The Joy of Geeks

“The value of myth is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity.” (CS Lewis)

It’s the 43rd anniversary of Doctor Who today. I know such things because I’m a geek. How do I remember the date of the Kennedy assasination? Because it happened the day before the first episode of Who was broadcast, and is therefore locked into my memory while things that haven’t been a major part of geek-lore, like, say, the Gunpowder Plot remain adrift in history. I can handle this; what I lack in being able to remember the dates of major events I make up for by riding the Geek Force and being a major information junkie. Like today, for instance; I was searching for something on the Learning and Skills Council website, when I came across a page with a paragraph of Latin on it. What was this? Some intellectual hacker expressing his views on the state of the UK’s Further Education sector? A webmaster getting bored? A DaVinci Code style conspiracy pointing to the truth behind the British government via one of their websites?

Some people would shrug and move on to something else, and this is the difference between the geek and the non-geek. Because I had to find out what that Latin text said, had to know, even though the lack of free online Latin translation programs was a hindrance, even though I’d’ve been forced to find a Latin dictionary and figure it out word by word if necessary. In the end, Google was my friend, and I learned all about Lorem Ipsum. Not what I expected, but there’s nothing wrong with that; heck, if it’s what you expect, it’s not exactly learning, right?

So anyway, all this has got me thinking about geekdom and what it means, and you know what? I have no answers. I think I know why I like geek culture. A lot of that is the trivial stuff – I like the in-jokes, the community, the fun and excitement and anticipation when a good geek project is in the works. I like being able to go onto message boards and discuss the obscure-to-the-point-of-non-existant clues in DC’s 52. I like the idea of being able to go to Youtube and watching fan videos that only geeks will understand.

But that’s only a part of it, probably only scratching the surface. I think the major part is related to the quote from Lewis I opened with. Geek culture – and I’m thinking largely of sci-fi and fantasy here, although I think the more technological side of things, science and programing and whatever, also has linkages to this idea – is partly a way of re-enchanting the world. A lot of people react against this – anything that smacks of the unusual or ‘unrealistic’ is dismissed as being far-fetched and silly. And to an extent, I can see where they’re coming from, because when this re-enchanting is done badly, it just doesn’t work, it looks false – you can see the joins in the costumes and the ropey CGI and that’s all it is. 

But what people don’t get is the magical moment when you can see the zip in the monster costume and you just don’t care.

See, that’s why the smart-alec criticisms of stuff like old school Doctor Who and the original Star Trek are pointless. We know the production values are terrible. We know they were made on a budget of 57p, and sometimes they’re cringeworthy and a bit too disco. We’re not blind, you know, we know there are flaws. But we can get beyond that, because when the geek force is with something, a movie, a TV show, a book, a comic, a t-shirt, a conversation, an image, all the surface stuff falls away and we catch a glimpse of something deeper, something that connects with us. Myth, I think, the idea that the world is deeper than its surface, the sense that stories and songs and strange images that stick with you have as much meaning and power as nuclear fusion and real politick.

So yeah, I’m a geek, and I’m proud. Because I can look at a wardrobe and see the world that lies beyond it. I can’t shake the feeling that phoneboxes should be way bigger on the inside than they actually are. And why shouldn’t we be able to tie a sheet around our shoulders and pretend we can fly? Works for Superman.

There’s a column in Doctor Who Magazine (a true legend of geekdom if ever there was one) written by Russell T. Davies. The most recent, issue 376, talks about Davies’s love for being involved in the show and the geeky moments you only get to experience if you’re involved with some sort of fandom. And it’s sweet and funny and true, and then it gets to the final paragraph, where Davies talks about a taxi driver who, upon hearing that Russell produces Doctor Who, starts talking about his daughter, about how much she loves the show, about how she can quote the DVDs and name the monsters and all the geeky things involved with loving something as daft as a show about a man who flies around the universe in a policebox and who fights monster and killer robots every other day.

“Well, I look at her sometimes,” says the taxi driver, “and I think ‘where d’you get that from?’ Cos it’s not from me. Y’know, you can’t help thinking. Whether her mother was tupping about…”

And you read that with sadness, because it’s just a stupid, shallow thing to say. And it’s a part of the geek experience, I’d guess, that alienation, partly self-inflicted because you insisted on wearing Spock ears to a job interview, but partly out of the blue and undeserved, and you wonder whether there’s something wrong with you, get paranoid when psychologists suggest this mode of thinking is related to Aspergers and autism, get annoyed when some z-list ‘celebrity’ disses all the things you love because of a moment when the magic failed and you see the man behind the wizard’s curtain.

But as I posted yesterday, I’m 30 now. And I think if nothing else, I’m past all that. My name is Matt, I’m a geek and I’m proud. I get the in-jokes in superhero movies, and I can name 95% of the Transformers. And I don’t care, because the minute I can look at a wardrobe and not wonder if something lies beyond it is the moment something inside of me withers and dies.

The world is sometimes too familiar. We need to see it with new eyes sometimes, if we’re to save it in whatever small way we can. So let geekdom ring, and wonder if somewhere out there is a man who can fly, wonder if there’s someone out there fighting the monsters and re-enchanting the world just enough to give us all a chance to save it.


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