Crit on Geeks? Come Off It.

Sometimes I read articles where the logic is sloppy, but the intention is good, and I feel a kind of embarrassed solidarity with the author. However, , article, titled “The geek shall inherit the Earth”, is not only sloppy logically, but also seems to have an incomprehensible motivation.

I’ll give its author, Sandy Starr, a few points because I essentially agree with her that while SF can address major issues, and in fact be art, a lot of SF is escapist trash. Hell, whenever I watch SF on TV it tends to be exactly that. Sometimes it can be vaguely entertaining, especially when I mock it—though most of my “normal” friends don’t get why I would ever care to mock a show because, say, its depiction of nanotech is straight-out unbelievable in terms of how real nanotech would probably function, rather than just because it’s stupid and weird.

Starr writes:

As something of an anorak/geek/nerd myself, I must confess to deriving pleasure from our move to the mainstream. The breadth and depth of cult material now available on DVD, including entire runs of old TV shows packaged in lavish box sets, makes it an easy and pleasant prospect to avoid sunlight for days on end. People didn’t jeer (much) when they heard that I was attending last year’s fortieth anniversary Doctor Who convention, Panopticon. And it is difficult to convey the joy of seeing big-budget film adaptations of the comics you grew up reading, so faithful to the source material that they even get the sounds exactly right (the ‘snikt’ of Wolverine’s claws and the ‘bamf’ of Nightcrawler’s teleportation in the X-Men movies, for example).

But enjoyable though it is, even an incorrigible geek such as myself has to confess that the mainstreaming of geekdom is far from a healthy phenomenon.

Fandom does, sometimes, embarrass me. The way people obsess about crap like Star Trek, to the point of designing costumes or making whole personal hobbies out of building small scale models of the ships in the show—scale models that are exactingly recreating things that don’t actually exist!

Once in Montreal, I ran across an advertisement for a local SF fan group. I thought, hey, maybe there are some cute, you know, existentialist sf-chicks I can meet there, hoo-ha! When I went, there was only fat single guys, a couple of bad writers, and wives of the costume- and scale-model-freako guys. All the women in the organization were part-time costume makers for the Trekkie group. Their big group projects included a Trekkie float in the local New Year’s parade (for which they were planning a year ahead), and the production of a Star Wars-based anti-smoking commercial in which Darth Maul lit up using his double lightsaber. The only person in the room I could really relate to was this grouchy older guy who kept making snide comments about other members of the club, implying illiteracy on the part of the costume-making wives’ club (“Yeah, well, honey, Battlestar Galactica is not all of SF, you know…”) and poking fun at the younger, more obsessive members of the group (“Sure, I could dress up like a Klingon, but I have a life. My wife would get bored, anyway…”).

I could really relate to that old guy, and while in one way it was wonderful, because he was absolutely right in everything he said, it was also sad because he simply did not fit in with that club. To tell you the honest truth, the only place I’ve ever met SF fans whose literary taste I could respect was on the Internet… a few scattered Brits, Americans, an Indian. Not a lot of people who seemed to like the kind of, well, let’s admit it, reasonably-well-written books that I insist on. It’s a sad thing for me that I must be aware of Asimov to be an SF writer, though it is (apparently) true. In fact, in all my years in Montreal I only met one woman who I thought attractive, who was into the genre. (Her name was Anoo Dugal and if you know her, you should berate her for waiting so long to call me back that I’d left the country by then. Damn she was fine. And an SF writer.)

Believe me, all you non-SF people. If I could choose my fan base, and I had to choose between the costumed Trekkies, Battlestar Galactica fans, and Darth Vader groupies, versus normal, non-SF people, I’d take the latter. They’re my target audience, after all… they are not the choir to which SF writers are always preaching. I know you SF geeks all know most of what I have to say, or at least some of it. I wanna change the way average schmoes think.

And yet, I find that the most workable ideas in my head are, as often as not, science-fiction ideas. It’s not the only kind of thing I think of—there are all kinds of stories and novels and poems floating about up there in my brain, and I’ll try get to them all, or the best of them, but choosing the best, it seems to me, often means choosing the SF ones… those usually are the best.

So here I find myself, reviling and not understanding, the really geeky, obsessive section of the kind of people who probably will read my books. Because I want the people who read my books to also have read Philip K. Dick, and Maureen McHugh, and CS Lewis and Rimbaud and Bruce Sterling and Charles Dickens and HG Wells and Foucault and Camus and Jules Verne and Kafka. I want literate, balanced readers. I know there’s plenty of them out there, that they are in fact a number of the people who post comments here!

But… those are not the SF fans you see in news reports, on TV, and so on. I wish you normals were more vocal about how normal SF fans can be, but of course nobody would choose that, would sensationalize the fact that SF fans have been exaggeratedly depicted as geekish, escapist, and solipsistic.

And I do think the people who build models need to, you know, go out and read some other literature, so they can realize what schlock those Trek novels often are (let alone great swathes of Asimov’s interestingly-conceived, but, honestly, horribly-written work).

But anyway, I think Starr’s article, unfortunately, is at least in part yet one more sorry instance of the sensationalizing of the extremity of geekdom. I won’t psychoanalyze this Starr person, though it’s tempting… I’ll just say, I think that as a geek herself, and one who sees the perils of over-geeking, she should realize lots of other borderline cases exist out there, perhaps more than the obsessive types she describes in her article.

One thought on “Crit on Geeks? Come Off It.

  1. I suppose one of the defining features of geekdom is narrow focus. Extreme narrow focus. That focus is gives the anorak his title. Bus spotter, train spotter, trekkie, trekker ad infinitum. The readership you wish to be more vocal would rather be boiled in oil than label themselves as anything beyond posessing catholic taste.
    There’s also that everlasting cultural class system that prevents people from admitting a genre/pulp attraction. Now it’s very cool to swoon over Chandler, James M. Cain et al though they wallowed in the pulp pits for decades and for many still do. How many horror (living) writers can you shake a stick at whose work is considered literature. The deal is maybe not as bad for SF but the Geekdom branding is more obvious, horror’s at least cool to some extent. I’ve burbled about this before but I think the passage of time ads a sheen of literary acceptability to certain genre fiction (I’m getting way off track here), Wells, Verne, Poe, Stoker for example. We all have a fictional leper that we will not touch. Before being booted out of college my closest friend and writing sounding board was a colossal romantic fiction lover. Bronte all the way ‘down’ to Mills & Boone; she successfully avoided Barbara Cartland thank god. Now she would deny having roots in that fiction. Pop quiz – which all time classic ‘romance’ novel won the pulitzer?
    I was the horror/SF nut.
    Do we think that the transition from genre to Lit is a form of growing up?
    Is that why we tend not to shout about our reading and writing roots in genre fiction?
    Reading King took me to Stoker, Stoker took me Coleridge, Coleridge took me to Blake, Blake to Elliot and so and on and on and on.
    When your stuff’s on the shelves I’ll pick it up and flick through it and read the first twenty and maybe lay out the doe and take it home and read and see what echoes through it, from pulp to . Man, I’m so off track now.
    Anyway, my anorak may have been changed for a town coat but this week, on the bus, I’m reading Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, again. Next week it may be Hardy, who knows.

    ps. the model building? that should be dropped at no late than 14, seriously.

    Ha’ det s?bra!

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