An extremely long time reader (1999, back in the days when the first Dungeons & Dragons movie with Lee Arenberg brought me out of the obscure Starlog days of geek magazines to the world of geekery on the interwebs), yet first time writer.
Being 35, I have spent close to one third of my life following your site on a daily basis. Literally. Every single day, M-F, and sometimes on weekends I look at your site the same way that folks used to read ‘the paper’ with their morning coffee, back when it was homebrewed and simply black. Every job I have had over the last eleven years has started with each and every morning bringing the electric hum of an internet connection and the quiet clicking of a keyboard directing me to your corner of the geekiverse.
This morning, December 29th, 2010, brought me your article (and through it Patton Oswalt’s WIRED article) about the nature and current state of ‘Geek Culture’. This is a subject that has been brewing and percolating in the back of my slimy grey-matter for some time. As a dyed in the wool geek I am of two minds, summed up nicely by both Mr. Oswalt and yourself. I feel compelled to share for some narcissistic reason.
A bit of background.
I am firmly pigeon holed in that age group that has spawned the current “Renaissance of Geek”. I was born in 1975. My first movie (I am told) was Star Wars at a Drive-In at the age of 1. It was said that I was a particularly fussy baby especially at night, but that from the first bombastic fanfare of that sci-fi standard, all wriggling and whining came to a complete halt and that my eyes became transfixed on that dusty screen out in the plains on what was then the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado. It was the first inoculation against the world of normal for a budding baby geek.
Much of my youth was spent going to the theatre with my father to see the likes of Indiana Jones, Spock and Kirk, and of course, Han and Chewy take on a myriad of villains from the greatest rogues gallery ever created. My first penny allowances and pocket change saved up from collecting soda cans were spent diving into the half-tone primary colour multiverse of Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, et al. This was a time when there was only one comic book shop in the area and it was locally owned and held secret, by-invitation only auctions for the likes of those that collected The Watchmen & The Tick.
D&D was still black and white between the covers and the dice were cheap plastic with numbers you had to wax in yourself with Crayola. Mr. Baker was the only Doctor I knew and ET was not yet saccharine but awe inspiring.
Adolescence brought about the discovery of music and underground alternative and punk. Back when the Chilli Peppers were still playing at skate shows before the socks. When D.R.I. and Anthrax were still in jeans and black leather and all the Ramones were alive. Back before Tony Hawk was even out of the nest and skate punks communicated through underground ‘Zines made on Xerox machines in the local library. When your faded jeans with the hole in the knees started life as brand new deep blue denim and the wear they now showed was truly earned. When the punk clothes were all homemade with secret time honoured traditions passed down from older punk brothers and the local Army Surplus was home. When ‘The Decline of Western Civilization’ & ‘Suburbia’ were like secret tomes only the initiated were privy to.
This is the outcast ‘subculture’ world that Mr. Ostwalt is referring to. Where your passions were cultivated over long periods of time and often handed down in tribal fashion, by word of mouth (actually face to face) by older and wiser misfits. We had no idea that there were millions of us stretched across this great country of ours because the world largely ended outside of our own little communities. There was no instant access to likeminded subhumans because in our own isolated spheres of influence and experience, we were the C.H.U.D.! The Baseball Furies! The subjects of the Great Humungus! These were badges won by effort, blood, sweat, and tears! We were Old Time Hockey and we were puttin’ on the foil for real.
And we dreamed.
We dreamed of seeing our own secret space battles and superheroes and monsters come to life. We wanted all of those late night basement conversations of “Who would win in a fight...” to come to life. Some of us got ambitious and told our parental units that we were going to make a living ‘creating games’, ‘making monsters’, ‘writing about space’, and ‘making that clunky box with the itty bitty screen and great big keyboard bring worlds to life’. We were told ‘There’s no money or security in that son!’ but we pressed on, fighting against the stream.
And here we are today.
Adults, with mortgages, taxes, family units of our own, in crushing debt, trying to make ends meet and yet still dreaming those dreams of old. No longer the outcasts but the modern day movers and shakers. Many of our dreams realized. Many of them our daily grind now. The world stopped, turned to look at us, and said ‘Hey, that’s actually kind of cool! Show me more.’
On the one hand it’s great to be empowered! It’s great to know you are not alone! It’s great that we are teaching our own young our ways and that they can share it with others in a way that was never possible for us in our own golden young days. In this respect Harry I agree with you. We are at the Zenith of Geekdom.
I think back to a very pivotal experience for me. Having moved from Colorado for a time to Portland Oregon I was fortunate enough to participate in the Portland Creative Conference in 1992 as a teenager in High school. My girlfriend at the time and I had the opportunity to meet Joe Dante face to face, just the three of us! To me it was huge. I asked Mr. Dante if he thought that the past surge of Sci/Fi and Fantasy type of cinema that had been so popular and gone recently quiet would ever come back again. He looked at me with cynical eyes and said no, that it was past and the world was not interested in the imagined anymore and that he doubted if it would ever return. Yet here we are today. It is sublime.
I catch myself seeing kids 13-15 wearing Ramones and Misfits t-shirts bought at Wal-Mart and think ‘I would bet money that you can’t name all of the original Ramones much less know who Danzig even is.’ I see Hot Topics dotting the landscape and Think Geek sites all over the web and I get sad. Accessibility is great but it’s also all too easy. When soccer moms are sporting tramp stamps, and CEO’s are listening to Hardcore I cannot help but hang my head and sigh.
This is the reason I believe Mr. Ostwalt, comedic or not, feels the way he does. We earned it. We have the social scars to prove it. We had to make it, create it, and wear it like a badge by ourselves. We couldn’t just hop on down to the local MegaMart and buy it en masse, all slick glossy, streamlined and new. We owned it. It was ours. It was raw, gritty, homemade, and only available to a select few mutants. Lord save me from an easy life!
So I too great this brave new world of golden geek culture with an open mind and open arms Harry, but let us never forget where we came from and why.
Like the old ad said, we were the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes.
Ethan The Geek