Geek Love (and More Complex Emotions)

Our home base, Comicazi, was recently featured in the Boston Globe’s style section as a top place to “find your inner geek,” as the article declared. It was exciting and some great press for the store.  However, it also raised the hackles of some die-hard fans of the shop, who felt like labeling comics and gaming as “geek” hobbies cast them in a negative light – the realm of socially awkward misfits.

This was not exactly the intention. The article was written in an empowering manner – You’re a geek and that’s awesome! –  and even draws parallels between geeks and Boston Brahmins, the wealthy elite of the city in the 18-1900’s. However, I think this raises a  larger issue that isn’t just about taking back the word geek. It’s about subcultures in general and whether they’re desirable – do you want your hobby to be part of a subculture, whether it’s currently a fashionable one or not – or do you want it to be considered culture, period?

I am a geek

Photo by Julia Roy from Flickr.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s also SOMEWHAT about the historically negative connotations of the words nerd and geek. I myself have a terrible habit of presenting some of my hobbies – comics, or fantasy novels, for example- as “super nerdy” to people I don’t know well, as if apologizing for them, and I don’t know why. Not only are most of them, regardless of their interests, not going to judge me, no one ever has. In high school I was as much of an outcast as everyone ever was (I’ve never met anyone who didn’t  feel that way a little) but it was never because of my hobbies. There are no foaming carton caricature jocks or cheerleaders waiting to laugh at my love of the Flash, and if there were, why would I care? So clearly it’s about my own internalized geek shame, which means the word isn’t as reclaimed as we might like. Real humans don’t care that you have all of your old Star Wars action figures (or they think it’s awesome) but popular culture still uses those hobbies as shorthand for loser (see The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Big Bang Theory, Beauty and the Geek.)

Society’s view of geekdom.

So, those demons aside, what do we get out of embracing the geek label, by claiming it for the smart iconoclasts who invent new technologies and make new fashion and bring you killer action movies? I guess you get to be different, and special and feel like you belong to part of a community of people who like what you like, who get you. And that’s a very human, understandable thing to want. The danger may come, however, in who gets left out of that safe haven.
I think part of the proliferation of this clubhouse mentality comes from yet another angle of the “geek” reclamation, which is marketing. You have a website, say, where you want to sell some funky products that relate to sci-fi movies and fantasy novels. Or one where you collect images of totally awesome stuff in that vein. How will you make sure the right people can find your site? What do video games and Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and zombies all have in common? Well, I guess we could say that the people who traditionally like them are…geeks. But super-cool geeks, right?

Is it? Should it be? Do we really believe it?

And thus, the issue perpetuates itself. And maybe that’s okay, and we don’t need a new word or way of looking at things, we just need to take back the old ones. But I’m not totally convinced yet, because I keep coming back to the idea that liking those things doesn’t have to make you geeky, and that we want everyone to find and love these things – don’t we?

You don’t have to call yourself something special in order to love cartoons or Muppets or larping or the X-Men. Those things are for everybody who wants them. Or at least I think so – what do you think? Share your ideas about the geek reclamation with us in the comments!



  1. Jason D.

    Maybe it’s just me, but in light of how popular culture has portrayed for the last couple of decades as it being cool, popular, accepted, and respectable to be ignorant and unintelligent, it’s nice to see a trend in the other direction. Should everything be “geeky” or “nerdy?” Maybe not. Should we start realizing that it goes beyond the stereotype borderline hipster looks? Yes, absolutely. I think we should embrace the positives that have come along with this – not being ostracized for being intelligent, not being isolated for being unashamed of being a ravenous fan of something other than a sports team or a political figure.

  2. Scifinds

    Geek? Nerd? I’ve never really thought about it. I’m pretty sure that i am one of them though. Truth be told I don’t actually know what the difference is. I am totally fine being me though so I guess it’s somewhat irrelevant.

  3. tinydoom

    I will admit, my hackles were raised with the first few lines of the article…though then somewhat calmed by the Boston Brahmin mention, cause I love a good turn of the century reference. I will say “I like geeky things”, as social cue to family or co-works who may not be very familiar with my interests. The problem is I think I say it like I’m confessing something…would I say it the same way if I was saying I like the red sox (current season aside-from what I’ve been told)? I think it also depends on context and environment. Sometimes I’m the only person at the lunch table who hasn’t seen the Bachelor(ette), and has read all the Game of Thrones books.

  4. itsthegoog

    I am personally glad that things are turning around, that people are more likely to admit they are passionate about (or feel it’s ok to enjoy) something that’s not just sports. It also gives us more things to get passionate about when the entertainment industry is more willing to take the chance on a movie or tv show that they might have ignored even a decade ago.

