It’s one of the most satisfying facts of life: The Geeks at school always turn out to be the cool ones
Never was a truism truer. I suppose the whole concept of ‘Geek’ we are presenting here…packaging and illustrating for you; is entirely postmodern. Geek as we know it is a happy jumble of codes and symbols: be it a certain pair of spectacles or taste in music or preference for library books over Amazon.com (or vice versa.) It’s impossible to define really and trying to do so only opens a box full of paradoxes. Is a Geek one who prefers the obsolete charm of The Floppy Disk or rather the whiz kid who blasts their way through unchartered technology; breaking new ground? The boy in the lo-fi anti-folk band wearing ridiculously oversized glasses or the antisocial boy without a haircut in a stained parka wearing whatever nondescript glasses they gave him at the opticians? ‘Geek Chic’ (here explained by the lovely Ravi: see back cover) is basically a series of garments reclaimed from naffness. Is modern day Geekery all about reclaiming stuff…rescuing it from cultural deletion and using it to tell a story about your own non conformity? Or is it all about what’s inside… the spirit of Geek?
We define the Geek as somebody with passion: who flaunts that passion without shame…regardless of social implications or ideas of normalcy. Geeks are a bit odd. A bit off balance. Obsessive. Compulsive attention to minute detail. Exhaustive. Passionate. Although the whole Geek-look thing is a guaranteed shortcut to hipster-dom, the true essence of a Geek is the antithesis of a hipster. Hipster-cool is all about accidental style… “oh this plaid shirt and these American Apparel y-fronts and tube socks just happened to be at the foot of my bed and I just threw them on, and oh these glasses I just sort of found them in this (made-up) charity shop for two pence and oh this tattoo just sort of fell from the sky onto my arm…actually I was born with it on me…” All it really is all that, is pretending you made as little effort as possible. Pretending you were just simply born with all the knowledge of obscure bands you posses, and appearing to not give a shit about anything. Geek is the opposite. Geek is admitting how hard you tried; being unashamed about your quest for knowledge. It is admitting you didn’t know something while you joyously scribble it down in a notebook so you don’t forget. It’s about trying hard. And this trying hard business is hard work because of how bad everybody else makes you feel about it.
It’s a hang up that never seems to leave people from school… even at university there’s always a gaggle chatting at the back of the lecture hall, laughing at the student putting their hand up to chip in or ask questions. British Culture chastises those who try hard. “Teachers Pet” is possibly the vilest term to be banded around not only the school playground but also the teacher’s common room. How is an 8 year old supposed to understand the adult politics of “brown nosing” and when to show restraint with your exuberance and intrigue? It’s a fucked up system of indoctrinating children into believing that it’s not the done thing to be excited about learning… excited about taking part. But it’s the give-a-shit cool kids who never took part who end up on the crap pile later in life.
A trashy Geek classic: Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (American, but definitely applicable to the British mindset) sees Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michelle (Lisa Kudrow) beautiful but outcasts, invited to their school reunion. Romy and Michelle have been living together for the ten years since graduating, they make all of their own clothes and exist in their own world, where nobody else matters. They are their own superstars. It’s only when they pull out their old yearbook they realise they actually weren’t so cool in school. All they really had was each other, and that’s why they created this marvellous world: where they decide what people wear, how hot they are on their own terms, and what constitutes socially acceptable dancing. At the reunion all of the cheerleaders (the “A Group”) are either pregnant or tied down with brattish kids of fathers (prior jocks) who are repeatedly unfaithful to them (often with other members from the cheerleading sorority.) These used up, faded teen queens laugh at Romy and Michelle with their matching homemade glitzy dresses only to be put firmly in their place by one of their fellow sisters: the only one of them who evolved past high school, moved to the big city and became an editor at Vogue. She commends the outfits a success and gives Romy and Michelle the Conde Nast seal of approval. In your face bitches. There’s a further Geek success when Sandy Frink: a nerd who at school had been much further down the social ladder than Romy and Michelle; arrives in a helicopter and turns out to be a billionaire. It’s the campest film imaginable but a poignant reminder that the Geek can/will/does prevail (and a caveat to “A-Group” bitches who think they’re all that.)
Ruth Russell, archivist and one member of DJ duo Unskinny Bop (disco dancing opportunities for girls gays and misfits) is a self-certified Geek and proud of it. Ruth explains “in the early 00s there was a lot of talk about irony in self-presentation, the most prominent form being the “ironic mullet” beloved of hipsters at the time (also see: ironic truckers cap), and “ironic love” of pop music by cool kids. The culmination of the tyranny of irony for me was a damning review I read of The Gossip’s Arkansas Heat EP in which the writer talked about Beth Ditto’s “ironic corpulence”…Pardon!? Of course it was total bullshit, how can you be ironically corpulent anyway? Not to mention the fact that this totally belittled Beth’s highly politically charged presentation of her own amazing fat body. All this inspired in me a lasting commitment to genuine enthusiasm and sincerity which I think is the essence of Geek: truly loving what you love be it pop music, feminism, cookery programmes, Buffy, or whatever and expressing your love of this stuff enthusiastically to everyone who will listen. Essentially to me the idea of Geek is essentially an embracing of your own interests no matter how esoteric and a willingness to put your heart on the line for what you love. Long live the New Sincerity!”[Gallery not found]
Bill Savage, academic, lo-fi enthusiast and one member of Zine icons Pam Savage agrees with P&P’s attempted definition of Geek “and for me a Geek is someone who not only displays passion but has an encyclopaedic knowledge of something, whether it’s trains, science-fiction or Elastica b-sides. I think to be a Geek you have to not care if other people tell you to “get a life.” For me this phrase means “get a normal/boring life”, preferably one that is heteronormative and generally quite beige. Being a Geek means rejecting all that and making your community with other Geeks instead. In terms of dress/visual identity I don’t really think of my own ‘look’ such as it is in terms of dressing like a Geek, but I suppose I do! For me being a Geek is more about what I do than how I look. I have, for example, made a career out of being a massive Geek. I am a sociology lecturer, I get excited about post-structuralist/feminist social theory, I like writing essays, I get pedantic over bibliography formats, I get distracted for hours in the library and I can’t understand why my students don’t always feel the same way! That’s the essence of my personal Geekiness I think.” I ask Bill if “cool Geek” is an oxymoron?
