I recently read a good article at Cracked.com entitled ‘6 Ways To Be A Better Nerd In 2016’ (and you can, too, at http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-ways-to-be-better-nerd-in-2016/). Author J.F. Sargent put forth some notions I’ve had for a while now, and also set some excellent guidelines for Getting Your Geek On in a Good Way. I will use the term ‘Geek’ here because, apart from the whole carnival-sideshow-chicken-decapitation-with-teeth origin, I prefer it to Nerd. It goes with a delineation I heard many years ago and which I find mostly valid. Nerds are isolationists who live in their parent’s basements long after reaching the age of majority, have likely never slept in the company of another human being, and mentally inhabit the worlds of fancy they so dearly and deeply love. Geeks also have a deep and abiding love of fantasy and science fiction and games and cartoons, but take more delight in the social aspects of bonding with others of a like mind. Geeks manage, sometimes with difficulty, to walk in both the Real World and their fantasy realms, often making parallels or connections between the two. If they are fortunate, they take this sharing to a level of finding similarly wired life partners and are capable of long-term romantic relationships. Geeks get things done, and I attribute much of our current Geekcentric Pop Culture Bonanza to these individuals. To those who have not only made connections between the worlds and genres of wonder they discovered in the pages of comic books, science fiction novels & old movie serials and the Real World, but have guided the non-Geek crowd to discover some of that wonder.
I’m not taking anything away from Nerd-dom. We’re all of us programmed differently, hardwired differently, and have varying life experiences that shape us. Some Nerds I have encountered over the years are so single-minded in their love of their focus world/element, so versed and steeped in it, that they have reached a Nerd-vana so rich, deep and textured that I will never know its like. But that’s because I got married, got a job, and raised a family. Most Nerds I’ve encountered had to choose a path at the Fork of Reality, and they went t’other way. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just divergent. A Super Tolkien Nerd has read, and continues to re-read, each of the Tolkien novels over and over again. He or she may know others similarly involved and may communicate endless insights into plot, character, author and meaning, most likely via an indirect route. Or not. Doesn’t matter, they are good citizens of Middle Earth and they know it as fully as some of us know our own neighborhoods. Probably more. A Super Tolkien Geek is Peter Jackson, who loved the material and managed to lead the film industry producers, studio, actors, writers, artists and other creative folks to bring the pages to life onscreen so that many other non-Geeks could discover & explore Middle Earth with him.
By this train of my logic (and yes, mine can be as faulty as the next person’s, but it’s the railway we’re proceeding upon), the current pop culture trend of TV, movies, books, toys and financial reward cemented in fantasy/science fiction/worlds of What If—? is the result of Geeks who got things done in the Real World. If you are a Geek of long standing, a Geek in training, a Geek conscript sucked in by one of those pop culture elements mentioned, then take a bow and be proud. If you are a Nerd, you probably didn’t get past the Peter Jackson mention because you largely disliked those films, which didn’t even have Tom Bombadil in them, to the heathen and evil detriment to all that his holy, so there. And this is why most of what follows is aimed to resonate with my fellow Geeks, but Nerds are welcome as well.
Geek pride rules today. But we all know about the Prideful Falling Theorem. Pride, as Marsellus Wallace opines, only hurts. It never helps. Broad statement, but it has some grains of truth. Just ask Lucifer. Prideful people, Geeks included, can do some pretty ugly, selfish, petty and messed up things and still Be Okay with it.
Here’s where it gets real. If you have been a Geek for very many decades, or a Nerd for that matter, chances are high that you suffered for your passion. At some time, in some way, the greater population let you know that it was weird to play Dungeons and Dragons, to read pulp novels and comic books, to revel in movies or TV shows about unrealistic stuff. And they made you feel weird for liking those things. It may have been a slight jibe, or it may have been a total social shunning. It may have come when you were young, in which case a slight jibe is a total social shunning. Likely, you sniffed, continued on with your devotion in silence, and let the chips fall on whichever shoulder they chose. You grokked Spock even if everyone else thought he was an expert on infant medicine.
I feel your pain. I walked your path, which was thorny, through no fault of our own. And there’s a line of dialogue delivered by Sandahl Bergman as the thief Valeria in ‘Conan the Babarian’ that burned bright and deep in my closeted Geeky heart and kept me warm for many years: “All my life I’ve been alone. Many times I’ve faced death with no one to know. I would look into the huts and the tents of others in the coldest dark and I would see figures holding each other in the night. But I always passed by. You and I, we have warmth. That’s so hard to find in this world. Please. Let someone else pass by in the night. Let us take the world by the throat and make it give us what we desire.”
