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Paradigm of the Geek

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In the beginnings of her posh new blog Geek Philosophy, MaryAnn lays out her Paradigm of the Geek:

Geek is entirely positive, as far as I’m concerned. To be a geek is to enjoy a self-awareness of one’s obsessions, but it’s more that, too: it’s to enjoy everything that goes with being a geek… There’s self-awareness that goes along with being a dork, but also a bit of embarrassment. At those moments when I haven’t quite fully absorbed the paradigm shift that goes along with celebrating geekiness, and I feel momentarily like a bit of a weirdo, dork does the trick… I can never be a nerd, in my glossary, however, because a nerd has absolutely no awareness of his or her nerdiness. If you think you’re a nerd, you are, by my definition, emphatically not one.

First time I read that, I thought “Yup, sure, OK.” But the more I thought about it, the less her definitions worked for me…especially after the discussion Brian and I had on the way to work this morning. I’m not saying that MaryAnn’s wrong because we all define our geekdom in our own ways–and anyways, it’s not her “geek” definition I have the problem with. It’s the other two.

(Might it be that I don’t disagree with her definition of “geek” because that definition is positive and I define myself as a geek? Could be. C’mon…would I have started up Moviegeekz and the rest of the Geekz Empire if I didn’t have positive associations with the word geek?)

To me a nerd is someone who’s way, way too far into knowledge, into schoolwork, into the minutae of their interest or pursuit. Their enthusiasm for getting their learn on always mystifies those not possessed of their same level of nerdiness–even nerds in different disciplines. Nerds also tend not to be quite as well-rounded as geeks (and yeah, I think most geeks are reasonably well-rounded…our interests might overlap each other, but we have many interests nonetheless).

I’d imagine most professioal scientists fall into the nerd category. By definition they have to be so excited by and knowledgable of their area of expertise that you could hang the nerd hat on them pretty easily. (Yes, crass generalization, I know, but that’s the nature of this kind of discussion, is it not?)

The nerds are the self-aware: they’re not good at dealing with or relating to non-nerds, but they usually know it. They’re usually self-aware enough to know to avoid certain kinds of people or certain kinds of situations. Think back to the 80s classic Revenge of the Nerds–those guys knew exactly how the rest of the world saw them. (And as my boy Brian pointed out this morning, that might have been the first movie to show the nerds not only winning the fight with the cool kids but to show nerds having sex. Inspirational stuff, that.)

Dorks, on the other hand, tend not to be smart enough to really be geeks or nerds. I’m not saying dorks are necessarily stupid, they might be decently smart in their own right, but they don’t have the laser focus of the nerd or the broader interests of the geek. More importantly, though, is the dork’s complete and total lack of social skills and the complete and total lack of self-awarness of that lack of social skill. Most dorks don’t know they’re dorks. Dorks are more than happy to try to talk to Krissi Hardbottom, Head Cheerleader, and don’t seem able to pick up the clues Krissi gives them indicating how little that conversation is appreciated (and by “clues,” I mean “mace”).

I’m going to break this down using one of the best TV shows of the late Nineties, the appropriately named “Freaks and Geeks.” (If you haven’t seen this show, go watch the DVD set. It’s second only to “Firefly” in my List of Goddamn Good TV Shows Which Were Fucked Over By Their Network and Cancelled Unfairly.) The show was based around two different groups of kids in a suburban Detroit high school: the “freaks” were the burnout friends of Lindsay Weir (the delectable Linda Cardellini) while the “geeks” were her brother Sam (John Francis Daley) and his two friends Neil and Bill.

Sam was a geek. He aspired to more than the ostracism and humiliation he regularly suffered as a freshman, and you could see that there was a cool person inside of Sam waiting to get out when he got older. (Hell, he even got to date a cheerleader for a little while, though that didn’t stick.) But that coolness was still a ways off when he was 13–Sam was all about science fiction and Dungeons and Dragons, just like his friends.

Neil was a nerd. His future as a dentist (a good nerd occupation) was pretty much lined up for him already. And Neil wasn’t the least big cool. He liked to pretend that he knew what girls liked and talked constantly about them, but inside he knew that it wasn’t going to happen for him. Neil likely would grow up to experience his thrills vicariously through Sam until he got to college.

But poor Bill was just a dork. He shared the same interests as Sam and Neil but he just wasn’t that bright and didn’t have the grasp on those interests that his friends did. And his interpersonal skills were so poor that even his friends could barely stand to be around him sometimes. I honestly have no idea what might have happened to Bill by the time he became an adult…he certainly didn’t seem to have any useful future in him.

So, with all due respect to MaryAnn, that’s my take on it. I was definitely a dork in middle school, eventually realized how pathetic I was and transitioned to nerddom in high school. And now I’m a geek. And you know at what point I officially graduated from nerd to geek? That’s right…when I started having sex.

Written by Allen

June 3rd, 2005 at 11:26 pm

Posted in Pop Culture,TV

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One Response to 'Paradigm of the Geek'

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  1. Insightful, truthful, and well written, your post lays out Aristotle’s rule of 3 re: the geek culture.

    I suppose that I am a nerd. But, I suppose that I’ve spent the better half of my 30 years trying to either a) come to terms with that fact; b) ignore that fact and be something else; or c) reconcile that fact with the other fact–that I am/sometimes/can be a cool guy–I think. And that last tag, the “I think” is what will forever mark me as a nerd.

    I love your blog, Allen. Good stuff. I enjoy reading it, and I’m sorry that we’ve fallen out of touch.

    Take care,

    The Newberry

    Jeff Newberry

    5 Jun 05 at 8:05 pm

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