Recently we have seen some controversy with people claiming the “geek” title for themselves, and the backlash it causes when other people feel they don’t deserve it. This issue is more complex than you may think, but there’s a very simple and basic issue at its core. We all like to feel special.

(Oh, real quick though, there’s a spoiler for watchmen in this article… I know it’s weird, but I kind of need it for the wrap. So if you’ve already read watchmen or you reeealy want to read this article then read on)

So what makes any individual person feel special? Perhaps they have an unusual talent, maybe they are part of a select group, maybe they have a network of likeminded people that they can count on, perhaps they know something that only a few other people know. We use these traits to distinguish ourselves from people who don’t share them, while simultaneously connecting with the people who do. This exclusivity is important. Starting a club for right-handed people or television set owners sounds ridiculous because almost everyone would be in that club. And what’s the point of a club when everyone can get into it?

A PERFECT, BEAUTIFUL, UNIQUE SNOWFLAKE… IN A BLIZZARD

So let’s bring it back to the topic at hand. Maybe you are someone who can draw superheroes really well, maybe you look just like psylocke in your blue one-piece. Maybe you are one of the regular posters at a popular internet forum about Doctor Who. Maybe you can name every character who has ever been Eric the Red in any X-Men issue, episode or radioplay. Furthermore you’ve always been this way and despite people poo-pooing your hobbies and passions you stuck to your guns and became a better person for it. You have crafted an identity out of the things you enjoy, with the help of people who think like you.

But now there are others. People who have only just discovered that there’s more than one Flash. People who say they love Supergirl, but have never read a comic with her in it. People who are all like “Yeah, I’m a totally gamer. Favorite game? Angry Birds Rio! Best installment in a claaaasic franchise.” They’re wearing our Green Lantern t-shirts, playing with our original He-Mans and putting their arm around us saying “Hello fellow geek, did you know that before The Dark Knight trilogy there was a classic batman movie named ‘Batman and Robin’? Starring the guy from Syriana?” Your blood boils, your eyes bulge out, and when you wake up you’re hitchhiking by the side of the road while sad music plays.
So now you may be saying “Yes! yes! That’s totally it! But what can I do?”
Well, I’ll tell you what you CAN’T do. You can’t stop it.

THE TIDE

When a trend begins to catch on you can’t do anything to stop it. And standing on a tree stump yelling at a mob of people is not going to do anyone any good. Now that the mainstream is aware of comic conventions, internet memes and video games in general you cannot expect for this trend to mystically begin to decrease. This does however give us a prime opportunity to analyze our relationship with the shows, movies, books, games and comics we love. Take a moment to think: Why is this new person upsetting me? Is it because of one of the points above? Is it because you feel less special having 10 more people quoting Super Troopers all the time? Is it because you feel that you’ve earned your nerditude by skipping prom to go see The Matrix, but others have not? Is it because you think these Johnny-come-latelies can’t possibly GET the franchise because they’re only familiar with the past five years of it?
If the answer to any of those is “yes,” then I can tell you what you should do. You have three options. You can do it like Dr. Doom, You can do it like Dr. Manhattan. or you can do it like Dr. Who.

DOOM AND GLOOM

Doctor Dooming it is the worst way to go about it, in my opinion. Dr. Doom wants to be supreme and no others can match him. A Doctor Doom Style geek tells you that you aren’t a true geek unless you know as much as he does. He is fond of calling people out, ridiculing others and establishing his supremacy at every turn. But much like the real Doctor Doom someone who espouses this philosophy will often find himself thwarted because you can’t know everything about everything. Also no one wants to hang out with Doom, that guy is a downer. So he spends most of his time alone in his castle, thinking about how if Reed Richards was here he’d totally be like “POW!” And then Sue would be like “Oh No!” and Doom would be like “That’s right baby!”. It’s not pretty.

THE MANHATTAN TRANSFER

The next possibility, and one that I can certainly respect, is to leave. If your uniqueness and individuality is important to you then you can fly out into the universe to discover new and amazing things that no one knows about yet. Let others enjoy that thing you like while you go out and find new things to like. But you might think to yourself “Why should I leave? I was here first.” Because you can’t stop the tide.
Pretty soon everyone is going to be wearing t-shirts with sayings from that weird British show you like, and there’s nothing you can do. If anything the sudden popularity of that thing you’re into only goes to show your excellent taste. Does that mean you have to stop liking the things you like? No, of course not, I’ll always have a soft spot for Nightcrawler’s early appearances in my heart, and that didn’t change when X2 came out and suddenly he was everyone’s favorite X-Man. But you won’t often find me talking about how awesome Nightcrawler is, everyone knows that now, I’ve moved on to other things.

