Archive for July, 2008

Joss Whedon Has Ruined Vampires For Me

July 30, 2008

Entertainment Weekly ran a cover on the Twilight book series a few weeks ago. I can honestly admit that I had never heard of the books before I saw the cover and was a little shocked that poor, dead Cedric Diggory had been cast as the lead in the movie coming out in December.

While I thought the cover photo was one of the worst EW has come up with in awhile (second to the horrific Watchmen cover), I was mildly interested when the writer compared the novels to the Harry Potter series (for which I am a true geek). Since I’ve been looking for something fun to read, I figured I’d give it a go and see if it was worth the Potter comparisons.

While I still have a hundred pages to go in finishing this fast-reading but badly written book, I realized that Joss Whedon has totally ruined vampires for me. I know that there is a legion of crazy Twilight fans out there but after being immersed in the Whedonverse, every vampire-themed project seems lame in comparison.  It’s not just Twilight (which I will get back to in a moment). I tried watching the CBS show Moonlight and only lasted two minutes realizing that I liked this show better when it was called Angel.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer represents the ground zero of my geekiness and I can say for certain that I have geeked out over it more than anything else- more than Twin Peaks, more than Doctor Who, more than Harry Potter, more than Batman. Anyone who knows me can attest that I am ridiculously geeky about all of those things.

Honestly, I have to admit that I didn’t follow either Buffy or Angel until well into their runs. I had a brief, embarrassing Anne Rice phase in high school so by the time BtVS came on, I was sort of over the whole genre. Friends tried to convince me to watch and I heard TV critics rave about how clever and well-written the show was but it took me until the fifth season to start paying attention. I randomly tuned into the fifth season finale (The Gift) and was blown away. While still being vaguely confused about who the Billy Idol impersonator was and how the Taster’s Choice guy was involved in it all, I became immediately obsessed with the show.

I tried to catch repeats over the summer and lucked out when FX decided to run the whole series in the fall start to finish. Since FX ran two episodes a night, it was a crash course in all things Buffy and turned into a mad obsession. I would refuse to answer the phone when new episodes came on and would frantically rush onto the internet after the episodes were over to dissect them. Total geek behavior, I know.

Im the worse potential! No! Im the worse potential

"I'm the worst potential!" "No! I'm the worst potential"

While the later seasons had some serious flaws (the Potential Slayers being a very big one), a great episode of Buffy could left me thinking for days. Not only did the show have well-crafted, believable characters, but the writing combined elements of comedy, horror and drama in a way that was hilarious, scary and heartbreaking. Besides crafting a really entertaining show, Whedon also took the piss out of the vampire legend. Sure his vampires were mysterious and powerful but they could also be as downright ridiculous and petty as his human characters. Angel could never figure out how to work his voicemail and Spike had a passion, for well, Passions as evidenced in this quote:

Spike: “Passions is on! Timmy’s down the bloody well, and if you make me miss it I’ll —”
Giles: “Do what? Lick me to death?”

While Whedon’s vampires could be very dangerous characters, he never took them so seriously that he failed to have fun with them.  And I’ve found that it’s the self-seriousness that plagues most other vampire- themed projects that has completely ruined more traditional takes on the genre for me.

And here is where I come back to Twilight. Besides the fact that the book is just badly written, it’s so deadly serious. The fact that a vampire and a human are in love with each other is treated as the Most.Dramatic.Relationship.Ever. And the female character seems completely willing to throw her life away without even questioning what she would be giving up. Even relationship drama queens Buffy and Angel would tell these two to get a grip.

Plus the characters in Twilight don’t seem to have any fun or a functioning sense of humor. The two main characters (Edward and Bella) are constantly glowering and glaring at each other although they are supposedly in love. I can’t recall a funny moment in the entire book. Even Broody McBroodster (that would be Angel for those unaware) was funny on occasion.

I’m not sure if I’m going to bother finishing the book because honestly, it makes me want to smash my head against the wall. I guess I’ll just go watch some Buffy instead.

