Beware Geeks Bearing Gifts...

What is a geek? Am I a geek? Are you? It's difficult to find an agreed definition because it is a word that has changed over time. Geeks themselves have not changed - the rest of the world has re-orientated itself around them and therefore the label used to denote them. Stereotypes from the worlds of fiction, television and cinema abound and are too many to mention. We all know what we're talking about.
000Many of these characterisations are fairly derogatory but still harbour nuggets of truth. Author Julie Smith provides some insight into this with her own description:
000"He was the very personification of a 'geek', a bright young man turned inward, poorly socialized, who felt so little kinship with his own planet that he routinely travelled to the ones invented by his favourite authors, who thought of that secret, dreamy place his computer took him to as cyberspace - somewhere exciting, a place more real than his own life, a land he could conquer - not some drab, teenager's room in his parents' house."
000Some might feel insulted at this representation but Smith doesn't simply label the character as a geek with traditional trappings. She hints at a life of quiet desperation - a desire for something more - but explores to some extent one mechanism that the character has for dealing with the inherent banality and trivial disappointment of modern life. What the archetypal Chav blocks out with alcohol, violence (and market stall Burberry), the geek blocks out with passionate intensity - whether it be for the technical, scientific or fantastical.
000There has been a shift of late in the perception of the geek. Mainstream works of fiction are increasingly selecting geeks as their heroes, without referential nods to previous incarnations. Younger children can be harsh in their perceptions of the world: flick on Cartoon Network and you will be bombarded with crude representations of geek stereotypes, many situated for comic purpose and at best as necessary side kicks to the main character. Recent shows like 'Phineas and Ferb' place geeks unapologetically at the heart of their concepts and storylines - each episode unashamedly quirky and clever, encouraging young audiences to share in the delight of geekish capabilites and the boon of expertise and learning. On the other end of the spectrum, shows like 'QI' and personalities like Stephen Fry have enormous followings, shows where an enthusiasm for intellectual pursuit is respected and geek preoccupations are front and centre. Even the fashion world has acknowledged the influence of the geek in 'geek chic', where the style of cultural characters outside of the mainstream spectrum and the stereotypical features of geeks themselves have been adopted in lines and designs.
000This probably doesn't go far enough. Geeks in these examples are still very much on the periphery - which isn't a realistic interpretation of the world in which we live. As author China Mieville puts it, "Geeks run the world". If geeks are enthusiasts, people who are to one degree or another obsessed with intellectual pursuit for its own sake, then geeks and their influence are very much part of the fabric of modern life. I'm a teacher by trade. All teachers have chosen to become experts in their own fields in order that they might make experts out of others: because the world needs experts. Where would we be without the thousands of hours of intellectual pursuit that medical students commit to becoming doctors? Doctors are geeks. Musicians are geeks. Lawyers are geeks. Architects are geeks. Jounralists are geeks. Stock Market Traders are geeks. Comedians are geeks. Military advisors are geeks. Computer designers and technicians are geeks. Politicians are geeks. Arguably the most powerful person on Earth - Barack Obama - must be by that reasoning, a geek.
000It seems that the world is not ready to face that reality however. A leap forward requires two steps back. Extremely popular television shows (undoubtedly made by geeks) like Doctor Who and Glee might, on the basis of viewing figures, be considered mainstream guilty pleasures. People who do not consider themselves geeks watch them in their droves, despite the fact that these shows might be considered by geeks, for geeks, celebrating geek archetypal characters. Unfortunately the writers and producers of these shows failed to hold the line, however. They have betrayed the very sentiment that drove them to create / produce the shows in the first place. Within episodes of beginning, the geek icon that is the Doctor had to be legitimised in the popular mind by his coupling with Chavvy companions and Tardis visits restricted to periods in history that five year olds would recognise. The Glee Club did their stuff perfectly well for the first few episodes before legitimisation was required in the form of -yes, you've guessed it - cheerleaders and jocks joining the group (being just as good as the geeks who devoted their lives to the pursuit) and assuming half of the metaphorical and actual spotlight.
000Doesn't this take geeks back to being stuffed in lockers and the High School toilets of their 1980s cinemascapes? Isn't it time that the geek world order rallied? Time that the world faced the truth that it would be pretty screwed without geek guardianship? That geek movers and shakers, those with golden opportunities and influence over a wide range audiences, 'grow some' and have the courage of their convictions?


markmwilliams said...

Blessed are the geek: for they shall inherit the earth...

Anonymous said...

Whilst I agree with the great sentiment of the post I think you may read the wrong thing into the move of jocks and cheerleaders into Glee. I'm not sure where the UK screening of Glee is at the moment as thanks to the internet I no longer allow the Atlantic to delay my watching to such a great degree however I think the bringing in of the jocks and cheerleaders worked contrary to the conclusion you drew with the social standing of those who joined being damaged and there being continuous conflict being drawn and pressures on the jocks and cheerleaders to leave. Also the Jocks and Cheerleaders were mostly non entities and when they displayed any personality it was to reinforce notions of them being vacuous ammoral gits.

Doctor Who wise isn't part of the dumbing down and need to "be relateable to the masses" drawn from above the producers/writers heads from the Channel controllers and heads of drama and other such people whom you might assume may be geeks themselves considering your take on enthusiasts rising to the top when they seem to take ratings more seriously than artistic merit most of the time.

There always seems in so many regards to be an inbuilt need to ignore the geek and go to the masses, even as the masses grow geekier and those in charge are geeks, it's systemic. It's like institutionalised racism only not as bad, it's institutionalised populism and that's just nasty as popularity should be defining the worth of things.