Stop! You’re Both Right…And Both Wrong #geeks
I’m in the process of writing up a hopefully coherent opinion document on one of my favorite topics, the video game community. It’s essentially a “mega post”, so if you’re one of those tl;dr’ers, then this particular output will be the last thing you’ll want to encounter. Although it’s not a work of sanctioned psychological science, recent activities on the Internet have been brought to my attention which fit perfectly into my framework. They will be included therein, but I wanted to present a short form discussion on these recent events before the document is complete because A) it’s important to stay topical, and B) I don’t expect too many people to make the trek up to the summit of Mount Verbiage once the document is complete and posted. So here’s a kind of abridged version based on events “ripped from the headlines!”
It started off with an article on Forbes.com entitled (I use that term with very specific connotation) “Dear Fake Geek Girls: Please Go Away” In this article, the author attempts to reinforce the delineation between “geeks” and what could charitably called “poseurs” who have co-opted aspects of geek culture and who lay claim to the label of “geek”. A counter-point to this article was brought to my attention shortly after. Here, the author opines that defining oneself as a “geek” shouldn’t be important as adults, that caring about labeling oneself at all is “so high-school”, and that adults should define themselves using adult touchstones – and not in the way we may have defined ourselves when we were younger.
Well, both are kind of right, but I think both are far more in the wrong.
The author of the original post defines herself as a geek by listing off her “credentials”. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her claims in any way, shape, or form. It’s not a protective mechanism. It’s not a holdover. It’s not pathetic. I’m not a psychologist, but I’m pretty sure that there’s a mountain of studies done on early human development in social societies, and like it or not, where we fall in the social pecking order early on can affect us for the rest of our lives. For geeks like the author of the original piece, being a geek before being a geek was “cool” isn’t just a lifestyle, it’s part of her definition that she values. Her argument stems from her desire to maintain what she considers to be a part of her identity, which she feels is at risk of being diluted by mainstream culture that didn’t “pay the dues” that the socially unacceptable geeks did when it wasn’t cool to be a geek. There is an undeniable difference between those who aspire to geekdom, and those who have had geekdom thrust upon them.
The problem, however, is that no one appointed this woman as the gatekeeper of geek culture. Yes, Elder Geeks – elders of any kind, actually – look upon the upstart generations with stink-eye, but there’s little to nothing that the elders can do about it. There’s no membership ritual, no licensing board, no annual fees that can be used to accept or reject applicants. The fact that geeks were originally ostracized and forced to create a sub-culture outside of their control carries with it a sense of “we built this out of a bad situation” vibe, but in 2012, commoditization is a powerful incentive, and like nature, business opportunity hates a vacuum. Geekdom is being packaged and sold outside the walls of it’s little kingdom, and there’s nothing us Elder Geeks can do about it except to ensure that it’s actual, honest geekdom that is passed along the to the next generation, and not some watered down, shrink-wrapped stereotype that is the favored shorthand of Madison Ave.
As for the response article, I repeat much of what she says here: it’s not a geek’s place to “police” the sub-culture, the recognition of cub-cultures attempting to maintain the bulwark between “us” and “them”, and so on. She seems to argue from the point of the mainstream despite establishing her credentials as another “geek”. She seems far more interested in not being labeled as anything, and I came away with the feeling that her bottom line was “grow up”.
I’m 38. I’m married, with a child. I have a nice house. I have to worry about changing light fixtures, and taxes, and mowing the lawn, and getting my daughter on the school bus every morning. I have a job, and the universe of responsibilities that such a claim entails. So, I am a husband, a father, a home-owner, an employee, a friend to many. I am grown up…and I am a geek. Just because I am an adult, long since out of high school, doesn’t make that any less true. I choose not to dilute that aspect of my identity or to set it aside simply in the name of “growing up”, and I don’t mind labeling myself so long as I get to choose the label, because I know I’m calling a spade a spade: I AM a geek. We label ourselves all the time, although in more inconspicuous ways. When people engage in conversation with a person they just met, one of the first questions people ask each other is “what do you do?” If we eschew labels, then the proper response is “I eat, breath, move around, excrete…the usual.” What we offer instead, however, is our employment status. The first person asks you to label yourself, and we oblige by identifying ourselves as what we do for a living. Adults indeed.
I understand and accept that the percentage of geekdom in other people may change over time, and that’s fine. People’s lives are organic and pliable. Life experiences can lead a person to reconsider the importance of different aspects of their identities if they so choose, so for this particular author, she chooses not to define herself as a geek. But that doesn’t mean that what’s good for the goose is good for gander: just as the first author has not authority to be telling non-geeks to stay off her lawn, this second author has no business taking someone task for choosing to be true to the part of their identity that they value so highly.
I tend to lean more towards the motive of the first article, although I don’t agree with the vehicle. I am afraid I can’t really get behind the second article since it seemed so defensive and, at times, insulting. I see and agree with elements of both arguments, and I submit that both do make some valid points. However, I think that both articles are deeply flawed, and end up fanning more flames than either extinguishes.
Geekdom as a sub-culture is not going away. Until the last member of Generation X dies out, there will be people who grew up as part of a sub-culture that was forced out, but who have made that experience part of who we are. We don’t have to apologize to anyone for defending what good was made of a painful part of our lives: we were bullied, excluded, and lonely, and that is part of who we are, now, and forever. But we have grown up to become responsible adults with adult responsibilities. We may even finally like who we are, and if we remove our geekdom from that identity, we wouldn’t be who we are. Asking an Elder Geek to “get over it” is like asking anyone else who has experienced trauma in their lives to “get over it”. Our experiences may not have been on par with more horrific experiences some have had growing up, but we’ve had the fortunate opportunity to turn our misfortunes to our advantage, to fold those bad times into something good. We’re damn proud of what we’ve been able to overcome, and to become, and there’s no way in hell we’re going to give it up.
We shouldn’t be barring the gates to the next generation either. At some point, we do need to let our culture fly on it’s own power. We can’t steward it forever. If we want to ensure that the culture is treated with the respect we believe it deserves, we need to relay that importance ourselves, and not abdicate that duty to those who only want to exploit it for profit. We need to welcome anyone who wants in to the circle so we can fold them in properly, and we shouldn’t worry about maintaining our exclusivity or our “cred”. That really doesn’t matter, which is a point from the second article I really agree with. We know who we are, as Elder Geeks, because it’s who we are. That should be enough.