Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What is a Geek?

My friend Marysa over at Limerence + Liquor recently posed a question--what is a geek? I can't really say I've ever given it a lot of thought. Usually it was just something I was called when I was younger, most often in a derogatory manner. It wasn't something I called myself, but what others did because of my interest in comics, reading, D&D and the like. I would usually say I was a "buff" or "aficionado," if I was feeling fancy. Somewhere in the 2000s, The word was taken back by the community at large, not unlike Randall and "porch monkey" in Clerks 2, but the better comparison would be to the word "queer" in the gay community. Now, people call themselves geek and nerd with pride, which is all well and good. But what is geek?

To me, a geek is a person (obviously) with an obsessive, passionate and rather staggering amount of knowledge pertaining to field that is usually socially unacceptable or frowned upon. In the past, comics, book, movies, games and music have fallen into this category.

Why do they have to be frowned upon? Because that's what made you an outsider. If you liked what everyone else did, you wouldn't have been picked on so much as you would have a common ground. That's not to say you would be in like flint, but when you conform, you blend in and people don't see the target on your back anymore. But if you showed up reading horror and science-fiction novels from the 50s, people tended to cast aspersions. Same as if you were reading Green Lantern comics in class because you finished your History test early.

Then they threw spit balls.

People react to things they don't understand in a few ways. Some people want to understand it and know the motivation behind it. Some people want to burn it to the ground, or the social equivalent thereof. Usually it was the latter, the air peppered with chewed up wads of paper, sailing towards your dome. It didn't matter why. You were different in looks and likes, and that was enough.

For me, comics were my geekdom, so I can speak on this with a little more authoritativeness.

A comic book geek will usually have a focus or a favorite character, such as Green Lantern, but they'll read and appreciate almost any comic and be able to talk about the industry as a whole with relative ease. When it comes to their pet hero, they can get pretty scary in terms of how much they know and which story arcs and writers are their favorite, who was the definitive artists on a given run, volume or age and more.

They'll probably have artist prints and posters and figures and statues. Possibly more. They'll go to great lengths to complete a run, scouring comic book shops across the state for back issues that they're missing.

Hell, whenever I travel for work, I make sure I scope out where the local comic book store is so I can hit them up and see what treasures they have. Hey, if I have to rail fan with my co-workers, they can spend a few minutes indoors while I peruse the shelves of a new store.

And if you're collecting comics, there will be long boxes. Oh yes, there will be long boxes. These are white, cardboard coffins that you put the individual issues into to store them and keep them sorted. They hold about 400 comics each and are pretty fucking heavy. Even the short boxes, which hold about half that, are no slouch either.

Granted, not everyone starts out by wanting to be this deep into the hobby, or any hobby. Usually it comes from dabbling. You remembered reading comics as a kid and wanted to see how your favorite character was doing. Then you go back the next month. And the one after that. Then you realize that there is a spin-off you missed or a mini-series that ties into the arc. Then they have you.

Not everyone gets that obsessed though. Some people just read them and discard them as you would a magazine. They might only get one comic that has their favorite hero in it or just read the trades. Those people are fans, but I wouldn't say they are geeks. They're the more casual visitor. It's like listening to the occasional Jimmy Buffet song doesn't make you a Parrothead.

It doesn't take much to start the ball rolling. They just have to escalate. Crossovers help with that. You are pretty much forced to buy a different title entirely and get exposed to new characters that might just grow on you. So then you're picking up their issues and learning about even more new characters. Or maybe someone buys you a trade for Christmas thinking you might like it since you read those darn comics. That works too. Especially if you like it. Then the urge to read more kicks in, and you feed it, never noticing until too late that it has gotten a bigger appetite.

Of course now, things are changing/have changed from the things we went through in learning about our area of study. It's a little more mainstream to like comics and movies and music. Video gaming is probably more popular than ever and a billion dollar industry thanks to people who probably never played their friend's Atari 2600 and thought it was awesome. You have a movie directed by a nerd hero and starring some of comics greatest heroes becoming a massive hit. That's a far cry from hunting down Roger Corman's Fantastic Four bootlegs at comic book shows. I'd be crazy if I thought it would ever happen. And a Green Lantern movie? Not in younger me's wildest dreams. As a result of all of this success, these industries are getting a lot of new fans with a wealth of information at their fingertips, the lucky bastards.

But they're not geeks. Not yet. But they can be.

And maybe they won't have to suffer like we did. I caught a lot of shit growing up from people because I liked comics, horror movies and horror novels. I got called "creepy". I was told I looked like Stephen King. I was pretty told I was a "loser" well before it had any connections to the dreamy mercenary team. It hurt. It sucked. But I kept on reading and watching because I really, really liked the stories. And the toys. My room was an embarrassment of  posters and action figures and books. I actually had fishing line strung up around the room so it would look like they were flying.

Let me tell you, Draco from Dragonheart fucking hurts if you hit him with your head in the middle of the night when you stumble to the bathroom.

How did I survive? I got through it with the help of friends who had similar interests, friends who, when I told them about a movie with a zombie fighting a shark, didn't make fun of me.

They wanted to watch it.

So if you've ever trolled the tables at a flea market looking for out of print vhs tapes to see that horror movie you've heard about but hasn't been released on dvd, you're probably a geek.

If you've ever hit up three Toys R' Us stores, two Targets and three Wal-Marts in one day looking for the latest action figure releases, you're probably a geek.

If you've ever spent a whole weekend painting miniatures to use in your next D&D session, you're probably a geek.

And you're probably my kind of person.

Welcome to the our world of hobbies and obsession. Don't be a dick.


Unknown said...

Here's my take on what a geek is and how I label myself. Gave you a shoutout! http://limerenceandliquor.blogspot.com/2013/01/talk-nerdy-to-me.html

WorselVT said...

Whoo hoo! Love me some shout outs. Love the post too. I'll toss a link in to it as well.

Unknown said...