Posts Tagged ‘geeks’

Shall We Play A Game?

August 1, 2008

This year WarGames turns 25. I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw it. I pretty sure it was on tv. Considering it was released in theaters when I was 6, I doubt my parents let my brother and I go to a techno-thriller where a kid nearly starts world war 3. Whenever the blessed event finally happened, it was love at first sight. Like a lot of classic 80’s movies it had the two great fears of the decade:

1. The threat of nuclear war

and

2. The machines are taking over.

The vague notion that the US and USSR may blow each other to pieces grabbed my interest. Plus it had all this techno stuff I had never heard of before.

Computers can talk to each other! Backdoor passwords? This stuff was all new to me (as it was to many people) and I loved it. I felt so smart knowing what a modem was. The first time I heard one work (while signing onto AOL) I immediately thought of David Lightman. (Right after which I thought, “Man I wish I had Falken’s remote controlled dinosaur.”)   Plus it had Matthew Broderick. I will readily admit that as a young lad I had a man crush on him. Let’s face it, the guy was (and possibly still is) the shit. By the time I saw WarGames I had already seen him in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Project X (which how I learned to say “apple” and “help” in sign language) . He had a synth that made sneezing noises and he trained chimps to fly planes. What 10 year wouldn’t think he’s awesome.

When I realized a while ago I could get it onDemand, I watched it several times. My girlfriend thought I was being goofy or watching it for cheese factor but I wasn’t. I still enjoy it. Now I found out that not only am I not in the minority in thinking that it’s good but it’s now being called a classic! I first found out when AMC started showing it in honor of this anniversary. (It is called Amercian Movie CLASSICS.) Then I found out (to late) that it was being shown in theaters for one day only.  Then an article Wired Magazine calls it a classic! So it isn’t just me! There’s even a 25th anniversary dvd release and a crappy direct to dvd sequel! Take that Tremors!

The Wired article  also made a point that had never occured to me. David Lightman is the first real geek hero. He was hacking into government computers while getting Ally Sheedy hot and bothered. So congratulations WarGames not only are you a classic but you are sort of the Rosa Parks of geeks.

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.

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!