Today, May 25th, is Geek Pride Day. Marking the anniversary of the first Star Wars film release in 1977, the day also coincides with ‘Towel Day’ to commemorate the passing of Douglas Adams back in 2001, as well as the Glorious 25th of May, for fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Overall, while a tongue-in-cheek holiday to commemorate all things nerd, it’s a good time to sit back and realize the very real importance of ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ values.
I have long called myself a geek, and it’s something that I’ve written about, and looked at frequently. I’ve never really gotten the negative connotations of that label: I had my geekier side in High School, that all important time when social stereotypes are defining, and unlike some of my friends, I never had a difficult time with it – Harwood was pretty small, very accepting, and one of my favorite English classes taught Ray Bradbury and Stanislaw Lem. I worked and spent a lot of my spare time in the library, reading away at the extensive Star Wars backlog, before discovering that the library had an extensive collection of science fiction classics. Things were only compounded, when I met several friends at Camp, where I was introduced to such things as Monty Python and Dungeons and Dragons. College brought much of the same, and geeky pursuits have been a common mainstay and interest with my life thus far.
The trick comes with reconciling the vast interests that seems to encompass the ‘Geek/Nerd’ type of person. Star Wars, Star Trek, Monty Python, Shakespeare, Gothic Literature, Sherlock Holmes, Twilight Imperium, Spiderman, Pirates, Ninjas, The Decemberists, NASA, Narnia, Harry Potter, and so much more all are common interests from most of my friends, sometimes, the same person. Unlike any one field, geeks tend to have an extremely wide range of interests, and while not everyone likes every single element, or just a single one. Reconciling the wide range of franchises and interests that most geeks partake in is close to impossible, where the interests lie with just about everything. A geek, in the larger sense of the word, is essentially someone with a dedicated interest in something – an expert, master, obsessive.
I believe that the speculative fiction genre, which is a sort of umbrella for SciFi, Fantasy, Horror, Gothic and Weird fictions, appeals particularly to geeks because of the immersive and encompassing nature of some of the content. Science Fiction, when done properly, can be literary, scientific, heroic and interesting, all at the same time. There’s deep roots to the genre, going back to mythology, but as time moves on, literary influences and scientific advances add on as time goes on. Even when franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek pop up (not to mention things like Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Farscape, Stargate, etc), the longer storylines, characters and events add in a lot of information to be gone over.
The genre also is one of the rare ones that really translate well over various mediums. Fiction, non-fiction, comic books and graphic novels makes up a lot of the paper content, but video games, films, television shows, online shorts and web comics come across extremely well. The cultural additions that things such as Star Trek and Star Wars have contributed are astounding. Even if someone’s never seen the films, they’ll generally recognize the Vulcan hand gesture, or the deep breathing of Darth Vader.
There’s a hidden set of values within this sort of interest on the part of geeks. While geek interests been characterized as childish, foolish, a waste of time and so forth, like trying to nail down the definition of the social type, geek values transcend the content, and go more towards the method. There are some exceptions here, especially if one can make a career or living out of what they like to do. Geeks are attentive to detail, and this is a good thing. While the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres are largely passed over by academia, many of the lessons that the traditional mainstays of literature and fiction can be taught with science fiction book. As a student, I was often bored by some of the readings that were assigned: I couldn’t see any practical value in Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter, but when it came to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, the lessons were something that I still value today. The same is most likely true with others. Where people, especially geeks, might be uninterested in one thing, their focus and obsession with what they are interested in is something that can be used as a teaching tool. Some of the biggest industry leaders are geeks, because of their attention to detail, intelligence and vision.
These are good things. A population that is ready, willing and interested in learning is something that is invaluable in today’s society. In a time when there is a perception of apathy with today’s youth when it comes to learning, the right avenues need to be sought out and used, encouraged and nurtured. I firmly believe that my ability and interest to read is one of the key foundations of how I perceive and approach the world. Should I ever have children, they’ll be fed a diet of all sorts of foundations of literature, going back to the Greeks. While I’ve had people question why I’ve read hundreds of Star Wars books, keep hundreds of books in my apartment, and why I’m constantly reading or watching a television show, I point to how these things spark new interests, thoughts, ideas, concepts and so forth, in my mind.
Moreover, the geeks of today are curious, questioning. Science Fiction often is associated with the question: “What If?”, something that is incredibly important in all walks of life. Without that question, humanity never would have crossed the oceans, travelled to the moon or examined something that they weren’t sure about. This, combined with a good education, is something that can be learned from the Geek community.
Plus, Geeks are just damn cool. So, today, on Geek Pride Day, be nice to your friendly, neighborhood geek. In all likelihood, they have some thoughts on world domination, and I can tell you, the high school bullies of the world won’t fare well.