Update: Laura Miller at Salon just published an article yesterday that covers a lot of the same material. I thought this paragraph was spot-on:

Comparisons to another famous human girl with a vampire boyfriend are inevitable, but Bella Swan is no Buffy Summers. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was at heart one of those mythic hero’s journeys so beloved by Joseph Campbell-quoting screenwriters, albeit transfigured into something sharp and funny by making the hero a contemporary teenage girl. Buffy wrestled with a series of romantic dilemmas — in particular a penchant for hunky vampires — but her story always belonged to her. Fulfilling her responsibilities as a slayer, loyalty to her friends and family, doing the right thing and cobbling together some semblance of a healthy life were all ultimately as important, if not more important, to her than getting the guy. If Harry Potter has a vampire-loving, adolescent female counterpart, it’s Buffy Summers.

Who Will Watch the Watchmen?

July 27, 2008

It’s Comic-Con time again and so thousands of people are flocking to San Diego to trade, buy, sell, and collect comics. Oh yeah and I think they do some movie stuff there too. Comic-Con is quickly becoming Hollywood’s newest whore. Now that the studios realize that not only will geeks flock to see a good comic movie, but that they will also pony up for the merchandise, Hollywood is doing it’s best to capitalize on geek dollars. This summer’s Iron Man movie may have been the most exciting event in some geeks’ lives since the invention of the Real Doll. Since Spider-man first hit multiplexes, movie after movie has involved spandex clad men (and occasionally women). Most of these movies have made an incredible amount of money and the biggest may be yet to come. Next year Watchmen will be released.

Watchmen is one of my, and most comic fans, favorite graphic novels of all time. It’s regarded as not only a great graphic novel but also a great work of literature. It’s one of those works of art that after which nothing is ever the same again. I first read Watchmen in high school on the advice of my local comic book dealer (who never steered me wrong). The size intimidated me at first but one I got going I couldn’t stop. I became a true believer in Alan Moore and walked around preaching the virtues of Watchmen to anyone who would listen. It was a book I couldn’t keep to myself and could completely be enjoyed by a non-comic reader. Yeah it’s about costumed heroes but it’s about so much more than that.

A movie version has been in the works for a long time but for one reason or another it never seemed to materialize. Everybody except Alan Moore seem to be excited about it. Each time I’d hear about a new script or a new director I would have such conflicted feelings. The book is so cinematic it practically cries out to be made into a movie but it’s so dense there’s no way all of the nuance could be squeezed into a two hour flick. And seriously what are the odds that Hollywood would make a movie version that would live up to my beloved book. At one point several years ago there was a ray of hope. Paul Greengrass was announced as the new director. I was already a fan of Bourne Supremacy and after seeing Bloody Sunday, I knew he could handle the material. Of course eventually the walls came crashing down when Paramount put the movie into turnaround amid budget concerns and studio politics.

Ozymandias is on the far right.

Now Zach Snyder is helming the film. After making a zillion dollars with his adaption of Frank Miller’s 300, the studio believes he could be the one to do it. Aside from the fervor the MPAA stirred up, I haven’t seen (or read) a lack of confidence on the part of fans. I was being cautiously optimistic. until I saw the cover of Entertainment Weekly which made me extremely depressed. I mean come on! They look ridiculous! Especially Ozymandias, who looks like some young asshole who needs a slap. The article inside restored a little confidence but what has really been making me think it might not suck is the trailer. The only part of it that I didn’t really agree with is where it called Zach Snyder a “visionary” director. I don’t think following source material necessarily makes you a visionary. The rest of it looked so good that even my girlfriend was finally interested in reading the book. I’ve been trying for seven years to do that! I watched it on my computer and thought it was ok but when I saw it on the big screen before The Dark Knight  I thought, “Wow, that might be good.” Ozymandias still looks dumb but the rest of them don’t look to silly once you see them in action. Could Watchmen be the great film it deserves to be? I hope so. Right now I feel the ambivalence of Dr. Manhattan, the pessimism of Rorschach, and the hope of Nite Owl.

Living the Dream: Librarians

July 23, 2008

 Today we present you the first in what we hope will be an ongoing series of articles about geek dream jobs and those who are living the dream. Today, M. Flynn reports on what it’s like to be a librarian.

 

“Really? You’re a librarian?”

I get that all the time, and I don’t know whether to they want me sign autographs, be offended or act relieved. I don’t often use the word “librarian” myself and usually opt for “I work in a library.”  That’s a much less loaded statement. It’s easier that way.

