Thursday, June 26, 2008


I, of course, am a geeky fanboy. I read superhero comics and watch science fiction television. And I read a lot of poetry. But when I like something I want to defend it from charges of geekery in situations where friends are perfectly happy embracing the term. And I find myself dismissing things as geeky, in the very same way people dismiss the things I care about. For me the dividing line is quality, but I think I am really off base doing this, and I wanted to get some feedback.

For example, while I am willing to admit its importance to the genre, I think Star Trek: The Next Generation is geeky -- so geeky it makes me embarrassed to watch it, and embarrassed for the people who made it and who enjoy it. I was once on a Popular Culture Association panel with a guy -- a good guy, but still -- who played a clip from the Star Trek movie in which the Borg queen blows on Data's new flesh arm (which unlike his old robot arm is as sensitive as a human arm is) and Data reacts like he is receiving oral sex. It was an effort not to crawl under the table. (I meet people all the time who do not understand this reaction at all, and, admittedly, I am hard pressed to properly explain it).

But I cannot imagine Battlestar Galactica as geeky, even though I know perfectly well it must be: Dwight wears a Battlestar Galactica sweatshirt on The Office, so obviously most people are happy to lump it in with Star Trek. But for me the term geeky just cannot apply to something so appallingly well written, so dramatically intense and successful, so often properly horrifying and disturbing, and something where the performances are so top notch. I watched the second episode of season three today and actually got choked up. And for me -- and I guess this is just personal -- the show avoids the big shibboleth of geekery by not fetishizing hard science: the show does not care how the robots work, or the fine points of the engine room, and thank god for that. I want to tell people that this show is not geeky at all, but friends of mine are perfectly happy to embrace it in that way.

I know that to an extent the geeks are in power now, running the world and to an extent deciding that it cool (i just converted to Mac today), and that the dividing like between geek and cool was never that clear to begin with except on bad sitcoms. I have a hunch the geek-cool divide is a one of those suspect binaries French people are always going on about. But I still find myself clinging to it, or remnants of it. Ambivalence is my feeling about the term "geek" I guess.

How do you guys feel about it?


Prof Fury said...

I wonder if your reaction to the Star Trek scene you mentioned and to Next Generation in general has to do with the fact that you think (probably accurately) that since people know you enjoy comic books and BSG, that you also enjoy Data's o-face? As "the comics guy" where I work, I often find myself cringing whenever something comics-related or sf-related breaks into the mainstream because I know people are going to ask me about it, and more, because I believe -- I think rightly -- that most people don't make distinctions of type and grade when it comes to the genres we enjoy.

I've felt just the way you describe several times this summer, whenever I've been to a movie and they've shown the trailer for Frank Miller's The Spirit, with the terrible overheated voice over etc. No no! I want to explain to the people sitting next to me. I think that's dumb too!

I also felt this way when at an academic conference once and someone gave a paper on the Legion wearing a Legion t-shirt.

I should probably just chill out, though. As far as the term "geek" goes, though, I like it but I think it's probably lost its usefulness, or at least some of its specificity, in this post-OC world.

Do we know the history of how "geek" went from describing someone who bit the heads off of chickens to describing someone who liked D&D? I suppose I should break out the OED...

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who's never seen Star Wars. Her impression of it is only as a geeky thing. I've argued with her that it can be, but needn't be. Every kid I know played with mock light sabers growing up. Star Wars itself isn't geeky, because not just the geeks loved it. The difference comes in how you handle that love as you grow up. Fans take something and make it geeky by dressing up as the characters, by owning action figures as adults, by being able to quote lines. The geekiness comes with the level of obsession one has for it. I think this is true of non-sci-fi things, too. Liking baseball: normal. Having a fantasy team, though, is being geeky about sports.

Streebo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Streebo said...

I like Tarantino, liken the Geek to it's sideshow roots in the carnival. The geek would bite the heads off chickens in exchange for a bottle of whiskey.

That's what Geekdom is to me. It's like biting the heads off chickens and loving it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008 4:36:00 PM EST

Streebo said...

The deleted comment was mine. Deleted for errors.

Anonymous said...

You did touch on something Geoff,

I once explained to someone the main difference between your typical Star Trek fan and your typical Star Wars fan was that if you pointed out to the Trekkie that faster than light travel was impossible, he would patiently (probably impatiently actually) explain the theory behind warp drive, how it works and how it isn't really 'faster than lightspeed'... present the same fact to a Star Wars fan and they would probably shrug and say, "Neither are lightsabers... but that doesn't make it any less fun..."