Now I had not many times faced death, but the part about being on the outside looking in? Yeah. And the part about, once I’d found fellow Geeks who were into the things I loved, letting the other naysayers pass us by as we sneered at them for their devotion only to the things they considered non-fantastic/weird/realistic? Oh, yeah. “If comics are beneath you, then you can be beneath us, because we have one another and we don’t need YOU to qualify our passion for the graphic novel.”
Geeks coming into their own. It’s a joyous moment, but it’s full of that Pride thing. And let’s face it, it’s as ugly as the non-Geek turning his or her nose up at the things you love most, and you along with it. It’s about as unflattering as the 20th Century denizen-Admiral Kirk exchange in ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home’. “Dumbass!” “Well.. double dumbass on you!” Plus, if one were to apply logic, as Spock would say, it is a mindset quickly shown for what it is:
“You take enjoyment from worlds of fantasy and science fiction, wherein one of the tenants is often reveling in the diversity of humankind, correct?” “You betcha! Gimme a Vulcan salute!” “One of the diversities might take the form of those who do not read, who believe ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ resonated with them spiritually, and who follow all manner of professional sports.” “Oh, screw THAT!” “I am merely positing one possible diversity you might encounter, were the fantasy setting you enjoy played out in the Real World. Also, the Vulcan salute you are now giving me usually consists of several fingers, not simply one. Curious.”
As the Marvel Comics Cinema Universe rakes in money hand-over-adamantium claw, as the top rated TV shows either have to do with a group of super-nerds/mega-geeks and their interaction with the non-nerdy world and each other OR comic book heroes those characters idolize, as graphic novels are finally being looked upon as worthy (in some cases) of the honorific ‘literature, as ‘The Force Awakens’ breaks every box office record known from here to Coruscant to Jakku, Geeks rule the culture. And if you want to make some serious dough, you had best placate us. Yay. Also from ‘Conan the Barbarian’, these words of wisdom: “Wealth can be wonderful, but you know, success can test one’s mettle as surely as the strongest adversary.”
FACT: It’s base human nature for those in charge to treat shabbily those who are not. Or who aspire to become part of the elite. And woe unto those who put up a faux front of being ‘one of the chosen’.
FACT: It’s a common thread in almost everything we love that those who act badly about being in power, from Emperor Palpatine to Supreme Leader Snoke, from Darth Vader to Lex Luthor to President Snow, must eventually and by all rights either redeem themselves (self-sacrifice the preferred method) or prepare to suck it.
FACT: No cultural dominant trend lasts forever. Baby Boomers seem to have the most problem with this, and as one of the late-comers to that generational party, I have witnessed it. But it’s true. Just look at the once-dominant Hollywood fodder force, The American Western. Books, TV, movies, huge celebrity status for Western thespians. Westerns permeated the culture, toys, box office, entertainment receipts and hearts of the public for much of the 1940’s through the 1960’s and early 1970’s. To sell the original ‘Star Trek’, there’s a very good reason Gene Roddenberry condescended his idea for the show to executives as ‘A ‘Wagon Train’ in space’. Nigh-on three decades is a long love affair for any cultural trend, but when it was over, it was really, really over. Like coming come to find the house cleaned out (including the toilet paper rolls on the spindle) and divorce papers taped to the empty kitchen cabinet over.
So what will we, the Geek Gods, do when the last call goes out and the party is over for our basking time in the Sun of Celebrity? Will we have designated drivers and conduct ourselves with honor befitting those who have seen childhood dreams realized and who now step aside for the Next Big Thing to take center stage? Or inebriated on pride and self-importance, will we stagger toward our landspeeders with keys firmly in hand, snarling at anyone who dares say we really shouldn’t drive? Then demand one more round, vowing that we -will- return tomorrow for the party as per recent usual, grope a waitress dressed as Squirrel Girl, be drop-kicked by a bouncer cosplaying Power Man, find ourselves unceremoniously tossed out of the Pop Bar & Grill, and wake up the next morning sore and bitter and wondering why we have a sonic screwdriver pen light in our underwear?
