Warning: Generalizations ahead.
People often say “I hate to generalize, but…” and I think for the most part we mean it. No one wants to be generalized or labeled yet generalizing and labeling are how human beings process information and make sense of things. Humans need to put things into boxes. We separate, organize, file and store. It’s how we process paperwork, email, and computer files. We catalog our surroundings: plant, animal, genus, species. Unfortunately it’s also how we deal with one another.
The question is, why are some labels more desirable and accepted than others?
I’ll be the first to admit that the labels assigned to me are generally thought of as being negative.
I struggle with my weight so I am labeled as fat and by association, probably lazy and unhealthy. Neither of which is really true.
I went back to school later in life than most so at school I was old and by association uncool. In some ways I’ll agree with that statement. I am at a different point in my life than my classmates so I find different things fun. On the few occasions I went out and did things with my law school contemporaries, I felt ridiculous. It just wasn’t me. I had been there, done that, and moved on.
Another label that could be used to describe me is goth. I like gothic and industrial music. On the rare occasion I go out to a club, I prefer that it be a goth club (or a gay bar. Drag shows are fun). I love gothic clothing and architecture and identify strongly with the goth community. In my experience, goths (and here, I really hate to generalize) tend to be intelligent and open-minded people who happen to enjoy a certain aesthetic. The “scene” is really not as weird and mysterious as people think. That said, because we are open-minded and extremely accepting, we do tend to collect a wide range of societal misfits, for lack of a better term. We are also easily identifiable as well as easily misidentifiable. The goth label is slapped on all sorts of subcultures who coincidentally prefer to wear black and that’s really not our fault. Because of a few bad seeds though, the entire community has gotten a bad rap. I assure you, we really aren’t going around sucking people’s blood, holding satanic rituals, or shooting people. For the most part, we are peace loving people who just want to be left alone.
Nerd, geek, dork. In my opinion these are different things but that’s a post for a different day. Whatever you want to call me, I never lost my love of cartoons. I read comic books and graphic novels. I enjoy science fiction. I go to conventions. My favorite past-time is playing lengthy strategic board games. I pride myself on being intelligent. I have a graduate degree. I feel more at home in a game and comic shop than I do in a clothing store. I like t-shirts with funny sayings on them. I am of the opinion that pig-tails are cute no matter how old you are. I like to wear silly socks and underwear. I play with toys. I think it’s perfectly okay for adults to roughhouse and play. I enjoy building forts inside the house just to get inside them with my dogs and read a book. I own lightsabers and nerf weapons and I use them on a very regular basis. I carry a Batman lunch box. I like to read but prefer fantasy to romance. I’m an Avatard and a Whovian. I hate chick flicks and love action movies. I don’t like dressing up and only occasionally wear make-up. I see nothing wrong with any of this. I think this stuff makes me kind of awesome. I have found though, unless you also like these things, all of the above is very frowned upon.
So I wonder, what is it about geekdom, or whatever you want to call it, that makes it so socially undesirable?
Is it that we take it too far? Those of the geek persuasion often do have a habit of superliking things to the n-thousanth degree. My boyfriend Andy is a perfect example. Every time he starts a new role playing game he becomes obsessed with whatever world it’s set in. Recently he ran a Deadlands campaign, which is set in the American Old West. Suddenly he was all about cowboys. We ate beef jerky like it was going out of style. We went to the Old West Festival. He began reading books about the old west, buying old west clothing, old west weapons, and even stared a Deadlands blog and began waxing his mustache. The cool part for me was that I FINALLY, after years of trying, got him into Steampunk! (add Steampunk to the above list of stuff I really like)
Before long the guys got tired of Deadlands and decided to move on to Star Wars. Andy was already a huge Star Wars fan so I wasn’t expecting too much of a change. Hah! Silly me. Andy went Star Wars crazy. Star Wars RPG every other week plus playing Star Wars: The Old Republic in his free time as well as reading and re-reading all of the RPG books and the Legacy graphic novels. He also bought a 47″ TV for the basement, which I suspect was strongly motivated by his scroll.
You know that scrolling text at the beginning of every Star Wars movie? Well, Andy has incorporated that into his bi-weekly gaming session. Before they play they all sit down and read the story synopsis on a perfectly timed recreation of the opening scroll, complete with soundtrack. He also plays the movie soundtracks in the background as they play and remotely changes the selection to match the action. Seriously, my boy’s a world champion nerd when he puts his mind to it.
A sampling of Andy’s Star Wars related purchases over the past couple of months.
The sad thing is, I’m not really much better. 2 weeks ago I started watching Doctor Who. 8 episodes into the series I discovered I had a mostly full can of blue paint tucked away in my basement. I had my very own Tardis door before I even finished season 1.
I mean, it wasn’t totally unreasonable. It’s just the laundry room door and it already had a cat door cut into it anyway. Besides, I already had the paint and well, our house is the kind of place that needs a Tardis door, in my opinion.
But back to my original point, is it the fact that we take our fandoms too far that make geekdom undesirable? Is what we do really any different than say, a sports fan who collects team memorabilia and memorizes player stats? I used to work with a guy who has a Steelers room in his house. It wasn’t even a useful room, like a Steelers themed guest bedroom or something. It was literally an entire room full of nothing but miscellaneous Steelers crap. I mean, we don’t even go that far. As much as we like Star Wars, we don’t have a Star Wars room. Even our game room is more of a multi-purpose room, really.
I won’t even get started on religious nerds, because this video does it much better than I could.
Well, I fail at links. Computers aren’t really my thing. Copy / paste or Google “College Humor religious people are nerds” It’s hilarious and totally worth watching.
My second theory as to why “geek” or other variations thereon has such a negative connotation is that some superfans seem incapable of shutting up about what they like, no matter how boring it is to the person they are talking to. I’m sure I probably do it too but oh boy, I say, “you’re boring me so I am walking away now” a lot. But here again, I don’t understand how rambling on about the Marvel reboot or your latest gaming campaign is any different than when other people talk about the boring things they enjoy.
I mean, in my opinion, sports fans are just about the most boring people in the world. Unfortunately though, it is so acceptable to be a sports fan that to not be a sports fan is just as likely to make you a pariah as is anything I’ve talked about thus far.
The same holds true for interest shopping, designer clothes, popular TV shows, and anything else that doesn’t interest me. Yet when people gather around the water cooler, these are the things they talk about. So where does that leave me? What I get from all of this is, it’s not okay to like the things I like and it is also not okay to not like the things I don’t like. Am I really that weird for enjoying the things that I enjoy while not enjoying others?
Is it really so fundamentally wrong to carry a Batman lunchbox and wear combat boots with kitty cat faces on the toes? It may sound trivial but after 37+ years of not fitting into mainstream society I’m really baffled by these questions.
Could it simply be that as a whole geeks or nerds or whatever people want to call us are simply less concerned with outward appearances? Are the mainstream masses truly just sheep who spend all their time trying to fit into some socially acceptable mold? Or is everyone like me, only able to see the world from my one-dimensional perspective while feeling completely baffled by the thoughts and actions of everyone else? While I’m sure the need to belong and be surrounded by others of like tastes and interests is why we catalog, generalize, and stereotype in the first place, it doesn’t answer the question of why some labels are good and some bad. How, when, and why does society decide that sports fan is better than sci-fi fan. It’s very perplexing to me. Anyone? Bueller?