Still, the second it “clicks” and they realize I am indeed a foot soldier of the Dewey Decimal system, the confessions usually start. Some need to apologize for hating their high school librarians or for pocketing that picture or Shaun Cassidy ripped quietly from the library’s latest Tiger Beat during the summer of ‘78. Some embarrassedly admit they never would have made it through Chemistry or British Lit without the help of their local librarian, and a few whisper quietly with a solemn look as if sharing a great shame: “I always loved the library.” Of course they love the library. What’s not to love?

I’ve been an academic librarian worked in an academic library for nearly 9 years and there are definitely a few things to love about the place and the job:

1. It’s hard to look dumb in the library. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by shelves of weighty tomes and tables littered with clicking laptops, scribbling researchers and serious, focused readers. If that doesn’t make everyone in the building look gifted, I don’t know what does.

2. You have some of the most interesting conversations. One person wanted information on buying mosquitos (You can. If you have the right cage, you can buy as many larvae and hatch to your hearts content.). Another was looking for a place to purchase the chemicals needed to create the smell of vitamins. (You can purchase the smell in 5 gallon increments.)  Another needed to get 7mg of dry adhesive into every 1.5 inch square on a ream of paper. (We figured it out, but I still get dizzy if I think about it too much.)

3. You overhear some of the most interesting conversations. Let’s face it, even the most furtive whispers echo reverberate on the quiet floors, so if you don’t want the world to know it is your “third speeding ticket in as many days and your father is going to kill you”, Don’t say it. Don’t even whisper it.  Let’s just say that there are many, many things, I wish I didn’t know and leave it at that.

4. You don’t have to spend a lot on your attire to outdo the stereotypes. Keeping up with the Joneses is hard. Keeping up with society’s perception of librarians is easy.

5. You’ll never be bored. In one day, you can read “Don’t’ Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” to a 5-year-old, research bus safety statistics at the Department of Transportation website, help a woman pick out a mystery to read on her next bus trip, and spend 20 minutes helping a man find a “bus port”—a task made immeasurable easier when you realize it isn’t a “bus port” he’s looking for, it’s a “USB port.”

6. You get paid to read, think and play. Sure you may have to read a few things you don’t like. For example, that book you had to read to support the Public Health class–Ebola, Culture and Politics: The Anthropology of an Emerging Disease—was a downer, especially the chapter on “Facing Death and Stigmatization,”but you learned some great statistics for the next cocktail party you attend.

 

Sure, setting up your first LAMP server to test some open source application can be daunting, and identifying scholarly research on the effects of steroids for the tenth time can be hard, but take heart: you’ll look good doing it your better-than-your-average-librarian clothes, surrounded by a century of wisdom in one of the smartest buildings in town. What’s not to love?

I’m a librarian…really.  

M. Flynn

There at the Beginning

July 21, 2008

Very rarely to do people get to meet their heroes. Nine times out of ten they are a sports star, famous musician, or other such celebrity whose world you don’t have access to. If you do meet them it’s usually a short “Nice to meet you. I’m a big fan.” sort or thing. Having a real conversation almost never happens. But sometimes, just sometimes it does…

In the fall of 1997 I was in my junior year of art school. I was enjoying the experience overall but it was rough going at times. You see, I wanted to draw comic books. That wasn’t what most people at school planned on doing when they got their BFA. There were only a small group of us in the illustration department who were interested in graphic novels (high brow code for comics). In my class I think it was two. My instruction in the ways of comics was pretty much non-existent. I was learning how to be an illustrator. How to make paintings for corporate or commercial clients and how to get them done on time. While this stuff was definitely helping me become a better artist it didn’t feel like I was any closer to drawing comics. Then towards the end of the semester we were told we could sign up for a spring internship. I read through the list and immediately saw the one I wanted: Dynamic Forces – producer of limited edition and collectors comics. I was floored. Finally something to do with comics. It even called them comics!

I applied for the position just before Christmas break. The entire time I was home I was calling the teacher in charge of interships to make sure everything is going according to plan. It had been a long time since I was that excited. I remember talking to my friend, Dave, saying that this is where it would all begin.