Personally, I’m hoping we can all look around at each another and, grinning ear-to-ear, say as one, “That was a great game. Goodnight, Neverland.” But to do that, to have grace and poise and all the things we generally love in our fantasy heroes when they are on the losing end of fortune, we need to prep. Now. Some probably more than others. But we can and should all make an effort to be Better Geeks in 2016. Here are some ways to begin.
Kill the Elitist in You. As ones in charge, we Geeks have taken to fighting amongst ourselves with a my-fantasy-is-better-than-yours shoulder chip in the Big Game. You love Star Wars. I love Star Trek. The things we like in both make one no ‘better’ than the other. Space Opera is one thing, Science Fiction is another animal. Debate over which is ‘best’ is entertaining if done in a spirit of fun, but bad form when people let their emotions and passions rule. We are a passionate people; we should have a care.
Then Move Onto the One-Better, and Make It a Double Homicide. If we both collect vintage toys, or comic books, or whatever…take enjoyment from doing that and sharing the spirit of nostalgia with one another. Not from crowing that my complete set of 1964-1975 GI Joe action figures puts to eternal shame your Land Adventurer and Talking Astronaut, who by the way, doesn’t even have all his original accessories. If you engage in Keeping Up With Someone Else in the same field to one-better him or her, just stop it. You’re violating the Good Spirit of Geekery. Besides, mundane folks do that over cars and purses, much to our chagrin. How unseemly! Channel Yoda: Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.
Be Thankful. Most of us have lived through lean times when quality fantasy, sci-fi and comic book animated or live action fare was rare. The days when ‘Logan’s Run’ was a quirky little film that piqued our imagination, and The Greatest American Hero and Saturday morning’s Shazam/Isis Hour fulfilled our longing for some on-screen superhero recognition. We now live in a world where we’ve seen a comic book-based movie about a mostly obscure team of aliens with only one human and an anthropomorphic raccoon get made, and made well, with very respectable budgets and attention to the source material, and then set box office records. Where comic book heroes have their own TV shows and air in gazillions of reruns, plus several new weekly shows. I used to wait for the 60 second Equal Employment Opportunity PSA to air because it had the TV Batman show characters in it, and no station we got was running the series reruns. Or Star Trek. Or Lost in Space. So…consider the Geek Feast you’re being treated to, savor it, treasure it. And if you find something not to your liking, something that reminds you of Aunt Carol’s lime jello with cabbage, instead of turning your nose up, be less critical. Be nice. Because chances are, it’s still a dish loved by someone you know.
Be Geek Ambassadors, Not Snobs. So you were laughed at for your ignorance of professional baseball when you tried to contribute to a water cooler discussion of a sports trend or personality. Stings, dunnit? So the BEST thing to do when one of your comic book-ignorant buddies comes to you and asks questions about the next Big Graphic Novel Character getting a screen treatment is to sting him right back by making fun of his lack of basic knowledge of the comic book, by explaining the lack of merit in his questions, and by finally sharing with him your belief that any money he might spend to go see something this deep, this complex, this Geeky grand, would be better tossed down a manhole. If you’re nodding, that was a test. This is NOT the way to behave. Instead, think of that one co-worker, when people were shooting water out their noses at your innocent but naïve sports question or comment, who took a moment to kindly answer, and maybe even explain, what the hell was so funny to everyone else. He’s being a good Baseball Ambassador to the Uninitiated, and you can follow his shining example. It makes you, Geek culture and by osmosis all of the rest of us look good. It also sells a lot more movie tickets and sometimes leads to opening a world of imagination for one who would have passed it by otherwise. Even if there was no one stepping up as that nice Baseball Ambassador for you, here’s your chance to show Geek grace in action. I can’t think of anything more satisfying than someone who asks me about ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (several folks, some who know quite a bit about Iron Man, Thor and Captain America titles, came to me on that one), considers our discussion, watches the film, and then begins reading the current title because it was enjoyable. This is how fandom foundations grow and flourish. And you may even find yourself enjoying a certain Geek Guru status among your peers, their docent to the current entertainment trends.