DO LIKE WHO

Lastly, and the one I would recommend the most is to do like Who. The Doctor continually brings new people into his magic spaceship and shows them all that is amazing about the universe. A geek that emulates The Doctor knows that others may not know as much as he does, but that’s the best part. The Doctor gets to bring them along for the ride, he gets to see what it is like for someone to experience awesome things for the first time. It can be very satisfying to look at your friends and realize that you’re the one that got them into whatever it is they’re into. Oh and as a brief aside I do realize that he’s called “The Doctor” but it’s awkward to say “Dr. Doom, Dr. Manhattan and the Doctor.” Especially because you don’t want to confuse him with that guy from The Authority.

Unfortunately out of the archetypes above Dooms are a lot more common, but I think that’s partially because this cultural segment is still developing. You and I have the power to change what goes on, to lead by example and to show others that negativity only spoils those properties we love so much.

The Author

Rodrigo

Rodrigo

Nobody really knows what Rodrigo's deal is. He is a perpetual enigma, an unknown quantity, the X factor. He's the new kid in school, the unlisted number, the person all your friends talk about, but you've never met. How can one person be so mysterious, you ask? THAT IS ALSO TOTALLY A MYSTERY! You can try to keep tabs on him on twitter by following @fearsomecritter, but that probably won't help.

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20 Comments

  1. randoom42
    April 6, 2012 at 11:13 am — Reply

    We really needed an article like this to go with the old Major Spoilers Adventures #92; nerd-on-nerd violence it really makes a great combo PSA. Like the Total Perspective Vortex keeping it all in perspective.

  2. April 6, 2012 at 11:30 am — Reply

    I’ve been through all this before as part of a different, distinct, but not dissimilar subculture, and it happened 25 years ago. The perceptions, reactions and behavior now, are almost exactly the same as they were then in a big pictue sort of way. These reactions are common across all subcultures and I think the reasons break down to three issues:

    1. Ownership – I like a thing or activity and consider myself a part of a group that also likes a thing or activity. I’ve found my home, the place where I belong, my tribe.
    2. Exclusivity – Once I’m part of the tribe, I consider the tribe exclusive and I don’t want anyone else in the tribe.
    3. Authenticity – If anyone else is to be included in the tribe they have to prove their credentials, and establish their ‘right’ to be included in the tribe.

    Case in point:

    I was a metalhead and a headbanger in the 80s, terms initially used as insults by outsiders to describe members of a subculture that was on the fringe of popular music culture. The headbangers adopted and the insults as terms of endearment, and took ownership of the slurs. Then Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue came along and heavy metal music exploded into the mainstream. There were people buying and enjoying heavy metal records and there was money to be made. I actually discovered Heavy Metal early in this period and counted myself among the faithful. I was one of the new metalheads. I immersed myself in the culture. I bought the records, t-shirts and posters along with Hit Parader, Circus, and Metal Edge Magazine.

    As a subculture metalheads were torn. We’d spent years trying to get people to listen to ‘our’ music. We’d cultivated our tastes and built our collections of LPs and tapes that you couldn’t buy just anywhere, you really had to look. We’d been maligned for loving a misunderstood musical genre. Now it was all over MTV and on Top 40 radio, and people were getting into ‘our’ music. But they weren’t ‘our’ people. Jocks were listening to ‘our’ bands. Then the record companies started signing ‘metal’ bands that were a little more telegenic and the radio friendly power ballad had girls (yes girls!) buying heavy metal records too. Like geek culture, metal was largely a boys club in its early days.

    We’d gotten what we’d always wanted, widespread attention and appreciation by a larger audience of ‘our’ music’. But now, ‘our’ music seemed a little less special when everyone was listening to it and the guy who pushed you into your locker was now throwing the horns. Our tribe had grown, and wasn’t exclusive anymore. In some cases it even began to exclude us, even as we’d supported and built it!

    The audience splintered and where we were once a Metal Nation, now we hated Hair Metal or Pop Metal bands (and especially their fans). We embraced emerging subgenres like Thrash and Speed Metal or the embryonic Power Metal, Death Metal, Metalcore, and proto-Black Metal movements as the true heirs to Metal. Those subgenres were now ‘exclusive’. Authenticity became a bone of contention within the heavy metal fan base. Proving your bonafides was a rite of passage, and a requirement for entry into the club. ‘Do you have a copy of the Creeping Death EP? Have you heard Samson’s ‘Head On’ with pre-Iron Maiden Bruce Dickinson? Are Adrian Smith and Dave Murray a better pairing then KK Downing and Glenn Tipton? Do you listen to Nuclear Assault or Prong or Death’ And you better have the right answer to these questions or you risk exclusion from at least a part of the tribe.

