The first time I heard the word geek it had something to do with biting the heads off chickens in a dodgy sideshow. (Apparently they swallowed them, too. I can’t help wondering if the heads, like the bodies, carry on for a bit after decapitation, quite possibly trying to peck their murderer on the way down – well, I would.).
A brief query to the Internet Gods reveals uncertainty on the origins of the word. It may have come from German or possibly Scandinavian. It may have originated in words meaning, variously: fool or simpleton, croak, cackle, mock or cheat.
None of these suggest anything very heroic even before the whole thing with the biting off chicken heads. If someone had suggested I was a geek, I would have been both insulted and, frankly, bemused, since I didn’t even meet any chickens until they turned up, cooked, on my plate.
So, I didn’t know I was a geek. I’ve read SF and Fantasy since I bought my first second-hand Edgar Rice-Burroughs at a school jumble sale when I was nine, but I didn’t know a single other fan. The secondary school I went to was sufficiently tiny that there was not a one to be found. I had no idea such things as cons or LARP even existed, and I came late to the main thing that might have helped me find fellow-travellers – the internet.
And all the time there were other people out there who liked the same stuff, and were prepared to admit the fact if only to each other. Geeks. Often sneered at by people who didn’t share their interests, often classed as basement-dwelling weirdos.
Of course, I wasn’t just a geek, I was a writer, from even further back. The first people I found who felt like my tribe were in fact drama students and student writers. Oh, the joy of being actually surrounded by other people who obsessed about scansion and commas! I eventually realised I had little to no talent as either a playwright or a theatre critic – I love theatre, but I’d rather write fantasy any day. Besides, it’s much harder to stage magic on an actual set than on the page.
And finally I found other genre writers, and along with them, other fans. Both my obsessions came together, and it was good. I never realised what was missing in my life until I was able to spend hours discussing both character construction and which weaponry would be most useful in the zombie apocalypse.
I became proud to declare my geekery, and did so at every opportunity, and if anyone was sniffy about it, well, I didn’t have to associate with them because I had actual friends who shared my interests.
Then some time in the past few years geek interests began to move into the mainstream. Became the mainstream. As this went on a certain type of geekery seemed to become, for some, a badge of honour, a kind of campaign medal of having survived the Wilderness Years.
I wasn’t in the ‘nam of geekery, I never had my head pushed down a toilet for talking about Star Trek. I just didn’t have anyone to talk to about the stuff I liked. Also, I like a lot of stuff – not all of it SF/F related, and not all of it accompanied by much background knowledge or in-depth analysis. This means that to some people I will never be a True Geek.
But the ‘soft geek’ camp to which I belong seems to be more catered for by mainstream media every day. I suspect this is because we have money and can be persuaded to buy stuff with it.
So, now that everyone and her mates watches Game of Thrones and wants a LOTR themed wedding, do I deserve, can I still claim the title of Geek? Do I want to? I’m far more of a fantasy than an SF nut, I read very few comics and hardly any manga, I do read and watch a lot of stuff that isn’t remotely geeky. Yes, I write fantasy – but that certainly wouldn’t qualify me as a true geek with some of the hardcore any more than being an actual rocket scientist would qualify someone who had never read a word of SF. I’m not even sure, any more, what geek means.
And though I have been a fool on more than one occasion, and have croaked, cackled, mocked and even occasionally cheated, I’ve never bitten off a chicken’s head, live or otherwise.
But I still call myself a geek. I’ll probably continue to do so. Sometimes you have to stick on your own badge, otherwise someone else will stick one on you, and jab the pin in you while they do it.
I’ve encountered many non-geeks who are completely mystified as to why anyone would be proud to admit to being a geek – because how can being a geek ever be a Good Thing? Only fellow geeks get this concept of Geek Pride.
And yes, now that geekdom is suddenly becoming part of the mainstream, it feels like the special club it used to be has been hijacked somehow. Even so, I still find myself proud to be a geek.
Great post, Gaie.