Don’t Kill the Buzz of the Younger Generation. To you, who was the kid in the front row of Podunk Cinema One in 1977 when ‘Star Wars’ played your town for the first time, those Prequel Star Wars Movies were abominations that should be steadfastly ignored or, better, flailed on the public square with a dose of your most outraged tongue lashing when some ignorant ‘fan-child’ half your age enthuses over them. And the New 52 is, Great Caesar’s Ghost, NOT the DC characters you know and love, thus they are invalid, thus anyone who finds positive things in this Post-Identity Crisis continuity worthwhile is a poopyhead. And don’t even get you started about Superman without his traditional exterior red underwear! This is a brand of Elitist that slowly ages like a fine wine, but turns to vinegar instead (thanks again, Marsellus Wallace). And the sunlamp of guilt shines on my sweaty brow, because I have taken that DC Boomer stance about the New 52. Buuuut…I was just doing what I’d witnessed oldsters do when the ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ books did away with the tatters of Silver Age continuity confusion. Which, as I recall, seemed childish, boorish and many other -ishes I do not w-ish (see what I did there?) to be. So I came to my senses. I reformed. I may not care for most of the New 52 titles (and yes, I have read some to see if they were enjoyable…some were). But I know younger fans who like the darker and edgier version of the iconic DC characters. I won’t tell them that their love of this stripe of fantasy is invalid, because it’s just as valid as my love for the Giffen Justice League was when old timers were screaming for the return of the classic lineup. I WILL take DC to task for writing their iconic characters poorly and for being Corporate Asshats and for their lack of artistic vision when I encounter these things. Because DC has always been better than that, and it can be again. Even with darker, edgier versions of their characters, good writing is good writing. And bad writing is beneath them. Killing Robin(s) is no longer dark and edgy. Been done. It’s now just lazy writing for an easy impact, and there’s far too much of that in comics now. Not just at DC. Instead of playing Statler and Waldorf, listen to these Young Geeks voice how and why they like what they do. You’ll learn something about the timbre of the next gen, and you may also be shown positive parts of the new versions that you missed while lamenting endlessly that these are not your superheroes, Jedi or Federation officers.
Display the Positive Side of Geekery in the Real World. Share the love, and in a positive way for the non-Geek or Casual Geek to take as an example. You know what I mean. Window washers at children’s hospitals dressed as superheroes. Batkid allowed his dream of being Batman thanks to the efforts, imagination and good will of hundreds of Geek and Non-Geek people supporting him. Cosplayers for Christ groups, blending the heroic ideals of superheroes with a love for the One True Superbeing. Fans who donate to comic book funds set up for artists and writers who, in their advanced years and living on fixed incomes, find life difficult. Or donating to help with medical care for professionals like Bill Mantlo, co-creator of the comic book character Rocket Raccoon, featured prominently in the film treatment of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. Bill has been living in a care facility ever since a 1992 hit-and-run accident left him suffering from brain damage. Fans began the effort to help him and his family by donating to an online fund to the tune of the price of one movie admission ticket; ‘If you loved ‘Guardians’, please give a box office ticket amount to the Mantols’. And fans did, a lot. Then Marvel Comics took notice and got in on the good will effort, sharing from their much deeper pockets. It was a shining moment of Geekery-done-right. You can make that sort of a difference. You are imaginative folks, and you own the culture for the now. You actually have a responsibility to do something blisteringly positive, big or small, with that double-barrel shotgun of opportunity. So we’re not Uber-Geek Billionaire Bill Gates. We dont have to be, to volunteer at a no-kill pet shelter, proudly attired in your best Geek-centric, animal-lover t-shirts.
Promote the Heroic Ideal, -and- the Technology. How much of the fantastic fiction and fantasy that we love has impacted he Real World? Well, ‘Star Trek’ inspired legions of folks who went on to become scientists, physcists, space explorers and astronomers. And technology certainly benefits all if cell phones, satellites, and that elusive 2015 hoverboard are any indicators. In fact, the track record of fantasy to reality has a lot of ‘inspired by a story/TV show/film he or she loved as a child, Geek Geekery went into making this dream a reality’ stories. Like the Wonder Twins, inventors of the fist-bump on ‘Superfriends’. So that’s all good, we do that. But what we don’t promote enough is taking the more positive social elements of these imagined worlds (no, not the Dystopian Future sagas we are being treated to today…but maybe the role of rebels shirking oppressor’s yokes) and pursue them in the Real World. That’s harder. We can dream of a voyage to the moon and make it happen, but treat people of other beliefs, other genders, other races or other nationalities with respect and accepting curiosity about how their life experience differs from our own? To aspire to the positive civility we see on every page of our futuristic or fantasy reads? Mmmm. That’s tougher. Which is why we need to try much harder.
I’ve convinced me. I’m going to work harder at being a Geek Ambassador in 2016. If we all do what we can in that cause, we know that it will be a better and a happier New Year!