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Geek or Poseur? Here We Go Again…

Criticism of the new Miss USA, Alyssa Campanella, has struck a bit of a chord.  I wonder if she realized that referring to herself as a “history geek” would cause such a ruckus?  The following email was sent to me by a geek who feels the criticism was completely ridiculous.  At this person’s request, they will remain anonymous, but their well-written sentiments still deserve to be seen by more eyes than mine…..

Here we go again.

You’re not a real geek if you haven’t seen Star Wars. Real geeks are people who have lived through torment and bullying. You can’t be a girl and like geeky things. You aren’t a true geek unless you have been your entire life. You can’t be an attractive geek.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have many friends. We lived in the country in a sparsely populated area, so I was forced to keep to myself a lot. I was awkward and didn’t wear brand-name clothes. I read Lord of the Rings and Hitchhiker’s. I played Atari and watched kung-fu movies. I discovered DnD, LEGOs and after a while, the Commodore 64. I was mercilessly bullied in middle school and high school and even quit the marching band in a vain attempt to avoid further persecution. In other words, I have all the cred a geek approval board could ask for. Right? Wrong.

Being a geek isn’t about how many raids you’ve led in WoW, how many game consoles you own, or your GamerScore. It’s not about holding an infinite knowledge of the Doctor Who universe. It’s not about being picked on for your hobbies or how unattractive you feel and it’s DEFINITELY not about creating an exclusive club where only the aforementioned criteria grant you access. It’s not even about whether or not Han shot first…even though he did. Being a geek is about one thing and one thing only. Passion.

Passion is what keeps you awake until 3am trying to take down Magtheridon and fuels the debate over the best starship Captain.  Passion makes you spend an obscene amount of money on the latest exclusive figurine, or scour longbox after longbox for the missing issue of Captain America that will complete your collection. Hell, passion even sparks the need for the exclusivity that drives these arguments.

But here’s the rub.  Passion isn’t confined to science fiction or the Marvel universe. My parents are both geeks, yet neither one could tell you what LARPing is or recognize Felicia Day. My mother was a librarian and then a teacher for twenty years. Her passion is books. My father is a mechanical engineer and a math nerd with a passion for woodworking and robotics. Their passions define them, and even though they don’t identify with the title, I would certainly call them geeks.

And if passion truly defines one’s geekiness, then some of the planet’s geekiest people are sports fans. I know this is going to curdle your blood, true believers, but hear me out. They paint their faces and wear all manner of outfits to display their passion. Cosplay, much? They spend hundreds and thousands of dollars to live out their fantasies at sporting events or to find the rare Billy Martin card where he gives the cameraman the bird. And have you seen fantasy football?! It’s basically Dungeons and Dragons with athlete statistics.

But here’s the greatest part – this passion binds us together like the Force. Do you know why you feel awesome at conventions, aside from the alcohol? It’s the community that’s created from being around like-minded, passionate people. So, how is it that a group brought together by their mutual loves and interests can be so dispassionate towards others and even members of this shared community? Who are we to question another person’s passions?

We stand up daily and proclaim our love through t-shirts, tattoos, Twitter and blogs, but when others try to do the same, we call them fake and demand proof.  It’s as if being bullied and excluded has somehow granted us this right. When we were younger, we all wanted more people to share our passions, but now that we’ve found one another through the internet, our club is somehow full? Things change. People change. LABELS change. Why not SHARE our passions instead of spurning those of others? That’s MY community of geeks.


21 Responses to “Geek or Poseur? Here We Go Again…”

  1. Lisa says:

    Do you know why you feel awesome at conventions, aside from the alcohol? It's the community that's created from being around like-minded, passionate people
    i LOVE LOVE LOVE that sentence!

