by NICK MIZER
In a paper presented at the American Anthropological Association I developed a rough definition of geek culture based on statements of self-described geeks in the comment threads to two articles on geek culture: “Individuals who bond with one another over a shared exuberance for creative consumption of their cultural interests.” My favorite comment from those threads puts it better, though:
“Geek culture doesn’t have to die, it just has to do what has always made geek culture fun – it has to focus on the things no one else notices and learn to love them as the things that make all the difference.” –RamonaGirl
I really like this because it tries to get at what is distinctive about “geek.” While there are lots of very important things to say about how geek culture has been negatively shaped by race, sex, gender, and class, this is perhaps the least unique thing about geek culture. Offered by a self-identified geek, RamonaGirl’s definition refuses to let the nascent Gamergaters from the olden days of 2011 define geek culture. Again: I am not saying that we should shy away from challenging the terrible hegemonies that extend in and through geek culture. I am saying that to refuse to define geek culture in terms of a history of white, middle-class males can be a form of resistance.
“Shared exuberance for creative consumption of their cultural interests” also describes fairly accurately groups that would not usually be considered part of geek culture.
As soon as I offered my definition, however, a problem came up: “shared exuberance for creative consumption of their cultural interests” also describes fairly accurately groups that would not usually be considered part of geek culture, like sports fans. Geeks can, of course, be sports fans, and many are, but the Super Bowl would generally be pretty low on a word association list with “geek.”
Part of this confusion is just inherent to cultural boundaries: there is probably an element of what we usually call geekiness to almost any activity. But I think there is another feature we can look at that will help move towards a definition that is more in line with common usage: the centrality of imaginary worlds. In other words, show me something geeky and I will show you a secondary universe that geeks have cobbled together out of sometimes disparate and conflicting details. It is often remarked that fantasy football is “actually” a geek activity; I want to argue that this is not because people obsess about it but because it is an activity that creates and takes seriously an alternate reality.
Maybe geeks are people who enjoy taking disparate details and making them cohere into worlds.
If I’m on to anything here, maybe we could define geek culture as a tradition of creating, experiencing, and taking an “as-if” stance towards secondary worlds. Maybe geeks are people who enjoy taking disparate details and making them cohere into worlds, which is pretty much all humans do on a day-to-day basis anyway, but geeks make a game of it. I’d be interested to hear how this resounds (or not) with our readers, so please let me know in the comments.
Featured image created by Adam Lister: http://www.adamlistergallery.com/