When it actually began it wasn’t exactly glamourous. The building was an old warehouse on a strip of highway that was mostly populated by strip clubs. Shower stages seemed to be the newest stripper technology. I didn’t care. I was working in the world of comics. My assignments were mostly clerical stuff but every now and then get a cool assignment like writing copy for ad time we had bought on the Howard Stern Show. The real payoff (and reason why my supervisor there thought I would benefit from the internship) was the signings. Artists would be flown in to sign copies of whatever comics they worked on. I would work at these signings by passing the comics from one artist to the next, bagging the books, opening new boxes, and essentially hanging out and chatting it up with actual comic pros. It was awesome! Quickly I met Al Williamson (who I later had lunch with at his Honesdale studio) and Clayburn Moore. I even got to keep the slightly damaged stuff. If something wasn’tcompletely perfect it couldn’t be sold and I would have the opportunity to get it for free (which is how I got my Willow figure and started collecting Buffy figures). But the best was yet to come. My hero Alex Ross was coming to sign copies of Earth X. I was and still am a huge Alex Ross fan. I thought Kingdom Come was not only brilliantly written but drop dead gorgeous. I didn’t normally read mainstream comics but for some reason (I think it was the advice of my local comic dealer) I picked this up. It was hard to put down. Instantly Ross became an inspiration. He painted heroes with beauty and a humanity that couldn’t be matched.

When the day came I was probably the most excited I had ever been. I stood there passing comics from one member of the Earth X crew to the next. Occasionally bringing out more boxes of unsigned comics. As the day wore on I got more brave and tried to talk to the guys and even be a part of their conversations, the best of which was one between Alex and Jim Krueger. I don’t remember exactly how it started but Alex was talking about characters he liked and the two were soon plotting out a mini-series about the original Human Torch. If I’m remembering correctly it involved vampires and possibly even Namor becoming a vampire. The Human Torch was to be the hero and would be assisted by a woman (I can’t remember if she was a girlfriend, or just a female Torch) named, Toro. I remember thinking how cheesy I though the name Toro sounded so like one of the guys I said, “Toro. Alex does that sound like a bull fighter or something.” He looked at me and I could see the lightbulb go off in his head. “We’ll make her hispanic,” he said excitedly. I almost shit. I just helped Alex Ross

L to R: Alex Ross, John Paul Leon, Bill Reinhold, Jim Krueger, and Me

with a character (sorta). The two got more and more involved plotting of the whole series. It was a thing of beauty to watch. Alex even sketched out a rough cover for an issue with a sharpie and had me run it up to someone in one of the offices (I thought about photo-coping it but for some reason didn’t. I think the copier was on the fritz).  Soon all the Earth X stuff was signed and Alex wasfinishing up signing a box of Batman comics. When he was all done he sat back in his chair and let out a sigh of relief. “If you could just sign one more, Alex.” I requested. “One more box!” “No, just one more comic.” I pulled out my copy of the first issue of Kingdom Come. Everyone let out a little laugh and he was more then gracious about signing it. Of course I brought my camera and Alex had the president of Dynamic Forces take a picture of me with the Earth X crew. It was a near perfect day.

About a year later Phil, and I went to the Warner Bros. Store in NYC to see Alex and Paul Dini who were signing copies of a Batman comic they did together. Original artwork would be on display and they would be signing comics. When I got up to Alex I introduced myself and he actually remembered me. I asked about the Human Torch series and he replied that Marvel didn’t go ahead with it. They didn’t think the original Torch could carry a whole series. Phil stood next to me awkwardly starring at Paul Dini and getting uncomfortable as the line began to back up. I said my goodbyes, made some comment that we would have to work together someday, and left. On the way home Phil said watching me talk to Alex was like watching Jason Lee and Stan Lee converse in Mallrats.

This story had become one of my favorites over the years and I always wondered if Alex would ever get to do the book he wanted. A few months ago I received this email from a friend:

Remember telling me about how you met Alex Ross & he and some colleagues were brainstorming a HUGE crossover event that involved Namor, the original Human Torch, and a Hispanic girlfriend for one of the characters named “Toro?” Well, I picked up a promotional brochure for the upcoming Avengers vs Invaders limited series (for which Ross is artistic director) yesterday and I thought of you. It will feature Namor (both the Golden Age version and the contemporary version) and the original Human Torch … AND a sidekick named “Toro.” Coincidence??

