Tag Archives: geek

When Geeks Go Too Far

Few things make me happier than geeking out about something. My speech clocks at 110 mph.  I start getting twitchy, my sentences make less and less sense; my eyes grow to the size of saucers and I may even get goosebumps (This is as close to heaven as I have gotten and I love it.).  I know I’m not the only one who gets this way. I can tell when most of my friends hit this point and it’s fun to watch as an outside observer, and know that this must be what it’s like for them when I hit that same point.  But what happens when geek goes too far? How does one know when a line has been crossed and what can be done?

We’ve all been there when someone has crossed the line and everything becomes super awkward.  I almost always see this happen when I’m next in line for an autograph. It usually starts off harmless enough. The fan in front of me says something to the effect of “I’m a really big fan and I love the work you did on…” and that is perfectly acceptable. I’ve been known to say the same thing, when I’m not being painfully shy. Although I’m sure they hear this a couple hundred times during the course of a convention, it’s also probably nice to hear that people appreciate what they do.  When the conversation moves beyond this, however, things start to get a bit dicey. Some are very gregarious and they like to have conversations with the fans they meet. I’ve been rather fortunate to have short conversations with Walter Koenig and James Marsters and both men were extremely pleasant to talk with. (Walter Koenig apologized for Star Trek VI and to this day I have no idea why.) Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case however and it’s often the fault of the fans.  Even bystanders get a little freaked out when “that guy” takes what could have been a pleasant, short conversation and makes it weird and uncomfortable. As much as you may want to tell Leonard Nimoy that watching a certain episode of Star Trek saved your marriage and that you owe him everything up to and including your first born child, he doesn’t want or need to hear this.

And he definitely wants no part of this.

And he definitely wants no part of this.

So how do you know when you’re pushing your luck? First, it is important to pick up on signals from people around you, especially the person you’re talking to. If you’re excited, it may be tough to do that, but these signs are often the most telling ones. Every so often, take a quick glance around and see what people are doing. If they start looking away or getting really quiet, or if the person you’re talking to begins to avert their eyes, then it’s time to dial things back a bit.  You may not be there quite yet, but if you fail to change course, you will plow over that line at full speed.  If you already know you can go a bit overboard it may also help you to bring a friend along to keep you out of trouble. (There may or may not have been a detailed plan for my friend to bail me out if I got arrested after meeting Jewel Staite.) It’s what friends are for. They can quietly tap you on the elbow or something equally subtle to let you know that you’re going too far. Of course, if things get really out of control, they can grab you and drag you away.  After all, your friend may only be embarrassed; security will likely see how many times you will bounce when they toss you out the front door.

Picking up on other people’s cues is important, but it is equally important to be able to read yourself in these situations. Unfortunately, we geeks as a collective are pretty bad at doing this and often by the time we do pick up on our own signals, it’s already far too late to save ourselves. Being more aware of what these signs are can help you avoid getting into this situation.  As you’re waiting in line or as you’re talking to your favorite celebrity, take a moment in your head to evaluate yourself for these signs (if you need help, ask somebody…please). If you find that they’re starting to show just take a deep breath and try to relax for a moment. Remember, just because Nathan Fillion was on Firefly, he is still a person just like you.

Why is that man holding Will Wheaton? Why not?

Why is that man holding Will Wheaton?
Why not?

Things can also take a turn for the worse when fans want to take pictures or get a hug.  Some celebs are completely cool with it. Adam Baldwin reached out and gave me the most welcoming hand shake I think I’ve ever had and was more than willing to take some pictures with people.  Some, like Will Wheaton, are famous for their amazing interactions with fan. Others, typically with older, more well-known names, are more reserved and are not comfortable with these kinds of things. Sometimes it is because they want you to pay for a picture with them, and sometimes it’s because they just want a little more personal space. It’s important to respect their requests and not get pushy. Typically, if there are rules such as no pictures, there will be signs posted around the person or a handler who is walking up and down the line making it clear to the people waiting.