    But aside from that, i'm also sick of this idea that the "hot" people we now glamorize and say are really attractive were clearly always thought of that way and were not teased in school. it's just crap. some of the most gorgeous adults you will meet were some of the most awkward and ridiculed middle schoolers. I was in college before a male ever told me i was attractive and used to hide in the bathroom during class changes to avoid being teased about my fat giggling or my clothes being stupid, and now i sometimes get told that i'm too pretty to be a nerd and i basically always get brushed off if i walk into a game or comic store until (if they ever give me the chance) they start talking to me. And if you think that girls or boys who were attractive weren't bullied? like hell they weren't!!!! ONe of my best friends looked like a freaking super model in school but the popular girls didn't like her because she was too weird and nerdy and when she went to the nerds playing Magic because she liked collectable card games and they shunned her too!! she literally had no one to play with and eventually found love in Yu gi oh cards cause those kids were the only ones that were nice to her. it's just such a silly idea, that you can decide by looking at someone how teased they were in their youth.

  2. I think the post is 90% on the money about Geek. This article mentions something about you have to have been bullied to be a geek, you CAN NOT be attractive and HOT and be a geek. I disagree with that, my opinion is, pretty much in line with the article: Save for this: You have to have a variety of geeky interests, History, no such thing as a History Geek. I hate parents that push their girls in to fashion and drama. So lame. You can be HOT and still be a geek, but if your modeling takes precedence over your geekness, then your lame and thats not geek. So, there ya are. My 2 cents on the matter, BTW I'm serving Romulan Ale at our 4th of july party WOOT!

  3. Ahhhhh! This just popped in to my mind. Perhaps, Miss Cali wanted to say more or something other than history, perhaps she has more to tell? Perhaps, she has Voda dolls around her bed, perhaps, she is a Star Trek Freak and loves.
    Watching the TV she appeared to have wanted to say something else, but didn't. I'm now way dogging her or upset, I could care less, to each his/her own right?

  4. adamm9 says:

    Great post! Thanks for the comparison to sports-nuts. Often the "true believers" position themselves as diametrically opposed to sports geeks. It's refreshing to see this perspective offered.

  5. Radish says:

    Yes, yes, YES! Oh, I wish I could post the Venn diagram here that does an excellent way of explaining Geek, Nerd, Dork ……. and the fourth one I forget of course. The three overlapping circles are Obsession, Intelligence and Social Awkwardness. The Geek is the point where Intelligence and Obsession overlap. I'd love to see more awareness of the fact that Geek = Passion for a subject. And the subject doesn't have to be games, or sci-fi, or comics.

  6. Pixie says:

    I am going to agree and disagree with this and some of the comments like Miranda EarthCaller. I think there is such thing as a History Geek. Being a "geek" is about being passionate. Words evolve over the years. While geek used to be more about tech and sci-fi, I think the term is now more about an enthusiast. She isn't just a History Buff, she a great enthusiast. Lisa seems to to be the wisest one here.

  7. Remy says:

    So well said.

  8. Totally agree with the article but also have to disagree with Miranda EarthCaller. How can you say that there is no such thing as a History Geek? Where are these rules posted? I've looked everywhere and have yet to find a definitive listing of rules for claiming "Geek Cred".

    Any-who awesome post. =)

  9. Skiznot says:

    This turning geek into a positive word has taken me a long time to get used to. For most of my life it was always offensive and dismissive; worse than Nerd or Dork, a geek was physically deformed or with bad hygiene. The original meaning of geek were circus folk who bit the heads off of chickens for the entertainment of crowds. It will always have a bit of the sting of insult to me when I hear it.

  10. Linda says:

    Great article! I've had a long history of liking niche things, but it hasn't always been considered acceptable. Most of my girlfriends just didn't care for the things I liked, and the guys I tried to talk to literally ignored me, even though I knew my stuff. But being a girl (and an attractive to some) automatically disqualified me from being a geek.

  11. MrJeremyT says:

    I would also postulate that largely thanks to Zachary Levi we are also now free to refer to ourselves as Nerds. I believe that a Nerd is also defined by passion, and that it is merely an issue of semantics whether one refers to themselves as a nerd or a geek. They go hand in hand.

  12. Jessica Cha says:

    This was fan-frakkin-tastic. You know, when I was little, I was a cheerleader.. and I was a science geek.. I wanted to be an astronaut.

    My fellow cheerleader friends thought I was ridiculous.. and they used to make up lies about me, to alienate me from the rest of the squad.

    So at lunch I started hanging out with the guys in the computer lab and I learned how to do HTML.. as well as meeting people to play Vampire: The Masquerade (before it was cool to like vampires).. and tons of video games..

