Monday, January 28, 2008

I Miss Not Being Hip

When I was in high school, I was pretty roundly ridiculed for being a geek. There was a group of about 6-8 of us that hung out together -- we were all pretty smart (most of my "clique" graduated in the top ten of our class) and socially awkward (Jeff was the only one to have a girlfriend, and that wasn't until late in our senior year). John ran his own BBS; Chris had a collection of calculators; Jeff was a Trekkie; I was into comic books... If we were just a tad older, we could've been cast en masse for Revenge of the Nerds. We were pretty well ostracized by just about everyone.

And I don't need to tell you that it absolutely sucked! I couldn't stand high school and all the crap that I had to put up with, just because I didn't really fit in with everybody else all the time.

BUT it did teach me how to be my own person. If I enjoyed something, I could enjoy it on my own terms, and I had the conviction to not be ashamed about it. It was an absolute nightmare to push through, and I wouldn't want to go through anything like that ever again, but it's a large part of what made me who I am today. I enjoy who I am and what I do, and I can enjoy that precisely because being pushed to the outskirts of society (or, rather, what passes for society in high school) taught me that I could actually live rather comfortably not knowing who was the most popular band that week or what the latest fashion trend was.

Of course, over the past two decades geeks have actually become rather trendy. TV shows like The Office and The Colbert Report celebrate geekdom. Guys like Quentin Taratino and Seth Rogen have made most of their careers out being a geek. It's not uncommon to see references to Star Wars or comic books or anime or whathaveyou in various forms of mass entertainment.

And it's becoming cross-referencial, too. Characters on a TV show might talk about a comic book, and the comic book references a cult movie, and the movie references the TV show. And then the geeks talking about that stuff online become celebrities in their own right. Do think that, 20 years ago, any movie executive would give a flying rat's patootie about Harry Knowles and what he thought about their film? Hardly.

"Blessed are the geek, for they shall inherit the earth."

... or, if you prefer something vaguely more contemporary...

"It's hip to be square."

Now what this all means, for me personally, is that my own geekdom has elevated my social status. Because of my long-standing interests in geeky things, I have an accumulated body of knowledge about them, and I'm now looked to as the local expert of "cool."

"Hey, Sean, what's the latest on the Iron Man movie?"

"Hey, Sean, how does an RSS feed work?"

"Hey, Sean, how's the writer's strike affecting production of Heroes?"

To some degree, I do appreciate the attention. It's something of a form of flattery that I am the "go to guy" for anything that anyone has any interest in. But my formative years repeatedly taught me that my interests are not valued by society at large, and that anyone showing the slightest interest in them must have an ulterior motive. Which would imply that my "friendships" with many people today are based almost exclusively on their obtaining geek-ish knowledge from me.

Yeah, I know. It's terribly cynical of me to think like that, but that's the type of thing I learned to expect from years of torture back in high school and it's what I grew to be comfortable with. I am a geek and, as such, am perfectly comfortable sitting at the fringes of society. Being dragged into the spotlight, even tangentally, doesn't feel right for me. I used to be the guy people actively tried to avoid, and now I'm getting invitations to Super Bowl parties? Something just ain't right!

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