So, yeah, St: TNG is quite geeky... but I grew up on it so I do like it quite a big... and it improved in later seasons, but all the movies with that cast were pretty bad (First Contact... the Borg one... was the best if that tells you anything)

On the other hand, as I've mentioned before, Deep Space Nine was really good and the best Star Trek that they've ever done and, while it does mess with the hard science... as Star Trek is wont to do... it also has all of the above characteristics you mentioned for Battlestar Gallactica (particular in the closing episodes dealing with the Dominion war)... If you haven't checked it out, you should.

That being said... Voyager and Enterprise? Totally geeky :)

Oh, and I do own action figures... c'mon... have you seen the new Indiana Jones toys? They kick ass!

Anonymous said...

prof fury,

I haven't seen the Spirit trailer... is it bad? Miller, no doubt, has a deep love for the character (his Daredevil run was him doing Eisner... directly lifting some stories at times)... I had hoped he might do a good job.

Josh Hechinger said...

This is what I call the That Guy factor. Nobody, within the confines of the stuff they like, wants to be That Guy.

For a completely subjective value of what being That Guy is.

What it boils down to is the revulsion from seeing someone share your interest, but either the A) "wrong" aspects of it or B) in the "wrong" way.

It's more than a little stupid, but honestly? Everyone does it, in everything from fashion to politics to comics books.

Anonymous said...

Ha Ha... Scott's 'that guy' rules for concert going: 1. Do not wear the T-shirt of the artist you're going to see... don't be 'that guy'

2. Do not purchase T-shirt at the show and immediately put it at the show... don't be 'that guy'

3. Do not buy/wear matching concert T-shirts to the show... don't be 'those guys/that couple/that family'

Streebo said...

Deep Space Nine was my favorite of the Trek series as well. Each successive series felt so - for lack of a better word - sterile - after the grittiness of that show.

The Spirit trailer felt like Miller was trying to do Sin City in the Spirit's clothing. Am I the only one who doesn't care for the advertising showing Samuel L. Jackson's face as the octopus? In the comic book - the Octopus' face was to my knowledge - never revealed. Well, perhaps it's only a mask.

I suppose that I am "That Guy" sometimes. I bought a Casanova shirt from Matt Fraction on Friday and wore it on Sunday for the last day of the con.

And I would do it again I tell you.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you're right about Miller doing Spirit as Sin City (I viewed the trailer)... I dunno, The Spirit had it's noir elements... which of course would have been what attracted Miller to it, but there was a lot more to it than that. I dunno, Miller definitely has a great love for the Character and Eisner... it might not be as bad.

sdelatovic said...

Each Wednesday I meet a group of friends in a shed and we play Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures. When we aren't playing we tag into X-Box Live and dissect the latest episode of LOST or Galactica -downloaded on my Apple laptop 'natch - to within an inch of his life. Parties at my house involve drunken Wii Sports tournaments. Few photos of me exist when I'm not clad in a Mario Brothers t-shirt and I have the Triforce from Legend of Zelda tattooed on my wrist.

Yeah, I'm a total geek.

I've ruminated on the issue at hand, and I think everyone draws their own line in the sand.
I've watched a lot of Trek. I love TNG in the same way I love eating McDonalds on a Sunday. Delicious crap. I rarely find myself discussing trek though, unless someone makes their love of it known. LOST, on the other hand? I bought season one on DVD mainly so I could lend it to people. "You need to watch this. You need to start at day one though. Take this. Watch up until the Locke episode and then make up your mind".

So quality plays a big part in what I discuss with people, but I don't use it as a way of assigning the geek tag. For me - and I know I've probably invented this whole cloth - 'geeky' denotes something you can fold yourself into and disappear. While some think a geek likes nerdy stuff with no filter for quality, I find myself 'geeking out' on stuff I can really dive into. When I was a kid, it was everything Wolverine had ever done or stabbed. Now? LOST is the big one.

So, for me, The Wire is a geek show. I just watched it for the first time - first ten episodes in a few days - and it's amazing. The thing is, it's demanding. The first episode confused the hell out of me but by the first few I was hooked and obsessed with the characters. Such a structure not only invites obsession but almost demands it. You are rewarded for devoting a good chunk of your brain to the show and cannot watch with one eye.

Most of the guys at my work are followers of Australian Rules Football. I don't know anything about it but these guys can quote statistics about every player in their team reaching back decades. That's pure geekery. I would not expect them to follow darts and lacrosse or the like though. It's a weird situation that they get weirded out that I've never seen Doctor Who..