In my own experience, the best way to prevent going too far is to fall slightly on the conservative side of interaction. This is not to say that you can’t talk to celebrities, but always try to hold a little in reserve. If you’re having a great conversation with the person, then by all means, tell them how much you love their work. It’s ok to let them know how much you enjoyed what they do, but just keep it reasonable and under control. If celebrities didn’t want to interact with their fans, then they wouldn’t go to conventions and other places we gather. I’ve lost track of the number of interviews I’ve seen where some actor says how blown away they are by the amount of fan love they have received, especially if this is their first event. We geeks can be a wonderful people to those we choose to embrace; we just need to make sure we maintain some level of composure. If we do that, we ensure a good time is had by all.

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Being A Geek

This is an origin story.  I take quite a bit of pride in being a geek, though admittedly it hasn’t always been that way. When I was young, other kids mocked me for my love of science and my slow evolution into a geek.  As I got older, I started to realize what was cool to other kids and what wasn’t.  I would often make fun of things I loved to in order to try to fit in. Finally though, I came to understand that I needed to embrace who I was and just be myself. As I became more confident in my own identity, I lost any doubt that I was a geek, and I began to wonder what exactly that was, and by extension, what made me one. 

If Prof. Indy say it, it must be true.

If Prof. Indy says it, it must be true.

Indiana Jones himself said that 90% of archeology takes place in the library, so I figured I’d start where all great investigations start:  the dictionary. Sure enough, I found a pretty good definition of geek from Webster’s English Language Learner’s Dictionary:

1 : a person who is socially awkward and unpopular : a usually intelligent person who does not fit in with other people

2 : a person who is very interested in and knows a lot about a particular field or activity

It is the second definition that I found the far more interesting, as it supports my own definition of geek, which is: “a person who exhibits a certain, highly elevated degree of passion for a particular topic, which is often outside the mainstream.” For me, being a geek is about learning about and doing the things that I love—regardless of what they are—and finding people that share those same interests with whom to exchange knowledge.

From either my personal definition, or Webster’s, one could infer that any person could be a geek about anything, but that isn’t entirely true. There aren’t exercise geeks or stock market geeks, but there are people who are very interested in and extremely knowledgeable about both (they are called something different).

So what then makes an activity geeky? What allows those that partake in it to proudly bear the title of geek correctly?

The first important characteristic is that it is outside the mainstream of popular culture. This doesn’t mean it has to be way outside the norm, but there does need to be some degree of separation; think the classic stereotype of jocks vs. geeks. For example, playing video games is a pretty common pastime for many people in their teens and twenties—and even some older ones as well. While gaming has become more popular, I would argue that only a limited number of games would be considered truly mainstream, such as Halo or Call of Duty. Though there are millions of casual gamers, Geeks play their games religiously for hours on end, until they know exactly which weapon to use under what circumstances and the exact terrain of every map.

This guy knows every map.

This guy knows every map.

Another great example, and a personal favorite of mine, is comic books. Thanks to movies such as Avengers, the Dark Knight trilogy, and Man of Steel, superheroes appear in our culture and our minds like no other time in their history. I can barely walk down the street or go out to dinner without seeing someone wearing a Batman t-shirt or an ad for Iron Man. But while our society is almost saturated with these characters, the comic books in which they all originate are still largely ignored and in some cases even looked down upon. On the silver screen, these characters are accepted and even adored, but the comic books have never become a social norm.

What separates the average person with perhaps a passing interest in a geeky subject and the true geek, is also the zeal with which they embrace their subject.  There are plenty of people who have read graphic novels such as Watchmen as part of a high school or college class, but unless they became instant fans, just reading doesn’t make them geeks. The geek who deserves the title is the World of Warcraft player who jumps online for a raid, sick as a dog, because there is a slight chance at picking up the rare item he’s coveted for months, or who drives to his local comic stores every week, regardless of the weather, to get his weekly books (I think hurricane conditions are the only ones that have kept me home—a badge of honor.).

I would even have to consider a small, select group of Twilight fans as geeks. This does not apply to most of them. But there are those select few who demonstrate the necessary ardor. Those who pick Team Edward or Team Jacob, talk about the books and movies non-stop, and even ruined comic con for more than a few people. These people are geeks too, albeit annoying ones (Lord, give me strength!). Geekhood is about the passion, and they have it in abundance.

