What’s a Geek? Are there Fake Geeks? Do You Care?

I hate to keep relying on the same couple sources, but my internet friend Emmie keeps writing smart things. (It’s also a quantity issue, I think; by my calculations, Emmie is writing approximately 35 percent of the modern internet.) Yesterday she was at Spellbound Scribes, writing about the idea of the “fake geek” and how profoundly silly all that is. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen that subject dealt with (not by a longshot), but the writers of those other pieces typically lament (rightly) the treatment of certain women, especially cosplayers, at conferences and the like, and leave it at that; Emmie’s is a more inclusive and holistic approach. I won’t quote much, because you should go read her words for yourself, but the key takeaway: “Being a geek is about loving a thing.” Geeks know what it is to be an Other, and denying others their geekery is really just Other-izing someone else. What sense is there in keeping anyone out?

I love this. For the most part.

In addition to all the reasons Emmie gives: where does that weird geek pride even come from? I don’t get that, and I say that as a confirmed, dyed-in-the-wool, multidisciplinary geek; there’s just not much to be proud of in knowing every Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica episode by name, number and its three most memorable quotes. You really, really like something that someone else created; come forward and claim your cookie! Don’t get me wrong: we loves what we loves, and should feel all sorts of good things (in addition to, y’know, love) about those things. Pride, though, the kind that makes you want to keep other people out of your exclusive little club? Eh. That’s pretty weak.

I do get where the impulse comes from, I think. It’s easy to say “you know what it’s like to be Othered, so stop Othering others.” The thing is, though, that to a large degree, geekdom developed because geeks were being Othered, and was created to allow them to escape all that, to escape the whole rest of the world. It’s a step beyond the Golden Rule; it’s asking your OG geeks to treat others not only as they would want to be treated, but precisely as they were not treated, growing up, by some of those same others, which is why their little club existed in the first place. I can see how some geeks would find that sort of thing a bit irksome, and especially so when the “fake geek” looks like the kind of guy or girl who gave you wedgies and swirlies and worse in school (or who dated that first guy or girl). It’s wrong, of course, it’s stupid, for Emmie’s reasons and the one or two above. I get the impulse, but impulses can and often should be ignored.

So my quibble isn’t with that, but with this: I want words to really mean something, and I want to avoid broadening their definitions so much that every word means exactly the same thing as a ton of other words, such that we just keep sliding further and further toward Newspeak. When you hear the word “geek,” you think certain things, and even beyond the unfortunate appearance- (or even gender-) based stereotypes, you think of certain real, immutable things, too. It can’t just mean “one who loves a thing” — we have words like “fan” and “devotee” and “connoisseur” and a dozen others that all mean basically that. A geek has to love a certain type of thing (or a thing within a certain range of types of things), and in a certain eccentric way. I’m not an authority on this (or on anything), and I’m not going to tell you what those types and ways are. But I definitely envision certain qualities, and so do you, and there’s a pretty good chance that what you are envisioning right now resembles what I’m envisioning, and it definitely goes well beyond just loving a thing. There’s plenty of room for differing types and degrees, but there’s a certain indispensable character to geekery. Continue reading

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