Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Taking the Nerd's Name in Vain

My name is Lynn. I think that if you have to tell someone you are a geek, you probably aren't, and I am an Anomaly.

It started with a simple perusal of a gourmet food magazine.  OK, it probably started long before that, but it culminated when I started seeing the descriptor of "bread nerd," "fondue geek," and the like.  And here I was thinking that those people were called bakers and cooks.  Somehow, being a nerd or geek has taken over so much of society that it no longer belongs to those it used to.  Remember the days when those names were intended as slurs?  Now they give a pseudo-credibility to anyone's passions, no matter how mainstream.


Geeky Bread

Of course, I am happy that the scorn I used to feel at my obsession with certain topics is no longer so vocally scorned, but really, a "bread nerd."  There should be some sort of litmus test for whether or not someone is actually a "nerd" or "geek" about something.  How about, if your personal topic of obsession doesn't make 95% of the people you talk about it to roll their eyes instead of having them ask you to teach them how, you're not a nerd. How about, if you can control your chatter about it to within a reasonable amount of information most people can handle, you're not a geek. And if a mainstream magazine has been written, published, and (relatively) cheaply distributed for 50 some years, the subject probably has less to do with "geek chic" or "nerd culture" than you give it credit for.  For example, I am a voracious knitter.  Not a knitting nerd, not a yarn geek, a voracious knitter. I can control the amount of information I spread about knitting, and when I tell people I knit, most of them ask me for a certain item or want me to teach them how to knit. Knitting doesn't make me a geek.  Knowing that knitting is my post-apocalyptic skill set makes me a geek.  Planning how to get certain fibers for certain clothing for that post-apocalyptic skill set makes me a geek.

I do like the fact that I live in a culture that geeks have started to be appreciated for who they are.  Their passion for life, good stories, and knowledge have truly been overlooked for too long. But does that mean that every passion should now be considered "geeky"? I daresay these people would not consider those with a passion for the law or music or food, geeks.  No, these are lawyers and musicians and cooks.   A geek has always, and will always be someone whose passions range outside of the mainstream (eating, by the way: totally mainstream).They have an obsession that has caused them to be outcast in some way. Perhaps it's a set of mannerisms that has not allowed them to be accepted. Usually it's mannerisms along with sets of interest.  I think that the most beautiful thing about a nerd or a geek is that they know who they are long before most others realize that fact about themselves. The social anxieties that go along with such an alternative moniker come more from trying to hide in a crowd of "normal" people and not be found out, not from their lack of knowledge of themselves or their passions, especially as teenagers and young adults.  For me, this was true.  I was quiet as a teenager because I didn't want people to think I was too weird. That's when being a nerd was not a good thing, and being a female nerd was even worse.  Once I grew up, found others like me, and realized that I was not alone, I became a louder nerd.  I don't always shout, and many times I can fake being normal, but I love to surprise people with my knowledge of obscure science fiction topics and desire to debate the finer points of Star Trek canon.

I am proud my nerd and geek labels, and I suffered a lot for them.  I don't need a cooking magazine or other mainstream media taking that away from me. Let them keep their own name of "foodie" and suffer through the stigma of that word. (Trust me, there is one.)  Leave the geeks alone.  I challenge you all to keep our name, don't use it in vain, and if you hear people call themselves "organization nerds," call them anal retentive and send them to my house.


kaseycleon said...

Great blog, Lynne! I will admit that I don't know if I agree with everything... I think that the realm of nerd and geek can exist outside of its traditional terms. While I'm a geek/nerd/fan about Doctor Who and Buffy and sentient robots, I'm also a big theater nerd. I've really found no other way to describe it and I haven't met anyone who can describe it in any other way. I've always considered nerds and geeks to be extremely passionate about something almost to the point of obsession and they get excited whenever they talk about it.

Now, "organization nerd" and "bread geek?" I agree with you there. Just because someone likes a slice of rye or their favorite time of the year is spring cleaning, I think that's taking it a bit too far. But there are also people out there like Alton Brown, who I would consider a major cooking geek. The fact that his profession is a television cook doesn't really cover the fact that he's the Bill Nye of food. I think that there are musicians out there that aren't music geeks and bakers who aren't baking nerds... sometimes your chosen profession isn't something you're passionate about. And while they go by the name "sports fans," I think that if you play fantasy football, that's pretty nerdy. It's one d20 away from being a roleplaying game.

In the end, I agree that people need to be careful with how they use the words "geek" and "nerd," I'm going to include "fan" too. But I do think that they are not exclusive to just a certain type of geek, nerd or fan. If you recognize that you are extremely passionate about a topic or subject, you want to surround yourself with other geeks and nerds. That's how people build these communities of friends and comrades... Anomaly being a very good example. :)

So, that was a lot of typing. Sorry about that. But your post brought up a lot of great points and, even though I have a differing opinion, I know a lot of people would agree with you. I'm looking forward to more writing from you! You post such thought-provoking ideas, and those are my favorite kinds of blog posts. :D

Lynn said...

I agree with your points, and had I more room, I probably would have brought some of them up as well. (I think Alton Brown is a geek who just happens to cook. He was a geek first, it just manifests in cooking.)
I think what I failed in mentioning is that there are many of us who have suffered physically and emotionally with those labels, and now it seems as society is taking them away because it's cool. That's what I really have a problem with. But then I was afraid that it would have been too much social commentary and less light-hearted geek love. :)
Thanks for feedback and encouragement. I'm really enjoying being able to contribute.

Anonymous said...

I do agree on some things, and have a different view on others, but I very much understand the feeling to rage when people see it as a "trend" nowadays, when -pause, stop, rewind- to your high school days, when being stamped a "nerd/geek" was social suicide, if you will, kids were teased etc. Still to this day in schools or just everywhere people are being shunned for their interests. So in that sense I feel for ya, and all the ones that went through it, to now see it almost becoming a fad.
like ooo
1. Put some big rimmed glasses on
2. Strike a cute pose.
3. Yay imma cool cute nerd!
... seriously now.
I can understand how that, or throwing around the word so loosely would rub someone the wrong way who was once punished for it.
I on the other hand happened to be a "loner" in hs, although I was probably some other less favorable/popular things as well, I've yet to see that make it into a magazine, or maybe I missed it. Anyway.
On rare occasions I would tell my sister she's a "plant nerd" being that she's so into plants. You know flowers, vines, bush types, trees an all, I'm out of my element here, but she'd always bend my ear about em' we would be walking the dogs, riding bikes, any various outdoor activities and she would literally stop and inspect foliage with a little explanation/lesson for me. Even in stores floral sections etc. she could spend hours having to resist the urge to fill up her garage with plants to be potted cause her fiancé might strangle her, but you get the picture she's real wild about those things. Perhaps I'll pause next time, and be less of a label maker, and more or a dictionary/thesaurus.