    Our favorite bands are ‘true metal’ and their bands have ‘sold out’ or aren’t really ‘metal’ at all. Eventually Metallica came along and mainstreamed Thrash. The jocks were listening to ‘our’ music once again and Master of Puppets was playing in the weight room at school. All the while the ‘true’ metal fans weren’t getting the credit or recognition for discovering these bands and supporting them before they were on MTV and we hated it, and we hated the new fans worse as posers. There was even a tendency to dismiss any girls listening to ‘true metal’ bands as being phonies, just to get the attention of boys who were into it. Sound familiar?

    What did it even mean to be a headbanger if Chad from American History considered himself one? Heavy Metal had become so much a part of the culture that is wasn’t really ‘sub’ anymore.

    Eventually Nirvana, Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins came along and the widespread, chart topping popularity of metal waned, leaving behind a few super groups that commanded the same attention as before, with the some of the community carrying on with their hardcore fans and some parts just fading away. Metal as a popular genre faded and its splinters returned to the shadows, enjoying occasional resurgences, but nothing compared to its dominance of musical landscape the 80s. There was also a secondary impact. Try watching any sports program and listen to the music. It is almost always heavy, guitar driven metal music. It became part of the culture to such a degree that it is almost transparent. Lots of popular genres today are heavily influenced by metal, but would never claim the title as metal bands. The metal sound has become an integral part of the musical landscape.

    The explosion of Geek Culture is enjoying a similar path today. The internet is doing for Geeks what MTV did for headbangers. ‘Geek’ as a term has become much more inclusive than it once was. Chad from American History now considers himself a ‘geek’ because he likes ‘Doctor Who’ and that’s a ‘geek’ show. Will ‘geek’ TV shows and movies suffer an early 90s metal-like implosion when the next interesting cultural phenomenon makes it all seem tired? Possibly, entertainment trends usually only last so long. Superhero films and conspiracy TV Shows will go the way of the Western eventually. There’s no doubt that ‘geek’ culture will live on even if it ends up branding itself as something different.

    It’s happening already, video games are a permanent part of the landscape. Everybody plays games on their phones and computers, so video gaming is no longer a subculture it’s just culture.

    • April 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm — Reply

      Absolutely!

      The reason why this keeps happening is because we, as social mammals, are biologically hardwired to form ourselves into groups and immediately go to war with other groups. People call themselves “Bronies” for the same reason people call themselves “Americans”.

    • April 6, 2012 at 3:50 pm — Reply

      tl;dr

      Heh…

    • Hunter Dan
      April 6, 2012 at 7:38 pm — Reply

      Great posting Bruce!

  3. Arbor Day
    April 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm — Reply

    You ought to have had your art department draw up a cartoon to throw in at the end there with Doom, Manhattan, and The sitting around a table like the do on the Doctor tv show. And thrown in Dr. Mario as a non sequitor.

  4. Mike
    April 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm — Reply

    As much as the archetypes you’ve chosen ring true and made me laugh, I think that there is a dynamic in play that complicates the situation. In some way I think nerd on nerd crime stems from the feeling some geeks have that there is a finite amount of geek cred available. So if I’ve suffered for my love of all things dorky for decades, and you come in and use the Internet to help you consume all of the content I’ve been getting beaten up for following since 1987; in some weird way, you getting caught up quickly on all the things I’ve suffered for undermines my achievement. So of course I want to make your claim less legit, I worked way harder than you did for the title geek. You cheated in establishing yourself as a nerd, and my piece of the nerd pie is a little smaller for it.

    Now I realize that this is a ridiculous way to look at things, however until OG geeks can find a way to reconcile the fact that more people enjoying the geeky side of pop culture doesn’t have any bearing on their status nerd on nerd crime will continue.

  5. April 6, 2012 at 3:54 pm — Reply

    The thing that keeps popping up for me is that scene from Comic Book Villains, as we discussed in the podcast. People create and assign value to being a “geek” because of what being a geek means to them. It’s something that they consider to be personal, like high school poetry or your girlfriend’s secret nickname that only you know.

    Being a “geek” has become a badge of honor for all manner of people, some of whom will inevitably be the people that OTHER geeks envy/dislike/feel they’ve been disrespected by. When someone who you perceive made you feel bad carries the same banner as you, the banner that represents that which made you feel better after their perceived mistreatment of you, it will naturally cause dissonance.

