On Geekery – Part 1, in which a Premise is Established.

[To be reposted on Nerdfighters]

There are many quotes about geek culture that say basically this:

Or this:


Now, I’ll be the first to admit that one major pillar of geekery is  enthusiasm, often quite extreme enthusiasm for something or other. It is enthusiasm, often shameless and uninhibited, that brings forth a squee. It is our enthusiasm that slides a stiff cocktail of endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine down the bar inside our brains, and it feels so good that we often become evangelists for our favorite authors, tv shows, movies, comics, blogs etc.

However, enthusiasm alone does not quite cut it. How does one explain things like cosplay, conventions, Geek Rock, Nerdcore, fan fiction, fan-made parodies, tribute art, and the myriads of forums, discussions and reviews out there with simple enthusiasm? I propose that geek culture has at least two pillars: Enthusiasm for Things, and the Will to Participate in them.

The Will to Participate is not a wish, nor is it a simple desire. The Will to Participate is an imperative: someone who feels it simply has to realize it. The circuit-head does not simply wish to build that new Arduino shield – she does her research,  puzzles it out, tests it on a breadboard and she does it! Likewise, the cosplayer is not content to watch, say, Finn and Jake of Adventure Time- he wants to embody them, and he designs and sews a costume that allows him to do so. The reviewers of Channel Awesome don’t grade movies, games, and comics pass/fail – they give full-on narrative evaluations!


…just like my dear Alma Mater…

The list could go on and on. The point is when we engage with something we are enthusiastic about beyond simply watching, reading, or otherwise consuming it, we become geeks. And thus, through paths as diverse as putting together a D&D character sheet, writing songs, or, gee, I dunno- INVENTING CELL PHONES, geeks are taking part in the Infinite Lotus of the Muses.

Geekery, in the tragically common stereotypical view, is limited to historically fringe interests such as science, technology, speculative fiction, fantasy, comic books, and other things that were liable to get you teased, shunned, or at worst beaten up at recess as a kid. It is undeniable that many of us in the geek world share traumatic experiences of alienation, or at least the sense of outsider status in relation to the people a dear friend of mine refers to succinctly as “the sports bar crowd.” To clarify: one expects to hear about comic book geeks, Trekkies, and suchlike, but we almost never hear someone called a Boston Red Sox geek or a Friends-o-phile. A ‘true geek,’ the unspoken rule seems to dictate, geeks out about something beyond the radar of the average Joe, which sets up a very interesting and disturbing value judgement. I do not like this value judgement, nor do I like its corollaries, all of which I will duly cover in the not-too-distant future.

For the nonce, let us leave it here: Geekdom is a culture of enthusiasm and engagement, where passionate people roll up their sleeves, get involved, and add something, large or small, to the things they love. This requires us to be able to cast aside the veil of cool, which allows us the liberated feeling that Simon Pegg talked about. It also requires us to give of ourselves – but we don’t specify what to give or how much to give. That freedom makes some members of the Geekosphere uncomfortable, but we will tease out some of the implications of this premise very soon.

In the meantime, the Bandaloop Mainframe requires your input – how does this premise stand up to your experience as a geek? Let me know!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mae
    Mar 03, 2013 @ 06:36:45

    I’m sorry, but this leaves out many, many geeky friends of mine. Active creation is not the only way to be a geek. What if you merely read every book you can get your hands on, attend the occasional convention (no cosplaying), and are a member of a monthly tabletop RPG group? Are you not a geek? Are you “merely” a nerd? Does conversation count as engagement?


    • bandaloopdeloop
      Mar 03, 2013 @ 06:46:37

      Conversation is the archetypal form of engagement. Whether it’s comparing notes on something you both enjoyed or showing someone else something that you liked and making the case that they would enjoy it, I call that engagement. As for the RPG, even if it’s a pre-made character, you can’t play without having a hand in its creation. It may not be as showy as a great cosplay, but I’d argue that it’s plenty active.


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