I couldn’t believe it. Was it true? After a quick search on the Marvel website I found this article, which had this quote from Jim Krueger:

“Nick [Barrucci, Publisher for Dynamite Entertainment and President of Dynamic Forces], Alex and I have been talking together for a long time—about a lot of stuff,” Krueger continues. “Anyhow, this was one of those things that just sort of organically began a number of years ago when Alex and I were signing copies of EARTH X at Dynamic Forces and talking about doing something with the [Human] Torch. Anyhow, a number of years later, Alex and I are working on Justice and we each got a call from [Nick]. [Dynamite] had just pitched an idea to Marvel of an Avengers/Invaders team-up with Alex and I attached. In my mind, I went back to the Torch and Alex’s and my love for not only that character, but the entire Invaders mythology. So, we all started talking to Marvel and the ball just kept rolling.”

It was really happening and I had been there when it started.

I’m Not in Love With Bill Bixby!

July 17, 2008

Today our female correspondent, Brillen, has a story of geek oppression by an older sister. Enjoy!

 

Hollywood recently released another film version of The Incredible Hulk. I’m not sure why. The Ang Lee version was certifiably bonkers but usually they wait a few decades before trying a reboot.

Anyhow one good thing from the new film was that SciFi ran a marathon of the old TV show. As I watched the episodes again for probably the first time in two decades, I kept thinking of the following three questions:

1. Why do the Hulk’s pants never rip off? (An eternal question to confused kids everywhere)

2. Why is David Banner such a klutz?

3. How many cars did Jack McGee lose in pursuit of the Hulk?

These questions have been pondered by some before, my remaining question pertains strictly to a peculiar fact of my childhood- why my older sister constantly accused me of having a crush on Bill Bixby?

Now don’t get me wrong, Bill was a decent looking chap, a fine actor and all that but it wasn’t like I doodled “I heart Bill” all over my coloring books. But my sister always had a habit of claiming that I had crushes on people just to get under my skin (which was effective since I was shy and easily mortified). Usually while I was watching one Incredible Hulk episode or another and she wanted to change the channel, she’d start in on how much I loved Bill Bixby, that I wanted to marry him and I would try to concentrate on whatever poor wall Lou Ferrigno was destroying and wish that wall was my sister. When I was seven, one Bixby related taunting got me so angry, that I went in my room and slammed the door so hard that I knocked a framed poster off the wall. The glass shattered and my favorite teddy bear poster (don’t laugh!) was destroyed. The Hulk’s rage claimed yet another victim.

After she got bored of targeting Bill as the fake object of my girlish affections she’d switch to another (never actually landing though on an actor I actually liked at the time ie Tom Wopat- I remind you it was 1985) – the other two most frequent mentions being David Hasselhoff and Levar Burton. I admit there is some humor in accusing someone of having a crush on the Hoff (and I have actually met some who had a real true life crush on the man. No lie!) but she managed to ruin many an episode of Knight Rider and Reading Rainbow with her taunts.

This was all brought up again as I watched the Incredible Hulk marathon a few weeks ago. I came home early and I stumbled into a strange episode where David Banner and Jack McGee were trapped on the side of a mountain and Banner was dragging McGee around on the wing of a plane. Oddly Banner’s face was covered completely in gauze the entire time and he had lost his memory. McGee couldn’t tell he was in fact David Banner and was calling him John Doe.

Since I came in half way through the episode, I was baffled as to what was going on (it took me a minute to remember who McGee was). I googled the episode title “Mystery Man” and found that Hulk aficionados consider this two-parter a classic.

As it happens the next day I was talking to my sister (the same one who did all the taunting) and I mentioned watching the episode.

“I saw that too! What the hell was going on there? I couldn’t figure it out.”

“I think they were in a plane crash and David Banner had amnesia.”

“Is that why he had bandages on his face?”

“I think so. Those must have been annoying to act in”

“Oh you just didn’t like that you couldn’t see his face”

“Don’t start that again. I’m still pissed about my poster.

“That was your own fault.”

“Why did you start that by the way? The crush on Bill Bixby thing”

“Well . . .it’s because I kinda had a crush on him.”

“What?!?”

“I kinda had a crush on him.”

“You jerk! You rotten, rotten jerk!”

“You know on the show he was all tormented and sad. . . you know that’s how Iike ‘em.” That was true.

“So David Hasselhoff . . .”

“No I did not like David Hasselhoff.”

“Levar Burton?”

“No I didn’t like Levar Burton either. Although you did.”

“Oh shut up! You’re unbelievable.”