Obviously if you are a Geek, then you can revel in it and think it’s cool, thus being a cool Geek is not an oxymoron. “Coolness” is a very odd quality though, very subjective in many ways. It might be that not-self-aware Geeks also think they are cool, but have not self-consciously adopted a particular style of dress to express it; they just think they are anyway. To me, Geeks by their very nature are cooler than non-Geeks. But I’m a Geek so I would say that!
There is one element of Geek-ness which Bill is ambivalent about: “whether Geeks have to be smart or not: can you be a stupid Geek? Similarly can you be a Geek about something really normaltone like lipstick or calorie counting or sports or the bible or something?” (Ashley Mauritzen’s Lipstick Analysis in this issue would argue yes!) “I’d kind of like to draw the line and say no! But who am I to police the boundaries of Geekdom? Probably though someone with an encyclopaedic knowledge of calorie values wouldn’t want to revel in being a Geek, and there is some sense in which I associate Geekiness with bookishness in some way, and with a general aversion to sports.”
Charlotte Cooper is another academic and lo-fi enthusiast and zine fanatic. She has a different take on the issue. “I think that Geek is part of the continuum that includes dweeb, dork and nerd, and I’m not sure how each is differentiated from the other. Are they the same? I think dweebs are a bit more effeminate and sissy, dorks are more likely to have a learning disability, and nerds generally have a massive frontal lobe, but beyond that they seem pretty interchangeable. My nearly 90-year old gay friend was freaked out when I used the term Geek recently to describe myself; he understood it from the old days as something to do with scat, or having sex with animals. How times have changed. I think sometimes Geek is used interchangeably with autistic spectrum disorder too, and erroneously, in my opinion. Am I a Geek? I am enthusiastically obsessive about some kinds of esoteric information and more than happy to inflict it on people regardless of their interest in the subject matter. Such topics include: early fat liberation position papers; the antagonism between Antarctic explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen over the decision to eat dogs; the uses of terms such as “bread loaf”, “lager beer” and “a job of work” where the adjective is the same as the noun; High Risk books; the unholy music of Big Stick, etcetera etcetera, and on it goes. But I seem to function ok, I’m not lacking in friends, I have social skills and enjoy some moderate success in life. I think these things mean that I’m not a true Geek, and believe me, I’ve met ‘em. Real Geeks exude awkwardness and are excruciating to encounter.” Charlotte does not believe in the “cool Geek.” “Cool Geeks are a coded substitute for Geek but they are not Geeks. No faux-Geek in their right mind would choose to smell, or alienate everyone they met, whereas real Geeks do this all the time. It’s a superficial pose that glamorises downward mobility.” Simon, a musician, vinyl-nut and Charlotte’s boyfriend is less damning. “A true Geek has no concept of being cool or not, but can be judged as cool by others. “Cool Geek” is bit of a fantasy, but there are some cool Geeks out there I think. I would say Wes Anderson would have fitted the tag, but now he’s rich, it doesn’t work.” Simon thinks and concludes “cultural references are everything, and are basic to identity. We make a cloud of references around us, knowing that 99% of people will never read them. That is what being a Geek means, it’s like semiotics.”
One person who P&P feels encapsulates the spirit, the energy and the brilliance of Geek in 2010 is Comedienne and officially the nicest-girl-in-the-world Josie Long (illustrated above). Josie’s shows have titles like “Trying is Good!” “Kindness and Exuberance” and “Be Honourable!” She has never insulted an audience member, she looks like she cuts her own hair and she has brilliant taste in music (P&P have bumped into her at about four Jeffrey Lewis gigs.) However naturally sweet and Geeky Josie’s comedy is it never comes across too twee or saccharin. Josie disarms you with her kindness then hits you with surprises. Her Wikipedia entry reads “On 18 March 2010 she appeared on the BBC Two comedy quiz TV programme show The Bubble, during which she notably wore a garment displaying Nye Bevan related witticisms.” That one sentence really sums up the sheer Geek Love of Josie Long. In her newest show (Be Honourable) Josie talks about how being nice and handcrafting things and being a content Geek isn’t quite enough anymore. It was a wonderful campaign for chance (“Doing Nice isn’t the same as Doing Good”)
Josie is a shining example of an enthusiastic Geek using their passions to motivate other people into making positive change. Over dinner she told P&P of her plans to set up a charity that would pay off one person’s entire student debt each year, and her desire to get people politically engaged and how important feminism still is to her. She is full of energy and has big plans for change and this is essential to how the whole concept of Geek should be looked at for the future. If Geeks are wonderfully passionate, wide eyed enthusiasts: this energy must be harnessed to catapult the geek agenda into the mainstream. To conclude Pigeons & Peacocks’ definition of Geek; Geek is not only unashamed passion, but the possibility for real radical change. Geeks are the ones who paid attention at school, who have active minds, and don’t mind about British Reserve or Stifling Social Graces or boring beige ideals. Geeks actually have the power to change the world.