Although the pursuit of knowledge in and of itself is not geeky, a thirst for geeky knowledge is another defining aspect of a geek.  I have seen comic geeks, driven by passion for a particular subject, dig through box after box of back issues just to find a random appearance of their favorite character. The drive needed to persist at this task is impressive (If you disagree, try it for a few hours.  It is way harder than you think. I know; I’ve done it several times). What impresses me even more is that they knew their favorite character could be found in these random and seemingly unrelated titles.  Any ordinary person can read the main comics that focus on their favorite person, but a true geek takes the time and spends the energy to research even non-speaking, background appearances.  To a geek, the acquisition of information is sometimes even more important than the information itself.

Not only do we gather vast storehouses of semi-useless trivia, we also love to share our knowledge, both among those who appreciate it and unsuspecting friends and relatives. There are countless fan sites and forums dedicated to nearly every type of fandom, no matter how seemingly insignificant.  For the consumer desperate to know what was different between the Megatron figure released in Japan and the one in the US, there is someone out there who knows that difference, and will enthusiastically share it.  I myself am quite proud to admit that I own not one, but two different Star Trek Encyclopedias.  My friends have even placed bets on me in a Star Wars trivia contest at New York Comic Con, though sadly I didn’t go nearly as far as they’d hoped.

I have also learned specialized skills, such as dice based probability, that almost completely lack practical application… Except, of course, figuring out the odds of making a successful roll in Warhammer 40K in seconds flat.

The downside of this quasi-savant status, is that geeks have a bit of a “tough love” stereotype when it comes to people who are new and don’t know everything yet.  Reality is that while there are a few jerks with a pathological need to feel superior by belittling people who know less than they, the overwhelming majority of geeks out there are more than happy to share their knowledge and experience, and educate those who are new to geekhood or expanding their existing geek horizons.

It’s the passion that drives geeks to do these things even though they are not something that the rest of society considers normal.  It is important, then, to realize that the same passion that makes a person identify with geeks everywhere should make him proud of his status.  I was once told by a coworker that I shouldn’t mention my love of comics to women because it is creepy. TO HELL WITH THAT! This who I am and I’m not going to hide it or apologize for it just because it’s something that someone doesn’t want to see. We live in a modern society on foundations built by famous geeks—Bill Gates and Steve Jobs for two—and it’s time we stand up and be proud of who we are.  My name is Andrew, I’m a geek, and I couldn’t be happier.

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Introduction to a Bitching Fanboy

“A bitching fanboy is a happy fanboy.” I don’t remember the context of the conversation, but I’m certain that I was complaining about something related to geek culture when my friend dropped this gem. It’s true!  Rarely is a geek happier than when he is picking apart something he claims to love.

As geeks, we love finding the most miniscule imperfection in the otherwise flawless. Gatherings of geeks are swamped with conversations of this kind.  Fans complain about the sound of Iron Man’s repulsors, the color of Superman’s cape, or Wolverine’s height.  While riding an escalator on my first visit to NY Comic Con, I heard a guy on a microphone off in a corner delivering a manifesto: “…What they did to Green Lantern was a travesty!!”  I wasn’t sure what they had done to Green Lantern, but I was almost certain that whatever it was, it was not quite a ‘travesty.’

This being my introduction into the comic geek life, I didn’t quite know what he was talking about, but he was definitely bitching, and he was pretty damn happy doing it.

This is what people expect from fanboys.  They expect to see a crazy guy, badly dressed, probably living with his parents, attempting to eviscerate something he claims to love with poor reasoning and questionable sentence structure.

Looking at this a bit less cynically, it becomes clear that this man was talking passionately about something. What geeks love even more than bitching about their obsessions, is talking about them.  We talk about our loves to anyone who will listen, and frequently we even do it to those who aren’t willing (in fact, a captive audience is often more fun!). More than one wife/girlfriend/sibling/parent/friend has been subjected to this particular form of torment. Even more than complaining, you hear long-winded discussions of all the awesome and cool things your geek loved about the new Iron Man movie, the newest World of Warcraft expansion, or the latest issue of Saga. The truth of the matter is that geeks take their culture almost as seriously as religion.  We are preachers, missionaries, and evangelists. We spread the “good word” wherever and whenever we can, converting non-believers if at all possible.

With this in mind, I start this blog.  I’ll talk about those great things in geek culture that I enjoy and share insights I have positively, but honestly. If something doesn’t quite measure up, I won’t pull punches, but then again I won’t be breaking out the chainsaws either.

So without further ado, Engage!

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