Responding to The Karaoke Transcripts

In early to mid-May, Berin Kinsman posted a series of thoughtful essays on the nature of geekdom to Uncle Bear. Called “The Karaoke Transcripts” (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Denouement) the essays inspired plenty of intelligent debate, and I contributed my fair share of comments. Since things have been slow at Nuketown (but insanely busy with family and work), I’m posting my response to The Karaoke Transcripts, Part 1 here.

Were I in the room, I’d walk over, take a sip of my Sam Adams and say … “wait a minute folks, back up a sec. What exactly is is geek culture? What is the starting point?”

It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about at odd moments, ever since I watched Fear of Girls back in February.

My initial response to this short film was … is this really who we are? Is this really how we still see ourselves? In our daily lives we’ve moved beyond the high school geekery — gotten married, gotten jobs, had kids, and done some pretty damn cool technological tricks. “We’ve done the impossible, and that makes us mighty” … but public perception — our own, and that around us — is that we’ve never left our basements. We’re still there, still being scolded by William Shatner to get a life.

In Part 1, Berin’s friend posits that our ol’ursine talking about advocating a geek counterculture, presumably “countering” the predominent culture of the basement-dwelling troglodytes. In Part 2, he however, he identifies Berin as part of the “silent majority” of geeks who got lives but retained their core geek values. They can have intelligent conversations about game mechanics without falling into the old “let me tell you about my character” routine.

The conversation as about geek counterculture, a reaction against the mainstream perceptions and existing geek culture. But I’ll argue that “geek culture” isn’t that awkward kid with the 37th level dwarf Paladin, not any more.

To find “geek culture”, you need to look at that silent majority, and what you’ll find is a passion for learning and a hunger for information, often–but not always–manifested by a passion for technology. It’s a love of conversation, written or verbal. It’s romantized idealism, demonstrated by the systems we create and the movies, television shows, books and comics we love. It’s a desire to figure out how things work, whether dissecting electronics, building model rockets, or analyizing an RPGs social and system mechanics. These things were the core elements of geek culture, and in the extreme they gave rise to a thousand stereotypes, personified by Comic Book Guy.

But it’s changed. Evolved. Mutated. Someone posted to my Atomic Age blog about how he felt that to a large extent, geekdom had gone mainstream. I think it’s more accurate to say that geekdom absorbed what it needed from the mainstream and left the rest. Part of that is some acceptance that at least some of what we do — like computers and science — is important, and thus, there’s more tolerance then there would have been 20 years ago for some of our … idiosycracies. Part of it is an understanding that the things we love — comics, movies, science fiction, fantasy — aren’t irrelevant and indeed, may have some of the most important lessons that society at large can learn.

Part of it is the new-found self-esteem — not the saccharine that self-improvement gurus peddle, but the real thing, achieved through hard work, perseverance, and an understanding that hey, we don’t have to apologize for who we are. With that confidence comes a greater ability to interact with the real world, to the point that a goodly number of us are now married with families.

“We’ve done the impossible, and that makes us mighty”. It also makes is proud. Proud enough that I don’t care who knows I’m geek, proud enough I don’t mind describing myself that way.

I think what you’re really advocating is for the Silent Ones to step up, start talking, and show people what’s really going on. To start defining ourselves in terms of what we’re are … not what we aren’t.

If that’s what you’re running up the flag pole, then yeah, I’ll salute it.