    But not all the geeks were friendly to the cheerleader girl in the computer lab. A lot of them refused to talk to me, or rolled their eyes at me.

    But the company I found in the computer lab was better than the company at the cheerleaders' lunch table. I had more in common with them than I did with most (bc I was a very awkward child being raised by my grandparents, alone with a bunch of uncles that were like older brothers)

    So this is nothing new. I consider myself a geek, no doubt. But when you're not what they normally accept, it takes them some time to get used to you, if they're nice enough to try at all.

    But I have to agree with Nicole. Passion, no matter how strange, awkward or (un)accepted.. thats what makes us geeks..

    I didn't play Starcraft and drink Mt. Dew all night like the guys in the computer lab.. but I used to collect rocks, and stare at the sky for hours, hoping one day I'd be up there..

    Now they're the "normal" ones, with houses and families.. raising their children and I'm still geeking it out, playing Battlestar Galactica Online with my boyfriend.. and watching reruns of Stargate and Star Trek..

    we're all different, and we're all the same.

    beauty of being human (or cylon)


  13. Brent says:

    Nothing else to add except to say, great post! I couldn't agree more. 🙂

  14. Eric Nath says:

    Words change over time. Social definitions change over time. Geek has taken on a broader, more positive meaning. This may upset some who feel that to be a geek you have to have been socially traumatized growing up, but the fact remains that geek has taken on new meanings. Now it is an amorphous, ill-defined and self-classifying (Cogito Geek ergo sum Geek) group identity.

    There are no hard definitions. I see a lot of people trying to define geek through stereotypes, which are not always accurate.

    The nerd, dork, geek, Venn diagram is a good example. It is clever and cute, but not accurate. There is nothing to support that geeks are defined by their lack of social skills, or above normal intelligence.

    What we have, as a group, is a chance to define ourselves and wrestle any negative crap away from society regarding being a geek.

    This in-fighting, exclusivity mentality is something is simply inane. Where we, as a group, define you based on your geek vita is the same crap we dealt with in high school. I would like to think we are better than this.

  15. Whitney says:

    @Miranda – I'm sorry, you're wrong on a couple points. History Geeks exist. I have a friend who works in real estate, that's what pays the bills, but she's definitely a History Geek in her off hours. Watches tons of history specials, constantly reading both nonfiction books on history and historical fiction… participating in Ren Faires to help educate kids. If that isn't a History Geek, I don't know what is. (She's also into Star Wars and RPG games, but aside from that? Definitely a History Geek) And nobody willingly labels themselves as one unless they are.

    Second, her doing pageants has nothing to do with whether or not she can be a geek. You might not like pageants and find them lame, but it's what she does. Your argument is trying to say that you can't be any sort of a geek if you do X most of the time. Start inserting other jobs as X, and it gets pretty silly right away. You can't be a geek if you're in advertising. If you're an actor. :p

    But this article's right on the nose. Geek's evolved to be about passion. You can be a sports geek, and obsess over stats and trivia. You can be a fashion geek and be able to spout off details about obscure collections. It's not just tech or sci-fi/fantasy anymore.

  16. Anonymous says:

    To me, geekery is about ignoring the cool kids. You don't have to be passionate – you just have to not care what others think about it. Heavy fandom is something else.

  17. Laxmi13 says:

    Geekiness is the reason I fell in love with my husband. He is passionate about everything he does. He is a sci-fi / fantasy geek. Sports geek. History geek. Computer geek.

    It's not just passion though. I think it's so much passion that they don't get why others don't feel the same way.

    My husband has no idea why my eyes glaze over when he talks history but light up when he talks Sci-fi or sports!

  18. Anonymous says:

    "Geeks" can be snobbish and dismissive like the popular kids, too.

    When will people realize that people are PEOPLE?

    I hate labels.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Very true. I didn't fit in with anybody and didn't care about your label{which I'm exceedingly passionate about}. I just cared about the one's who were ignored and I'm only a dancing,{music-junky-geek-extraordinaire} artistic geek. Best thing{person} that ever happened to this Neekin~Gerd was Jesus: The King of Geeks and Nerds. Antonio Anthony DuRocher.

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