The Geek Icon
My original geek manifesto, reprinted from 1998. Someday I will do an updated piece on this.
The Importance of Being Geeky (reprise)
Etymology: probably from English dialect geek, geck fool, from Low German geck, from Middle Low German
1 : a person often of an intellectual bent who is disapproved of
2 : a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
- geeky /'gE-kE/ adjective
Definition courtesy of the Merriam Webster online dictionary.)
The common definition for the term 'geek' implies one or more of the following:
- Someone who has an inordinate interest in some scientific subject that most other people find boring or intellectually intimidating.
- Someone who has few social skills and never gets invited to parties.
- Someone who wears glasses, unfashionable clothing, or has a bad haircut.
- Someone who is especially well-behaved and rarely rebellious; a goody two-shoes.
- Someone who in no way qualifies for the labels 'cool' or 'popular.'
- Someone who spends more time reading or using a computer than hanging out with people or watching MTV.
Circus freaks aside, we all have known a geek: the one with the pimples who sat alone at lunch, the one the teachers loved because he/she always had the correct answer in Maths, the one that got beat up at least once a week in P.E., the one that always came to school dances without a date. Maybe we ARE that person. I certainly more than qualify as a geek. But this is not a trial- and- tribulation treatise on my woes of life as a geek. Definitely not. The 1990's are the decade of the geek, and I'm here to celebrate geekdom in all its freakish glory.
Portrayals of geeks have hardly been pleasant. Especially in most of those 1980's brat pack flicks, where all the real happenin' people would hang out in their ripped Guess jeans and puffy quilted vests and scoff at those more studious or less fashionable. Sometimes geeks have even been shown to be downright evil, like the quiet and sweet-faced serial killer in Copycat, who taunted Sigourney Weaver with accurate recreations of famous murders. Even in films like Revenge of the Nerds, one had lots of fun cheering for the misfits, but when one left the theater, one didn't go out and purchase a pocket protector. And I doubt I need to further detail how geeks were viewed and treated in real life in every grade school playground across America. It wasn't pretty.
But it seems people are realizing that those shy, weird people they used to pick on and make fun of in primary school usually manage to acheive a fair amount of success in later years. Slowly, the geek has begun to obtain a sort of cult following (ultimate example: Fox Mulder of the X-Files). Famous figures like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates show that all those hours spent tinkering with computers instead of hanging around the Stop N Go really paid off. Even some celebrities admit they were a bit weird and unpopular in their earlier years.
It's obvious that being a geek is no longer so much of the badge of shame that it used to be. However, this might have a negative effect on the entire nature of geekiness. Allow me to explain, if I can. While I certainly love my geeky qualities and admire them in others as well, I have to wonder what will become of the concept of geekiness if it should become popular? The whole point of being a geek is that you are the outsider, the loner, the square peg, so to speak. If the geek becomes universally accepted, is it really geeky anymore?
While I certainly don't condone the abuse of other people (especially after many years of being on the receiving end of such abuse), I have to say that part of what being a geek is comes from experiencing that social rejection. In fact, one might argue that some of the afflictions and difficulties geeks suffer are what encourage them toward later greatness. Suffering the emotional wounds of being a social outcast and surviving it can give a person the inner strength to some day acheive the success that is missed or passed over by people who already consider themselves successful or complete. Popularity breeds contentment, and if you are the kind of person to whom the most important thing in the universe is becoming a Homecoming Queen, what will you do with yourself after you graduate from high school?
So here, precisely, is my point. Being a geek is a significant (and difficult) social role to fill. Many of the people in the world who have brought extraordinary change and technological advances would qualify for geekdom (look at Albert Einstein's hair!). However, to celebrate the geek is not to popularize geekiness. Geeks and mass-marketing don't go well together. I say, let the geek forever be an underground phenomenon. We geeks function well as outsiders, and we should maintain our geek integrity by staying that way. Although we crave love and affection like any other human being, that doesn't mean we have to be mainstream to find it.
And what about me? Is this just an opportunity for self-aggrandizement and to say I'm better than everyone else for being an anti-social weirdo? Not at all. I hardly have the kind of ego to assume I'm destined for greatness, or better than anyone else because of my personality. I do have confidence, however, that if I remain true to my geekish nature, it will definitely take me somewhere interesting.