Saturday, July 28, 2012

My Reluctant and Ambivalent Geek Wars Post

First, for those who only know the colloquial usage, ambivalent means pulled in two directions, not apathetic. Ever since taking debate (which comes up later) and having to vigorously and persuasively argue both sides of an issue, I've found myself ambivalent about most things. Anyway.

Because thoughts about it keep bouncing around in my head, and because I want to close certain tabs in my browser (that’s how I usually keep track of what I plan to blog about), I guess I’ll talk about geeks and geek pride and so on. It’s very important that everyone have an opinion and express that opinion (barf. Honestly. Opinions? BAAARRRRFFFF).

So there’s been a big stirring in geekdom (barf) recently. There was some hullabaloo on the news about some geek saying hot cosplayers aren’t real geeks and should leave (here’s a geek rebuttal from Scalzi) and then there’s Nick Mamatas’ ongoing battle with geek pride. I mostly agree with Nick except that I don’t think that everyone who had trouble in school did so because they were socially awkward. Sometimes it only takes one bad event and you’re an omega  til graduation, and sometimes there’s just no appropriate omega, so the pack chooses one. Note that Nick has no problem with geeks, but with geek pride.

I don’t exactly understand what it means to be an authentic adult geek, and my understanding of inauthentic adult geekdom involves at best basing your entire personality on the media you purchase and consume and at worst hypocritically shunning those who don’t like what you like because at some point in the past people did it to you.

A geek can’t just be someone who likes things obsessively, because I hurl myself into my interests with as much force as is humanly possible and I’m not a geek. I suppose that if you were to call me a horror, film, or lit geek (recently a chess geek, once a video game and comic geek), I might not argue. But to just call me a geek… No. And I probably prefer the term “enthusiast” because it doesn’t have all these inapplicable secondary implications. My interests may say something about my personality, but my personality has not been formed around my interests. I don’t expect to like someone because they play chess, though I would like to meet more people who do play chess and have personalities complimentary to mine.

In high school, I was a geek and had fierce geek pride. I formed my personality around certain interests. I displayed those interests with how I dressed and the items I surrounded myself with. I needed to fit in somewhere, I needed an identity, because school is fucking brutal. Kids are brutal.

After school, I didn’t decide to start lifting weights and not wear my interests on my sleeve and become a non-geek. It wasn’t conscious. Quite simply, once I was out of school and I was no longer caged in with some horrible, brutal kids, all that armor faded naturally.

 It’s important to say here that many people I went to school with were great and still are, and that in response to trouble I’d had since I started school, I lashed out and brought more trouble down upon myself. Not that I deserved it. No one deserves some of the treatment I got. It’s also important to point out that primary and secondary school seem to make kids horrible, and that many bullies are immediately fine people after graduation.

So why was I a geek? Probably a lot of factors. I have always had social anxiety. I had big curly hair in a place full of white, fair people (I don’t think I encountered racism for being half black, but I did look a bit different). I didn’t have the cool clothes or the cool lunches. I was probably behind a bit in some respects for having started school a year early, and also a bit ahead for being so smart. I was too big to avoid notice. And these things just snowball. A lot of people do fine with any of these traits, but they added up to problems for me.

I arrived at college with a ton of anger, thick armor and the expectation that I’d need it. I discovered otherwise, that the adult world isn’t like high school, and probably because of my tendency to not think of the past, the geek pride slowly faded. Hell, I was a member of KUGaR (KU gamers and role players, though my table was the edgy, cool group!). I worked at a used game store that didn’t have a computer database of prices, so that I needed to have knowledge of every game ever made and how much we could sell it for and therefore how much I could buy it for, and I did indeed have that knowledge—before I even started. My interests didn’t change, but the secondary, unrelated traits slowly dropped away and I found at some point that I was no longer a geek. I just liked what I liked.

One trait that has stuck is a tendency to react extremely aggressively and violently to little things. My school situation actually got pretty dangerous, and I found that reacting to a small slight with a huge escalation of aggression tended to at worst bring on the inevitable fight faster, but at best get me out of a bad situation and discourage kids from fucking with me. In the book Outliers, Gladwell describes how pastoral societies tended to be honor-based while agrarian societies weren’t. Show a bit of weakness, and someone can steal your whole flock and your family starves to death. It’s harder to steal a field full of crops. There’s some postulation that this is the root of the family feuds and insane violence in the Appalachians. High school is like that, too. Let someone give you a bit of grief, and you’ll keep catching it for years. I’ve been trying to let it go. Last time I was at the movies, a horrible family talked behind me the whole time and I never told them to shut up, which is unprecedented. It’s hard though. The ability to go from zero to sixty in less than a second requires a rewiring of the brain that, after many years of being useful, I’m trying to rewire again. But disrespect brings back the old feelings. Anyway.

As an adult, it’s possible to like things a lot without signing up for the whole package. I can like hardcore and horror and Lady Gaga (well,  Fame and Monster) and I don’t have to answer to any authenticity committee. You aren’t the media you consume. Purchasing is not personality.

Then again, we’re all just filling the hours, and finding connection has become so difficult. I don’t understand the need for adults to geek. I’m not exactly psyched about a situation where you have to subvert your true feminist thoughts because you like video games and comics but to gain full membership it’s important for you to worship Joss Whedon  and be okay with his insulting and condescending version of feminism which is based on all women having super powers, but if it makes you happy, whatever. Who does it hurt? I don’t like the fact that when I get with a group of self-proclaimed geeks I can be involved in the conversation about movies but then am the only one left out of the conversation about Dr. Who which goes immediately into Game of Thrones and I can’t even talk to someone else left out of the conversation because each geek has completed the geek curriculum. Yeah, its a frustrating situation for me, but I understand that without a real culture, we’re making do. Fine. That’s why I have chess and Minecraft PE on my phone.

But I’m against geek pride when it’s hypocritical and exclusive. I’m against the idea that there are real geeks and fake geeks and that some people make the cut and some don’t. If being a geek makes you happy and hurts no one, go for it. And if Nascar or pro-wrestling does the same, go for it. Just don’t think you’re better than anyone else, or countercultural. We’re all just filling the hours and trying to make it through, right? Being otherwise makes you exactly the same as the bullies who turned you into a geek in the first place. Oh the extremely obvious irony.

I was obliquely accused by a person who didn’t know me in high school of not understanding what it was like to be treated badly for your interests. Hehe. Hehehehe… I guess I should take it as a compliment that it’s hard to imagine me being a bullied nerd. I think I adequately covered the fact that we’re not in high school anymore and that it’s okay to move on (a comment on the Scalzi post said something to the effect that "geeks don’t want to tell people what to do. If we wanted that, we’d be popular.” I hope to god that person is still in high school. Popular?  Barf.) But here’s a story that explains some of the rage I can’t quite shake off:


I know bullying. I know the “You fuckin D&D nerd!” kind, and I know the kind where the stress of thinking every single day that you might get killed rewires your brain and makes you hateful and exclusive. Don’t be that way.


  1. I spend my free time imagining words or phrases that might irritate you. Geek Chic. Geek Chic. Geek Chic. Geek Chic. Geek Chic.