So I finally had the answer to why my sister tormented me through poor Bill Bixby but as to why the Hulk’s pants never rip off, that is still a question for the ages.

 

 

 

Geek: A history

July 14, 2008

When dreaming up this site, the ThisIsForGeeks team keep asking of various things, “Is that geeky?” In order to determine this we realized that defining what geeks are is important. As a guide in discovering what it means to be a geek I offer you, our reader, this fantastic article by geek corespondent Will J. Munro.

Geek History

Will J. Munro

Geek:

1. a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, esp. one who is perceived to be overly intellectual.

2. a computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders.)

3. a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken


While searching for information on the history of geeks I discovered the above definitions and thought “Well, that about sums it up.”

Take your pick.

Geeks many be greasy, awkward and hygienically challenged but they’re

One of us! One of us!

One of us! One of us!

quite useful at assisting the rest of us with issues of technology or mathematics. Geeks may be self-identified and use the moniker as a gesture to deflect criticism for what may be a particularly odd personal obsession, like, say, dungeons and dragons. Or geeks may the classic carny variety who literally–or figuratively–bite the heads off live chickens. Of this category, the former type have certainly been pushed to the brink of extinction by a general decline of American carnival culture and by enlightened attitudes about animal rights, the latter, however, still enjoy a healthy existence while attaining seven-figure scores on violent computer games or maintaining collections of Nazi military ephemera.

Geeks are brainiacs, geeks are savants and geeks are psychos.  And sometimes they’re a combination of all three.

And whatever they are, geeks are hot property these days. The word “Geek” pops up a lot in the media: there are computer geeks, gardening geeks and cooking geeks. Any “expert” or “enthusiast” with a strong interest in a particular subject may also be a “geek”. Geeky-looking characters abound from the tidy, efficient Verizon Guy to the bespectacled Harry Potter whose charm and broad skill set has rocketed him into the stratosphere of geekhood.

Geeky hobbies are also popular. There has been a huge resurgence in knitting and other handicrafts. Comic books–long the bastion of geeks and other school-age outcasts–have grown in collectibility

and value.  And, of course, there is a huge array of commercially available electronic gadgets that provide games, snap pictures, take videos and make irritating noises for the entertainment of those who prefer interaction with machines over that with other humans.

But like pornography, geekhood is hard to define–you just ‘kinda have to see it to recognize it. Which begs the question, where did the concept of geekhood come from? And is there such a thing as “geek history?”

The word itself may be traced to a term in use 500 years ago that described “a fool, dupe, or simpleton.”

The earliest citation referring to a carnival-freak geek is from the early part of the 20th century. But the geek as an archetype representing a talented and possibly attractive social misfit seems a far more recent development.

In his 2000 book Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho, Jon Katz describes

Vote Pedro

Vote Pedro

the Internet as the geek’s primary catalyst for escape from social stigma into visible and respectable geek communities. Since the mid 1990’s the talented-but-awkward filmmakers Todd Solondz and Harmony Korine have introduced a variety of peculiar, socially unpopular but sympathetic characters that have become cult icons.  Jared Hess’ Napoleon Dynamite was hailed by one critic as “an epic, magisterially observed pastiche on all-American geekhood…” and has been the subject of at least one scholarly paper on Asperger’s Syndrome.

And geeks today are also…kind of sexy.

Type the term “Sexy Geek” into a Google image search and among the 2,700 hits you’ll receive are images of nerdy, overripe school girls,

Kari Byron. Sexy geek from Mythbusters

Kari Byron. Sexy geek from Mythbusters.

tattooed lesbian librarians and mustachioed bloggers who cook and ride motorcycles. In contrast, a search for “Sexy Jock” returns a measly 111 hits of boring soft gay porn.

In this particular example of culture war, it appears that geeks are the winners.

Yet, ironically, geeks are also distinguished by their deviation from conventional forms of beauty and style. Stereotyped geeks wear glasses. They’re shy and may have bad posture. They exhibit a general lack of style and suave. They may be clumsy or ungainly. But, as the saying goes, beauty is the sum of imperfections: it seems that “geek-chic” may be a reaction to pop culture’s dispiriting emphasis on aggressive attention-seeking and unnatural physical beauty.

