Archive for February, 2009

Authentically Geeky

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Once again I emerge briefly from the internet-silence brought on by teaching duties and heavy dissertation writing. I’ve got a bunch of posts on deck that I mean to get to sometime, but one link came in today that just couldn’t wait. Church emailed to call attention to an article titled “Is it time for a nerd army resurgence?” in Arizona State University’s student newspaper. Despite the title, it’s not quite a call to arms so much as a reflection on how our social norms have broadened a bit to make some kinds of nerdy, geeky folk feel more socially accepted, while still leaving some out in the cold. The author writes:

I’m a nerd. Not the “I was pretty popular in high school, but I loved those ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies” faux-geek, but the real-deal-Holyfield “I’ve seen every episode of ‘Stargate SG-1,’ and I openly dislike the taste of beer” Duke of Nerds.

I’m nearsighted, have terrible hair and get creepily good grades for comparatively little effort. Attractive girls still (kind of) make me nervous. I’m pretty sure my inner monologue is unabridged insanity.

I am, as my former kindergarten teacher put it, an “independent thinker.”

I’m fascinated by this concept of the “faux-geek.” The same concept comes up quite a bit in the material I come across in my research (such as in the analysis of the “fake nerd” in Ben Nugent’s American Nerd: The Story of My People). And, for obvious reasons, it’s something I have to address in my own writing.

The “nerd army” article quoted above doesn’t explicitly define what divides a real geek from a faux-geek, but it does offer some characteristics that the author considers self-evidently authentic: The real geek can’t achieve or actively dislikes that which is considered popular, mainstream, or adult (beer, ability to talk to the opposite sex); s/he embraces that which is denigrated (Stargate SG-1, good grades which are apparently “creepy”); and s/he sees some (undefined) connection between these characteristics and being “an independent thinker.” It’s clear that this author believes that the difference between the real geek and the fake has something to do with rejecting and/or being rejected by others according to certain cultural norms, but I’m not sure how some of these conditions (like “terrible hair” and nervousness around attractive women) might be connected to intellectualism and free thinking.

I’m curious, then, how people reading this blog might (or might not) draw the line between real geeks and faux-geeks. Certainly there are people who affect a trendy, nerdy image but wouldn’t call themselves nerds—but are people who actually call themselves geeks who you’d have to disagree with? If so, how can you tell that difference between the real and the fake? Even if you don’t make such clear judgment calls, do you find yourself acting differently around some geeks than you would around others? Personally, I’m more interested in keeping track of other people’s definitions than in declaring any one definition to be “right,” so I welcome any and all to chime in here—even if you’ve already put in your two cents on the subject of defining geeks vs. nerds.