When I was a kid, I very firmly held the opinion that Saturday was the best day of the week. I know I was not alone in that—all of my friends were excited about not having to go to school and eating cereal while watching Saturday morning cartoons. What’s not to love about that? While I loved those things, too, for me the real draw was Star Trek.
On one of the four (five, on a really good day) stations we were able to pick up, after the last cartoon aired and before the midday news took over the waves, they showed reruns of Star Trek: The Original Series. The very first episode I clearly remember watching was “Amok Time” and, to this day, the score for the fight scene between Kirk and Spock gives me goosebumps. In the spring and fall, my family would gather around the television on Saturday nights – often, my mom diligently rolling those pink foam curlers in my and my sisters’ hair for church the next morning – to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation.
I cannot adequately express how much those few precious Saturday hours meant to me. We were a poor family in the middle of rural, conservative Kentucky and my sister had cancer. For those few hours, though, we were beamed to a future wherein poverty was a thing of the past, just about all cancers had been cured, and we were surrounded by a starship crew whose mission was to seek out difference, not shun it. For me, Saturdays were every bit as much of a spiritual experience as the most impassioned tent revival. Saturdays were days of inspiration and aspiration. And, let’s be real, Saturday was also a day of intense crushing! My first loves were Spock, Sulu, and Data. Rawr.
I am an unabashed geek. There was a brief period of time wherein that “unabashed” part did not apply, but I eventually gave up and leaned all the way in to my absolute uncoolness. I really mean leaned all the way in—my very first date was with a boy I met online in a Star Trek chatroom on IRC; I wore my Locutus of Borg T-shirt while traipsing around the UK and Ireland as a student ambassador; I have a web comic-inspired tattoo. Even now, I decorate my space with little bits of all of my fandoms from Star Trek to Doctor Who, from Firefly to Star Wars. I even spent two long years researching a variety of science fiction and speculative fiction texts, analyzing how gender impacted discussions of terroristic violence in those texts, for my master’s thesis. Who’s got two thumbs and is a super geek? This kid.
It is equal parts confusing and validating to be living in a time when geekdom is mainstream; what was once woefully uncool is now celebrated. When I was a child, I never would have dreamed that the things my geeky little heart loved would so permeate popular culture; from blockbuster franchises to the enormous popularity of conventions, from the rapid and heralded advancements of the tech industry to the growing cosplay community, geekdom is in. Even the “jocks,” long since situated in popular culture as the antithesis of “geeks” (what a false dichotomy, am I right?), are embracing their geekery. Tim Duncan plays Dungeons & Dragons and attends Renaissance Faires. Chris Kluwe loves World of Warcraft. Tim Lincecum is all about Magic: The Gathering. Even entire athletic franchises are getting in on the geek game and, as it turns out, my local minor league baseball team isn’t the only sports team that hosts a Star Wars night:
It is almost like waking up in one of the alternate reality episodes of Star Trek. And I love it.
Beyond the fact of geekdom’s newfound popularity and profitability, the myriad of perspectives that geekiness can bring to the table are invaluable. Geeky researchers in the sciences are trying to find the roots of and develop solutions for some of the most pressing issues we face as a society. Geeks in the tech industry are continually reinventing the ways in which we can connect with one another. My fellow geeks in the humanities are always looking for new ways in which to understand ourselves, to contextualize the human experience, to give us the tools to serve one another better.
Even the geekiness that now permeates popular culture contributes so much more than just profits for media companies or inspiring advances in technology. One of the most special and beneficial things about science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction as genres is their ability to take occurrences that we take for granted and place them in an unfamiliar context so that we can more easily examine them. Take one of the X-Men storylines for instance: The debate over the issue of making mutants register with the state isn’t just an incident in the X-Men universe, but a commentary on our own past and present societies wherein we’ve bandied about the idea of making people who are somehow different register with the state. Take a look at Battlestar Galactica: The creators and several of the cast members of the updated television series actually presented a panel on terrorism and human rights at the United Nations. Consider the tremendous impact the Harry Potter series has had in inspiring readers and film-goers alike to get involved in social justice activism.
All the various communities that can be lumped in to “Geekdom” do have their issues. They’re not perfect and sometimes they get things pretty wrong. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, a lot of these communities do strive to express some of the best parts of humanity: empathy, understanding, bettering ourselves. Considering the impact that all of the various kinds of geekiness have had on how we understand and talk about the world we live in and the world we want to live in, I know that I would be immensely proud of my geekiness even if it weren’t popular right now. I’m proud to consider myself a part of a tradition of being genuinely enthralled by a story, an idea, and connecting to other folks through our mutual excitement about and contemplation of possible real-world application of those stories. I’m proud to be a member of an incredibly diverse and dynamic community that tends to critically engage with the issues we face as a species.
I am a geek and it is awesome! And you are awesome too, my geeky friends! LLAP.