I am what I am, so said Shirley Bassey, Gloria Gaynor, Popeye and many others. I don’t particularly like labelling or placing people in pigeonholes. And yet I call myself a geek. I grew up with early computers (Vic 20 and C64) and superheroes. I always loved Star Trek and Star Wars. As I grew older I became fascinated by horror and supernatural, aliens and monsters. I read science fiction and fantasy and comics avidly. I now watch The Simpsons and Family Guy and have 100s of DVDs for my evening’s viewing. I love my smartphone and my laptop. I wear T-shirts referencing movies and occasionally visit conventions and collectors fairs. However, most of my friends are not geeks. My social habits are not geek related. I work in a library and converse about all manner of topics. What am I, really? In Rory’s recent article, he might call me a natural post-geek.
This all sounds like surface to me. Hobbies and interests. Not who I am. But…What I watch and read and wear defines me. I believe my geekiness is more profound than surface effects, and I suspect this applies to many other people as well. My political view point, my musical tastes and even my career choices have been influenced by the habits and interests of the geek.
A few examples then?
As a growing teenager I watched endless repeats of Star Trek and Monkey. A million words have been said about the cultural impact of the former. It had a profound impact on me as well. You really do learn about the world; war, race, friendship, loyalty and more. Meanwhile, my first taste of non-Christian Western white-dominated culture came from Monkey. For purposes of context, I grew up in a working class area of North-East England; at school, there were only two non-white pupils in over a thousand. In both shows, the motivations of the characters aren’t always black and white. People are complex and relationships are complex. McCoy and Spock are always at odds. Spock, the brain and McCoy, the heart, and yet they would lay their lives for each other. Tripitaka teaches Monkey that actions have consequences.
Spiderman to me was always about an awkward teenager finding his way in the world. Clearly, Stan Lee pasted his message on thick with the classic ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. To me, that also meant behaviours have consequences. I learned to respect myself and others.
I didn’t know many people who shared my tastes during those formative years. As many a teenager, however, I felt lost, alone and often felt like a failure. Horror films repeatedly featured the outsider. I was particularly drawn to movies where the sympathy lay with the monster. I remember seeing James Whale’s Frankenstein when I was quite young, and feeling compassion with the creature as he was cast out and misunderstood. Later in life, I came across Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. I wanted to live in Midian. I wanted to live with the monsters.
John Wyndham is the author of many of my favourite novels. I first read The Chrysalids in my late teens. David is a telepath in a post-apocalyptic world that has fallen on hard times. Society is ruled by religious zeal and physical bigotry. He bands together with other young people with a similar ability. David overcomes adversity and eventually finds acceptance in a different community. While I was never a Christian, this was my first experience of fundamentalism. I learned about how intolerance is often based on fear and ignorance. I learned that the rights of the individual are paramount. I also learned that you really can trust some people.
So I learned about people and I learned about the world. After all, isn’t that what science fiction is about? What it means to be human? What it means to be alive in the world? Fantasy and horror, I believe, is truly about character. How we face adversity and how we relate to other people in our lives. How we see ourselves?
Of course, all good comedy is meant to make you laugh, and all good drama is meant to make you feel tense, or to cry, or to feel loved. So, Buffy is just a blonde in a short skirt who stakes vampires and saves the world (a lot). No. She is someone who lives life with heart and soul. She shows us how hard it is to grow up, to take responsibility, to love and to lose. I laugh during Band Candy. I cry at The Gift and The Body and I ache during Once More With Feeling.
I have only read one book that made me cry. When watching TV or a film, the emotional impact tends to be instant. When Spock or Buffy dies, you can see it coming and it hits you. The written word by its nature unfolds slowly and has occasional unexpected reveals. I read slower than average and I don’t try to second guess or skip down the page. I had heard great reviews about Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, so gave the books a shot. I was instantly hooked and read them back-to-back. Superb plotting and characterisation, and interesting philosophy and criticism which matched my own thoughts and beliefs. I didn’t see it coming, and didn’t expect it, but at the end of The Amber Spyglass when the children and I repeat, children, Lyra and Will realise that they have to part in order save their worlds… To me that is the most powerful sacrifice I have come across.
So, what is a geek? Someone who likes Cosplay or collecting comics? Someone who thinks aliens and spaceships are cool. Someone who wants to be just like Batman? Maybe, but my bet is they are so much more. They are intelligent and educated, world-wise and well-rounded individuals. I understand myself and the world, and the people who inhabit it. Thank you Stan Lee, Gene Roddenberry, Joss Whedon, Neil Gaimen, Philip Pullman, John Wyndham and all my other teachers.