The 25th of May was a very special day for geeks everywhere. Not only was it towel day – it is also 35 years to the day that Star Wars: A New Hope was released, as well as the day of memorial for the People’s Revolution of the Glorious 25th of May. This day, generally considered to be geek pride day, struck me as a great time to pause and reflect on my heritage as a geek.
Unfortunately I was so caught up building steampunk goggles in my lab that by the time I came to sit down and start writing I was rather too tired to get it done in time to publish on that marvellous day. But, with true geekish dedication, I decided to write out my thoughts anyway.
My residency beneath the label of ‘geek’ has been a lifelong one. Not long after starting to read I became fanatical about certain series of books and comics. I read every single Enid Blyton book (thankfully blissfully unaware of the casual racism); would run down the stairs at 7.30am every Tuesday when the Beano was delivered through my door; and when I found the Hobbit it was just a matter of time before I discovered The Lord of The Rings and other such harder stuff to obsess about.
The worst was then I discovered the Marvel comic universe, mostly through Saturday morning TV. Spiderman, the Hulk and the X-men were all essential building blocks of my geek qualifications, and despite not having the money to buy the comics myself I would borrow whole storylines from my friends and devour them in a couple of days.
I never discriminated as a geek – fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, books, movies and TV shows were all fair game to be obsessed over to a slightly unhealthy degree. But I wasn’t just a culture geek. Oh no, I didn’t limit myself to entertainment. I was a poetry geek, history geek (especially ancient mythology, much of which I can still re-tell to this day), art geek, literature geek, a science geek, and even a bit of a religion geek for some time before I decided it was full of more nonsense than the DC universe.
At the age of 10 I knew what DNA stood for (deoxyribonucleic acid), could name the 4 bases and their combinations. I could explain to you the makeup of an atom (as much as I could gather from slightly out of date textbooks anyway), why it was called an atom, and who the Greek philosopher was who came up with the concept (Democritus). And once I’d done that I could tell you the story of Heracles (not Hercules – that’s his Roman name), and compare his origin story to Jesus.
I needed to know things. I still feel the urge to learn every day, but back then there seemed so much more to know! Nothing was beyond my grasp then, because every fact was in a book somewhere, and if it wasn’t then I could figure it out from what I knew already. I miss that craving sometimes; but now the world is no longer as simple as it was looking out through a child’s eyes. Not because I understand how little we really know – that was part of the thrill, trying to find something out that was completely new! No, the world is not as simple anymore because I have to pay rent, buy food, and pay taxes. I can’t dedicate my entire life to this struggle for knowledge and creativity.
But all this alone wasn’t what truly made me a geek. Simon Pegg very succinctly described what a geek is all about:
So what made me a geek wasn’t that I loved knowledge and learning with a passion – it was that I loved it with a passion and was vocal about it. Me & my small group of friends would have lengthy discussions about which superhero could beat who (yes, I know it’s a stereotype, but we did it anyway), which animals would win in a fight… actually, a lot of my childhood was essentially a kind of intellectually challenging version of top trumps. We would eschew the football all the other boys played in favour of pretending to be superheroes or Jedi – often characters of our own creation.
I was not a popular kid.
I was bullied throughout primary school, high school, and even into college – though as time went on it became less about my geekiness and more about my alternative dress sense or my sexuality. I was the weirdest of the weird kids, even from the beginning. Even my friends were happy going outside to play at break time – me, I wanted to stay in the classroom and read. Teachers actually had to force me out of the door to stop me staying in the classroom or library all day. To be fair, I didn’t just want to keep learning, I also wanted to avoid the bullies.
As I got older I watched my old friends turn into very different people because of that bullying. My best friend in primary school was a pretty shy kid, and when he got to high school he retreated into himself. He started to blend into the background, trying so hard to fit in that he soon wasn’t someone I recognised as the kid I knew a year or two earlier. I don’t blame him, not one bit. He watched me stick to my guns and be tormented for it; not everyone is as determined as I am, nor as arrogant about being right. That sense that what I was doing was right – that being who I am and liking what I liked were not things to be ashamed of, that’s what got me through every day.
I can thank my mother for that. She always taught me to be myself, and that people only pick on people because they’re jealous or afraid of them. I took that to heart, and it is still something I consider part of the bedrock of my beliefs. Even when I came out as bisexual (later adjusted to pansexual as I learnt more about the complexities of gender) and my parents told me I shouldn’t be so open about it, the idea that I had every right to be myself and no-one should stop me took precedent. I lost a little respect for my mother then, but I understand her actions now too – she as just scared that her son would get himself beaten up even more.
Looking around me now, I find myself in a world much changed from when I grew up. I see geeks being celebrated for their intellectual prowess. I see Stephen Hawking, Stephen Fry, Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins are household names because of their intelligence. The best-known rich people in the world aren’t sports stars and actors – they’re geeks like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the late Steve Jobs. Porn Stars like Kimberly Kane, Sasha Grey and Mandy Morbid can record videos of themselves playing Dungeons and Dragons and it makes them even cooler (where were these girls when I was a kid, by the way?)
Yep, geeks are cool now. On the 25th of May the social media world was covered in stories about the anniversary of Star Wars, and whole workplaces were filled with people wielding towels. Every year on the 4th of May people all over the English-speaking world greet each other saying “May the Fourth be with you.” Game of Thrones, a TV show based on a set of hard fantasy novels, was not only made with an all-star cast, but is one of the most popular shows around. The fucking Avengers movie was a ludicrously enormous success.
Personally I blame the internet for this amazing transformation in the perception of geeks. Not only did our skills quickly become the most valuable around, but our ability to express our love for those obsessions of ours with a community of likeminded fellows was suddenly taken to whole new heights. We didn’t have to rely on fan clubs, conventions and trying desperately to find someone else in our class who knew about Peter Parker’s secret identity in order to feel like we weren’t outsiders. In the blink of an eye, we realised that there were so many more of us out there than we had believed, and we could all communicate at the speed of light. And we were the ones who could shape the future of the way we communicated.
Fortunately we geeks were familiar with the idea that with great power comes great responsibility, or we might have ended up with a whole lot of Magneto’s in the world, out for revenge upon their now inferior persecutors.
For me, this new world where thick glasses are cool, comic book continuity has found its way into films, and wearing a transformers t-shirt makes you admirable rather than mockable – well, it’s pretty fucking awesome. So I will take not only May the 25th to celebrate this wonderful culture were intelligence and passion are things to be celebrated once more; I will celebrate every damn day. Because now when I get up and decide to watch X-men the animated series on a Saturday morning, I can turn on my phone, announce to the world what I’m doing, and have people all over the world tell me how awesome I am.
It really is the future.
Picture credit to Nora Ahiko Félix Amano