Ain't It Cool News. That's a site I consider geeky, reporting on movies, books and comics that would appeal to all geeks under the sun. When they recently added a tabletop gaming column, talkbackers decried it as too nerdy or geeky or lame or whatever. That's a weird line to draw, but it must be there.

Comic Geek Speak is a good example I think. To me, a lot of cool stuff happens in that show. Every once in a while they'll go on some tangent about ancient DC lore and what fans are entitled to regarding the multiverse and I'll cringe up. but it's fine because most of the time I'm thinking "top 5 trades? Awesome." But to everyone else, the whole thing has a big pencil protector over it with nerd written on it.

And that Data scene? Scary as hell. Not in a BSG S1 finale 'Boomer did whatayawha---?!?' way. In a 'Is that guy peeing in the street?' kinda way.

Jesus. Writing that many words on a blog about pop culture you found via a podcast about comics in response to a post about the term geek surely marks me in some way within the wider community.

I wouldn't have it any other way though.

Kenney said...

Of all of the people in the world to feel this way, I think it's really odd coming from you Geoff -- champion of pop-culture.

More than quality, I think it just comes down to your tastes and what's in your wheelhouse.

Christian O. said...

Total geek. Why cover up yourself, when you are who you were born? I find most people to be geek about something. Whether it's animes or fashion or capoeira.

And I'm amused by the fact that so many people here are quite fond of Deep Space Nine, since, and I've seen maybe two episode of the entire Star Trek mythos, I remember someone explaining to me that as a Star Trek show, it kind of failed. The basic idea behind Star Trek is that the future is generally a Utopia, with few backland exceptions, and Deep Space Nine completely goes against that. It might be a good show, but as a Star Trek show? It's an utter failure.

Anonymous said...

I think the term "geek" is a rightfully derogatory one. If you truly critically consider what one is, a geek is someone who possesses an inordinate "passionate" appreciation (that may be due to nostalgia or apologism for something, or simply in seeing qualities in it which are not there [e.g. defending or believing unto oneself that Star Trek is art]) for something in a fetishistic capacity--someone who is unable to distinguish between critical/objective evaluation (in this case, aesthetic) of an object and the complexity of whatever personal significance it holds for them (e.g. if science fiction has been a lifelong interest, a subject believing all science fiction [or at least that which they like] to be good [or simply art, thereby]), or failing to appreciate it on objectively meaningful terms (the value it holds to all people) due to having totalized the subjective significance it holds to them (entailing a failure to distinguish between the relationship, differences, and ambiguities of objective and personal-subjective valuations). A "geeky" thing, similarly, would therefore be something which (like Star Wars novels or the majority of superhero comics), in a far more aggressive and deliberate fashion than mere genre works, seeks to appeal to such "fans" through esoteric storytelling/troping and self-referencing and/or overt genric self-consciousness in order to both reward geeks for and further fuel their pedantic appreciations of it.

Anonymous said...


Yes, it is DS9's complete failure as a Star Trek show that, in fact, makes it a success in every other respect.

jen said...

I just got back from an academic conference where, over dinner, a number of us were having a similar conversation.

After spending most of the meal discussing -- in depth, of course -- British and American Sci-Fi, British and American Sitcoms, British and American broadcasting rules, various movies, and the history of Russell T. Davies as an auteur, by dessert (and a few bottles of wine into the matter), we were a bit more self-absorbed.

At what point, we wondered, do you go from being a nerd to being a geek? (Our crude designation is that geeks have technical knowledge, nerds just watch TV shows about it.)

The next day, in the cab to the train station, we had another discussion about it, stemming from the fact that one of my colleagues had been called a geek in public by his supervisor and while he had no problem with it, a few students did.

Geek, nerd, etc., are, I think, (wow, that's a lot of commas) like any other derogatory term. It's fine if those within the community use them, but if those outside of it call you by that term, it becomes offensive.

Dylan Todd said...

Re: Dwight's BSG t-shirt: I think the fact that Dwight is seen sporting the shirt has more to do with the fact that the Sci Fi Channel and NBC are both owned by Universal.

If the show were on, say the CW (Which if it were, it'd be canceled by now to make way for detritus like Gossip Girl. But I'm not bitter about Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars. Not at all.) which is joint-owned by Paramount, he'd be rocking a Kirk shirt.

Synergy, baby. Synergy.