A while back (honestly, probably so long ago that she’s forgotten), I was discussing with Maggie about what it means to be geek. I think there’s been a lot of griping on various social media sites about what geek is and isn’t – well, more specifically what a “fake geek” is and why that’s a bad thing. There are several noteworthy reasons why this has become a topic of discussion, most notably because “geek” things like Star Wars, Star Trek, etc are becoming more socially acceptable. But also because in the “geek girl” realm, there are cries of “fakers”; women who pretend that they are geeks to get geek guys all hot and bothered. I’ve discussed the matter of geek girls at least twice in the past, so I’m not going to beat the woefully deceased horse on that matter again.
I think one of the integral issues with defining yourself as geek is that it used to be a very clear-cut thing. If you liked Star Trek, you were probably a geek. If you went to cons, you were probably a geek. If you cosplayed, you were probably a geek. But the simple truth of the matter is that the series revamps for Star Trek have attracted new audiences, that people drag their non-geek significant others to cons, and sometimes people cosplay just to attract the attentions of the opposite sex.
The reason that this came up in the first place was because of a series of (top-secret) writings that I’ve done under the heading of Postmodern Geek, with the intention of one day actually making a book or a blog or a web series about the subject. The Postmodern Geek, in my mind, is the geek who can simultaneous pwn face at the MMO of their choice, while at the same time being socially competent and able to socially interface with the more mainstream “non-geeks” (for lack of a better term). As for why labels are important, it really boils down to the fact that our brains are designed to categorize things. It’s how we handle a variety of stimulus. It also makes it far simpler to identify others who are similar to yourself without spending hours debating the merits of various topics.
So after some rather considerable late night thought on the matter, I’ve come up with the following three “criterion” that generally make someone definably geek:
Refusal to Conform: I have a hard time coming up with a quick “snappy definition” of this element of geekness. Basically, one of the integral components of being a geek is that you don’t let other people’s beliefs about your interests sway you. A geek doesn’t care whether something is popular or not, they merely embrace the things that they like. And if people tease you for embracing those things… that’s just a fact of life. This is a trait that I’m seeing more and more often in the “mainstream,” but it really is the original hallmark of the geek.
Desire to be an Expert: Geeks aren’t content to merely watch a few episodes of a television show. No, geeks want to watch all the episodes, read about it online, memorize quotes… in short, if a geek truly loves something, they aspire to grok it. And this makes sense in a lot of ways, especially with recent studies coming to a further understanding of how catharsis actually works in our minds. If we as geeks are unafraid to wholly embrace something we like, it makes sense that we would get quite emotionally invested.
Longing for “Something More”: This is one of the more important traits in my mind. If you tell a geek that they could be anything they wanted, do anything they wanted, they will frequently give you answers involving space travel, or magic, or supernatural abilities. When I ask people who I consider to be “non-geeks,” I get very “inside the box” answers. World peace. Being rich and famous, or a celebrity. Ironically, the “quote” that I feel best describes my views on life and the world around me is from a song about drug addiction, Wolfsheim’s “Heroin, She Says”. The chorus goes, “‘Heroin,’ she said, ‘was the best I had, no more mountains left to climb. Oh the world’s so slow, are my dreams just to high, to be fulfilled in time.’” Drug reference notwithstanding, one of the more frustrating things that I’ve experienced in my life is the fact that I won’t live long enough to travel around the galaxy. I will never be issued my invitation to Hogwarts. I will never be bitten by a spider, or exposed to radioactive chemicals that will give me superhuman powers. As geeks, we look to Fantasy and Science Fiction and Roleplaying to try to get some sense of what it would be like to experience the things that are outside of our realm of possibilities.
And honestly, I think that’s one of the biggest elements of what a geek is.