For example: there isn’t much room in Hip-Hop for quiet, polite guys in sweater vests. America’s Next Top Model will not likely be wearing a corduroy skirt and toting a knitting bag. But you also don’t see geeks getting arrested on Cops. Geeks don’t get freakish boob jobs; they aren’t “babydaddies”; they don’t do meth; they don’t drive Hummers. The American entertainment industry has unleashed a flood of culturally toxic sludge that has mutated mainstream society into an ungodly parade of volatile, oversexed, nitwits who equate “being watched” with “being successful”.

In this midst of this chaos, geeks are distinguished by their calm hobbies, their modest wardrobes and their sensible life choices. Geek-chic seems related to a larger social trend that eschews popular culture’s destructive elements for simpler, more thoughtful and “authentic” lifestyles. The DYI movement is pretty geeky as is brown-bagging, thrift shopping, apartment sharing and biking. Geeks don’t carry guns, they carry Altoids. Geeks are culturally green.

Geeks are also distinguished by degrees of self-confidence and self-possession that further separate them from other marginalized social groups. In her study of “nerd” girls, language scholar Mary Bucholtz challenges previous studies that described nerds as “failed burnouts and inadequate jocks”. Bucholtz instead describes a community of high school girls who actively reject the various “forms of coolness” that define their less assertive peers. In short, nerdhood seems to be a chosen lifestyle.

Corn Nuts!

Corn Nuts!

If one were to define a geek as a “nerd with a purpose” then geeks, too,  are self-aware and self-defining. In the film Heathers, the character of Jason “D.J.” Dean seems to fit the classic Dangerous Geek stereotype: a brilliant, wounded social outcast skilled in both psychology and technology. If he’d been a merely quirky or intelligent nerd, D.J. would never have had the courage to make a move on a popular girl like Veronica Sawyer let alone seduce her away from her clique of mean girls. But D.J.’s edge enabled him to win Veronica and facilitate discovery of her own latent geekhood. D.J.’s charisma was his defining power and the defining skill of his geekhood.

So it seems that “geeks”, as we define them today, are a recent concept rooted in technological development and social rebellion. Emerging from the same roots as other outcasts, geeks are set apart by their dismissal of the herd mentality their specific talents and their uncanny ability to draw admirers. As the market for geek skills expands and popular standards of beauty and success grow ever more extreme, geekhood may be a new touchstone for sensible living as well as raw survival.

References:

Hope Levin and Steven Schlozman. “Napoleon Dynamite: Asperger’s Syndrome or Geek NOS?” Academic Psychiatry, 2006; 30: 430-435.

Bucholtz, Mary. “Why be normal?”: Language and Identity in practices in a community of nerd girls”. Language in Society, 28 203-223.

I AM A GEEK!

July 8, 2008

I am a geek. There, I said it. It’s taken a long time to get to this realization but somehow I’m handling it well. Not surprisingly, this revelation didn’t come through tireless reflection. Someone else pointed it out. My girlfriend in fact. We were sitting around discussing her geekdom and exactly what percentage geek she is (conservative estimates peg it upwards of 85% but the recent Netflixing of Battlestar Galaxtica may have raised it) when she started accusing me of having a percentage

The Host

The Host

that may rival hers. This notion was of course preposterous to me at first, but then she systematically laid the evidence out before me. The “action figure” collection. The comics. The model rockets. For Christ’s sake, I have an autographed picture from The Host on Angel!

I never really considered myself one of the cool kids, but a geek? Could it be true? Then again, is being a geek so bad? After all, my girlfriend’s geekness was one of the things that attracted me to her. Maybe that’s because, as I now know, I’m a geek as well. Our combined geek powers have made life more interesting. Guests have compared our apartment to an art museum because of all the action figures, bobble heads, Batgirl statue, bubble gum machines, inflatable sarcophagus, and general bric-a-brac. “Each time you walk around you see something different.” How can that be a bad thing?

Rachel Bilson as Wonder Woman

Rachel Bilson as Wonder Woman

Even pop culture seems to be making it ok to let your geek flag fly. Seth Cohen had TWO girls fighting over him. One of which was dressed as WONDER WOMAN! (I would have gone with Batgirl but that’s just me.) Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon has some geek to her. Comicon has become a major Hollywood event. It seems more than ever now is the time to be a geek.

So I say to all you out there who have a Dr. Who screensaver, those who dream of adult-sized Spider-man underoos, those who know what MIB means, fear not. This is our time. And THIS IS FOR GEEKS!