OK, look. This morning, suffering from insomnia, I watched a movie called Dungeons and Dragons 3: The Book of Vile Darkness. And in that artefact of the cinematic oeuvre is a joke where the paladin is buying magic stuff at The Adventurer’s Vault, and the man behind the counter says, when the paladin asks for magic armour, “heroic or paragon?”
I laughed. I got that joke, see. And all the others. And that’s pretty much the most obscure fan knowledge imaginable right there, a reference that you absolutely have to have really detailed knowledge to even have a hope of getting.
Because I’ve played a lot of games (I even made half of a decent living writing them for some years). I have read a lot of comics. I own the six volumes of Moebius’s World of Aedena in the original French. I have 94 classic Doctor Who DVDs (I know that because I just went into the next room and counted them). If you ask me about Super Mario Galaxy, or Guardians of the Galaxy, or Batman, or Firefly (hell, I’ve actually seen Firefly, and no, it’s not very good, so really, don’t bother) I will give you a considered opinion. I learned how to compose HTML in 1997.
I have never called myself a geek. I have friends who insist on applying the label to me, and it upsets me and makes me a little angry, and I have struggled with how to explain that.
Now, it’s fine, if you want to call yourself a geek, please do, because you have a right to be labelled in whatever the hell way you want. But please, I have a right not to be called it.
First, in my teens, it was a term of abuse. It has a bitter sting to it, and I am not prepared to own that. I understand the reclaiming of abusive terms. People with non-binary and non-hetero sexualities have reclaimed “queer” but therein lies another problem.
When you’re gay, or a-, or bi, or trans* or whatever, that is your identity, that is a central part of your biological and spiritual makeup. But these things I listed above, they are stuff. Just that. They are things I like watching, things I like playing, things I like to read. They are things I consume.
They are in some part an aspect of my culture, but they are not me. I do not want to identify myself or label myself based upon what aspect of mass-market capitalist culture I choose to consume, any more than I’d want to base my identity around shopping at Tesco.
I am married. I am the father of three children, whom I love, intensely. I write and perform poetry. I make art. I’m quite good at it, and for a while a British university had me on retainer writing poetry and making art. I am left-wing, and actively so. I am a churchgoer (and how about that? How about the weird progressive hippy inclusive church I go to?)
Why would I choose the label “geek” when I could choose husband, parent, poet, artist, activist, or (whisper it) Christian?
And anyway, it’s limiting, too. You adopt that label and it brings with it a horde of stereotypes, and so many of them unflattering, the most unflattering of which is that it actually draws a ring about the things I like. Because I have interests and tastes — in film, music and literature — that fall outside the circle of “geek” things (and here’s a story, when I was writing games, I used to include references to Borges, and Nico, and Flann O’Brien and David Foster Wallace and MR James’s Apocryphal New Testament and a bunch of other stuff, and people kept on telling me how off beat my imagination was when really I all I was doing was drawing from a different well). The point being that the label “geek” almost in a way disqualifies me in the eyes of the world (and in the eyes of self-defined “geeks”) from liking things; meanwhile I’m expected not to be critical towards geek shibboleths like Batman (I loathe the politics), Star Wars (see:Batman), or whatever.
And I’m not a kid anymore. I’m a grown man with adult responsibilities. I don’t want you to label me with a term that speaks of toys and games. That isn’t me.
And finally, and this was inevitable, and this is the kicker, there’s the other thing. I don’t want you to call me a geek because the conduct of so many self-proclaimed geeks on the internet is so unimaginably vile, so politically toxic that it makes me feel deeply, viscerally uncomfortable even to hear it; even writing this I’ve winced every time I’ve typed it, and probably put scare quotes around the word too many times. I’m talking about harassment campaigns against non-males and non-whites, and ill-thought-out activism using poorly adopted elements of stupid Hollywood action movies and using them wrongly anyway.
And sure, it is fine to own any label you want, and if you want to own “geek” as your label, despite the negative baggage it holds, well fine — I mean, look at me, I would rather still own the signifier “Christian”, regardless of Tea Party cryptofascists, Westboro members or priestly child abusers, owning their existence and accepting them as members of the faith, and accepting that there’s a lot of thinking and dealing and accountability that these people existing brings. I’d still rather own the label “Christian” than the label “geek”.
I want to label myself how I want. It is not for you to label me.