a personality and a subculture. Never mind what the name of the label is, that's historical accident. The phenomenon still exists.

As I wrote in a comment to JF Quackenbush, I don't disagree that geeks often victimize themselves unnecessarily, or that they typically may have all kinds of bad qualities.

Even so, geeks still _exist_. Change the meaning of the word, and a new word will become necessary. The label isn't just about trying to separate people, it's about describing a separation that already exists.

This doesn't mean that there is a clear definition of geek, but neither is there with many other labels. All such words change meaning by a sort of dragging contest between the people who are included by the word and the people who want to be included, (or the opposite, for negative words). If enough people want it to include anyone who uses Twitter, then they will be included. But then, in a couple of years or decades, you'll see a new word established that describes the personality/subculture we know today as geek. Because there is a difference.