  5. Gary

    I also have the habit of “warning” certain people of my collections before they come into my home for the first time. I think I do it because of the amount of things that I have on display and also because of the negative stereotype that still somewhat exists. That being said, I am becoming more comfortable sharing my love of my hobbies with new people that I meet. Whether they think it’s cool or weird doesn’t matter to me anymore. I am who I am and as I get older being labeled a geek or nerd just means that I am part of a large community that is passionate about what they like.

  6. smalerie

    I’ve had experiences on both sides of the spectrum myself. I have one co-worker who loves the Big Bang Theory and then thinks that is an accurate portrayal of what a night hanging out with my friends looks like. This annoys me a bit because it makes me kinda feel like something on display. “Here is the geek in her natural habitat. Note the Tardis blue finger nail polish as she holds her Green Arrow comic book in preparation for her Comic Book Book Club. Isn’t she wacky fun?” The other side can happen now-a-days when you find someone else who is a geek and your general enthusiasm as you discuss a certain topic can result in yet another person feeling left out and wishing they new what the IT Crowd was.

    To be honest, I don’t think that there will ever be a solution to the problem. I am assuming that this is all going to swing back and forth. Yes, Hollywood loves comics now, but that will change. And when that changes, what is nerd, dork, or geek going to mean then? This? (check out game board, geek is the second lowest rating you can be)

    For now I am going to enjoy my Avengers movies and fandom themed teas. Because as much as I know popular culture will change, I know that my tastes probably won’t. Get it while the gettin’s good and hope that the entertainment industry will have a lot to offer in the near future, because when/if things start to change, I know my fellow geeks/nerds or whatever, will still have a lot to create and talk about.

  7. Badriya Al-Badi'a

    I see “geek” or “nerd” as indicators of passion or connoisseurship. Obviously gazillions of people enjoy superhero movies, or Hollywood wouldn’t keep making them. The majority of those people probably have a casual interest that is easily satiated, and that’s just fine. The nerd wants more, and wants more detail and depth. The words geek and nerd are used a lot in the dance community in the same way–I’m a dance nerd because I will read ethnographies of the lives of Egyptian women so that I can understand the song lyrics about women better so that I can interpret the music through dance better. Plenty of other people just come to a dance class once a week to have fun, and that’s fine–they’re the bread and butter that keep the community at large afloat, much like movie audiences across the US buying tickets for the Avengers help ensure that those who are truly passionate about such movies get more Joss Whedon films and/or more comic book superhero films. Every community/hobby/genre needs those casual fans to keep their scene going–and on the flip side of things, maybe the geeks and nerds of a scene shouldn’t be dismissive of the casual crowd, because they are the economic engine that keeps our scenes alive. When a scene is trendy, the nerds should enjoy the economic stimulus while it lasts 🙂

    • smalerie

      I like your point about not being dismissive of the casual crowd. No one likes a gate keeper when it comes to enjoying fandom…well unless you are a key master.

  8. Mike C

    Context is pretty important here, as is the specific word used in the original article (“You’re a new NERD in town….”). “Geek” in and of itself is pretty innocuous, and COULD be used to merely indicate avid interest in a particular area. “Nerd” is a lot more loaded, as far as word choices go.

  9. L0B0

    The whole “Geek Chic” thing as a fad kind of makes me sad (ie. seeing someone wear frames with no lenses that look just like the lion club glasses I had to wear when I was a kid, or friends telling me that they were picked called a geek or nerd as kid are now are slightly angered that peoples are following “geek culture” as a trend, once met some one with a Spock T shirt but they did not know what a Tribble or the Gorn was?!) On the other hand it is nice that it is more acceptable these days to “let your geek flag fly”

    I do not know..should Geeks should take the term back? If we have indeed lost it to the trendy cool people.
    Should the Geeks inherit a new term for them selves?

    I prefer the term “Dork” myself, as that is what I call my husband and friends (my husband comes from a family of “Nerds”). I first heard the term “Dork” from my family (I was raised by “Cool” people) as that is what they called me, I still assume it as a term of endearment.

  10. Mel

    I completely relate to this post. I agree that most people feel like predates in high school, in done way, even if they actually weren’t. And the word greek can be used negatively our empowering. And then sometimes the word ledges others out, making it cool to be geeky and those that aren’t are uncool our just don’t get it.

    I dont think it’s as much the weird as how you let the word make you feel. I am a geek. I geek out about comics, movies, video games, zombies, vampires and lots of other sub cultury

    • Mel

      things. (sorry, my phone cut my post in half)

      But own that I am a geek. I define myself as such. I dont apologize. I enjoy the differences between myself and those that dont appreciate everything I do. And I refuse to consider anyone else less than I am because they aren’t into everything I an into our just because they dont always “get it”. The differences we all have is what makes us interesting. And I was one of those others before I became a geek and “got it”. So, I guess my rambling is just me saying embrace who you are!

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