Friday, September 26, 2008

Geek Homogenized

Reading through the pages of magazines like Wired and Geek, it's painfully obvious that my kind have finally become socially accepted. But it was not always thus.

Back in the early 70's, when all we had was The Twilight Zone, Star Trek (TOS), Space: 1999 and Logan's Run, it was a lot tougher. We hung out in small groups of two, three, sometimes five, talking softly in our strange language so the ears of the mindless jocks couldn't hear us, our adrenal glands ever ready to fuel our flight reflex. We hid in the library where we exhcanged issues of books, comics and Starlog magazines, reviewed the history of Middle Earth, memorized Monty Python scripts, debated on the deeper meaning of the previous night's Twilight Zone episode.

Our ways were strange to the lesser children, who were more concerned with celebrities, sports figures and team standings than with the principles of warp drive and phaser banks. Girls weren't interested in our four eyed faces and shapeless, unattractive bodies. They didn't care that we knew the names of the men who'd walked on the moon. They didn't care that Jupiter is a gas giant with no surface or that Captain Kirk's middle name was Tiberius. The alpha males taunted us and ostracized us.

Then the supreme alpha geek George Lucas released Star Wars in 1977. Suddenly, every Jack and Jill in the playground (mostly Jack) considered themselves fans of a sci-fi movie. We'd all been anticipating Star Wars for over a year. We'd seen Ralph McQuarrie's conceptual art for the film in Starlog, had read Lucas's early summary of the film. With all this hard knowledge of the film, we figured our popularity would be on the rise then. We were WRONG! Geek was not yet chic.

Star Wars started a process of geekification of American society. Rod Serling had started it by bringing quality sci-fi themes and concepts into Joe Sixpack's living room each week. Rodenberry succeeded in bringing more concepts and ideas in (trailing behind a parade of T&A) with Star Trek. They gave a vision of a much larger universe, both physically and mentally. Other shows built on these early successes, but nobody did it like Lucas. His little patchwork of a film struck gold with an audience he hadn't even counted on reaching--the kids.

And those kids grew up to become adults, fully versed in the basics of geekdom--the minutiae and philosophy of it. In a way Lucas homogenized the complex vision of his predecessors, but that's probably why SW succeeded. The difficult and deep language of science fiction became acceptable (to a certain extent). Even the most cement-headed kid understood that something as cool as Star Wars had its own vernacular, that there were depths to the experience. You had to pick your depth. The geeks digging at the bottom of the ocean made those wading by the shoreline feel inferior somehow.

But somewhere between 1983 and now, geek became cool. Was it the barrage of science fiction movies that came out after the success of Lucas's franchiese? Was it Bill Gates showing what geek power (mated to Edison-like sliminess) could accomplish? Was it society's ever-growing dependence on technology? Whatever it was, geeks are everywhere now. Look at the attendance figures for ComiCon over the past several years. Just about every aspect of the geek life has been co-opted by TV and Hollywood. Dungeons & Dragons, video games, sci-fi, it's all been excellently trashed, cliched and parodied by cartoons, movies and TV shows. The book Ready Player One by Ernest Cline will soon be a major motion picture.  There are even attractive women out there who consider themselves geeks.

So why am I dismayed that society has opened its arms to the subculture of geek? I could cite the dumbing down of the geek lifestyle (thank you SyFy Channel, Peter Jackson, JJ Abrams and even George Lucas). I could cite magazines like Wired that have gone to the Dark Side, using their geek powers to sell shiny, flashy things and ideas. But I guess I miss those days of yore when knowing the difference between an X-Wing fighter and a Y-wing fighter meant something. All the repression me and my geek friends got for being geeks made it mean that much more.

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