    I think that most, if not all geeks, are a melange of the Three Doctors, hating, sharing and exiling in turn, depending on what it is they’re geeking out over. That said, I like to try not to let my metal mask of pure hatred show very often…

  6. April 6, 2012 at 5:03 pm — Reply

    The wife and I listened to the “geek gamer girl” episode last weekend and afterward I said that the best fans I’ve met have been DOCTOR WHO fans. I’ve yet to meet a Whovian who isn’t excited to share their love of the Doctor, recommending episodes new and classic that “you just have to see!” I think we all could learn something from them/him.

    • April 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm — Reply

      I’ve met some pretty snobby and rude Who fans, but thankfully they have been few and far between. My older brother is a prime example, as he talks down to anyone who claims to like the series but hasn’t seen the old stuff. It would be different if he were merely suggesting older episodes to watch, but he gets downright rude about it.

  7. justanothergeek
    April 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm — Reply

    Excellent article dude, completelly agree.

  8. Churba
    April 7, 2012 at 1:13 am — Reply

    I might as well throw in my two bob – I think Geekery is much more widespread that people think.

    You know that guy, who knows the batting averages for most of the MLB players on his team, knows their scores over the season, and follows them with every game and training session? In my opinion, that guy is a geek. He’s a geek about baseball, and his baseball team.

    Or the guy, he doesn’t engage in any traditional geek activity, but he follows NASCAR hard. He knows the drivers, the cars, the races, the tracks, it’s practically a second religion? He’s a geek.

    The guy who knows everything about engines and cars, and every weekend is out tinkering, or going to car shows and swap meets, the guy that knows cars like Matthew knows Comic books and pop culture? Geek.

    The guy with his guitar, who is playing it ever spare moment, every dollar of his paycheck is going into parts and instruments, he’s always writing new music and picking up guitar magazines, he’s so into guitars that his platelets are not shaped like plates, but instead, little Fender stratocasters? Dude is a Geek!

    It’s not about what you’re into, it’s how you’re into it. You can be a geek about ANYTHING, it’s not about the thing itself, it’s about your passion for that thing, your seeking of knowledge about it, your dedication of free time to it, your love of it.

    Anyone can be a geek about anything. Sure, people who tend to be into a set of particular things tend to self-identify as geeks, but the things they have in common are what tends to define a geek – and let’s face it, even among self-identifying geeks, you have such diversity of opinion and interest that defining geeks by what they’re into makes is almost pointless to do so.

    I mean, if one bloke is into Anime, Another is into western comic books, a third is into video games, and a fourth is into My Little Pony, and all of these hypothetical dudes dislike the things the others are into, which single one of them is a geek? ALL of them, of course.

    So, with the fact that those differences don’t prevent one from being a geek, then tell me – what is the real difference between the guy into Comic Books and the guy who is into cars or sport, that stops them from being geeks?

    • Russ Catt
      April 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm — Reply

      In answer to your last question, I’d have to say “perceived social acceptability”

      For some reason, it is more socially acceptable for someone to retool and mod their car to capture the power of every last horse than it is to catalogue every appearance of the Hellfiire Club’s Black Queen in an attempt to understand her backstory.

      Similarly, my wife is not branded as a gamer geek despite playing random iPhone puzzle games for over 2 hours a day on her bus commute to work. I only logged a comparatively small 120 hours on Skyrim and all her friends who hear about it calls me a geek or worse. (Note: I may have racked up those hours in about 3 weeks)

      What is considered acceptable can shift over time though. My friends who flocked to the NKOTB/BSB tour last year were definitely labelled as geeks where they were considered at the forefront of cool 15-20 years ago.

      (I just realized that I’m starting to regurgitate the same points made by others above so I’ll stop.)

  9. Brad
    April 7, 2012 at 9:45 am — Reply

    The Who part is beautiful, Rodrigo, and makes so much sense.

  10. zoliathan2003@yahoo.com
    November 13, 2012 at 3:44 pm — Reply

    What if we don’t like Dr Who based on the premise that time travel has a great many perils involved that could potentially screw up the entire universe?

    • November 13, 2012 at 11:44 pm — Reply

      Very few things are ever accomplished by being afraid. At some point you have to hold your breath and jump into the time vortex.

  11. January 7, 2013 at 6:23 pm — Reply

    It’s articles like these that are ruining the culture and not the new fans.

    It’s the rejection of popularity and lack of conforming that brought on ‘geek’ culture in the first place. Rejecting others from said culture creates a paradox where everyone is rejecting everyone and it dissolves the community and fandom that started it all.

    It comes down to what do you like more? The property or the superiority you feel with your extensive knowledge of the property.

    Ergo, SHUT UP. LET PEOPLE LIKE WHAT THEY LIKE.

    • January 7, 2013 at 7:14 pm — Reply

      Um. I’m not sure what you’re saying here… The article is saying the same thing you are.

      Perhaps you might consider reading something other than the title?

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