Thursday, January 24, 2008

the geeks

It is extremely fashionable - perhaps even imperative - to call oneself a geek these days. The word seems to have slid from guy who bites off chicken's heads to amateur/enthusiast in a relatively short time (this process, by which the meaning of a word slides up the scale of social acceptability, is called amelioration. The opposite phenomenon is pejoration. Isn't that just tuff?). People who roast their own beans may call themselves coffee geeks; the weather forecasters for Fox Boston call themselves weather geeks - although little alarm bells go off in my head when someone gleefully downgrades their professional life to amateur status. Many personal webloggers would call themselves geeks, and throw in a Hyuk-hyuk or two to seal the deal. And if they don't, then I will.

Maybe it's an ironic defense of specialization in this era of the technocrat triumphant. Or maybe people are marketing their hobbies in the big social agora. Whatever it may be, I think that geek as a term has spread too far. Like a broken yolk in a pan, it's ruining the sunny-side up experience for the rest of us. I'm a metaphor geek, hyuk-hyuk!

After visiting a comic book store today, I think it's time to restore the word to its best and brightest bearers: the boys and grown men who spend their days at comic book stores.

First I should admit that I was in the comic book store to buy a comic book, which is an undeniably geeky thing. Second, I was looking for a specific comic to complete a collection, which is doubly geeky. To top it off, that comic was the first issue of the new 'season six' Angel. That's right - I'm one of those quietly creepy Whedon fans, the ones who seem normal until they drop the term 'Whedonverse' into a conversation. Am I really a pale, lonely woman with a closet full of floral dresses, a cat named Miss Kitty Fantastico and a bad slash fiction habit? Let me check the mirror... waitasec... oh thank Christ.

It had been nearly a year since I'd visited the store, and the layout had changed substantially. If I had to guess, I'd say that revenues from comics had been dropping, and the real money lay in gaming. Fully one-half of the floor space had been cleared for gaming tables. There were grid maps and little castles and painted figures everywhere. Each table was surrounded by a little clutch of people, all male, mostly around fourteen years old, but the age grid had a few squares from the upper ranges filled in as well. The older guys dressed the same as the kids, so it was hard to tell unless their faces were in full view. They were speaking a language that sounded a lot like English, but it was as jargon-dense as an engineers' convention or a Scientology meeting.

It was entertaining to listen to while I flipped through the racks of comics and lusted after the Alan Moore hardcovers (the latest comes with a pair of 3-D glasses for the final chapter - how awesome is that?). But then they started to make fun of made-up creatures and their made-up weapons from some bullshit made-up world, screeching out "Nooo, I'm so scared" and "Ahhh run away" in smarmy, high-pitched faux-British accents, as if Monty Python comedy applied to the hexagon grid and styrofoam blocks of their game. They weren't even vocalizing events that were playing out at the moment - just chewing the fantasy fat. It was such a wholesale commitment to this collaborative fantasy world that I couldn't conceive of these people leading any sort of life outside. For the thirteen year olds in the crowd, this was not only forgivable but possibly commendable - the geekiest adolescents often turn into the most interesting adults. But the older guys in the crowd, the ones who made a social circle out of these boys, really stunned me.

There are plenty of grown-up gamers out there who lead grown-up lives. Even though I stopped with the Advanced D&D around the age of fourteen, I have lots of friends who have continued gaming into their twenties and beyond. For a while, Magic: The Gathering seemed to be a substitute for poker, complete with cigars and scotch, until Texas Hold 'Em took hold. Another group I know get together every Saturday, slap down a bottle of whiskey and a half-pound of pot, and go to town. They are hardcore gamers with adult interests and psyches of iron. Sometimes they invite me over for an afternoon of drugs and drink and moving little painted guys across a gigantic diorama, but I don't know how I could keep up with them (except for the drink. I can always drink).

Anyway, from now on I'm reserving the word geek for the truly deserving. And I'm going on to my next project: hardcoding subtitles into .avi files so I can watch downloaded foreign movies on my DVD player. Should I use the native subtitle filter with Substation Alpha in Virtual Dub, or should I try the VobSub filter?

4 comments:

Nate said...

I lurve Joss Whedon. I want to be filled up with his babies, and I actually have a plan to make that happen.

bipolarlawyercook said...

I do think it's OK to refer to oneself as a geek IF you were called one by more than one popular kid before the age of 16-- and that subsequent determinations that you were, in fact, cool, do not negate the initial annointing. But that's just me.

lotus07 said...

The sub-title files in the movies I download off of Usenet have been a total mystery to me so far. I can get them, and I can reconstruct them, but I can't figure out how to overlay them onto the avi file of the film......holy shit....I must be a geek as well.....nooooooooooo

palinode said...

nate - Dream big, I always say.

bpcook - I see where you're coming from. In the same way that gay men have claimed 'faggot' or members of the African diaspora have happily taken 'nigger' away from the foul-mouthed crackers, your use of geek seems to be a case of reverse discourse. In the case of young geeks, they eventually outgrow the name and become far more interesting people than the future car salesmen and soccer moms who originally applied the label. Adult geeks have the privilege of no longer being despised or judged for their geek status - what are the CSI and Criminal Minds shows but the elevation of geeks to heroic status? The recent outcries against schoolyard bullying are a clear indicator that the geeks have taken over, and the technique of reverse discourse in geek hands is becoming a perverse signifier of power.

lotus07 - If you're playing your movies on a computer, try using either VLC Player or Media Player Classic. Make sure the movie and the subtitles are in the same folder and that they have the exact same name. For hardcoding subs, I'm just beginning to figure it out. Best of luck with your geekery.

To clarify:
geekery = the state and progress of being a geek.
geekerie = an enclosed structure housing a population of geeks.