This is one in our 'Geek Like Me' series of columns exploring the nuances of geek culture.
Lately, I've been having somewhat of a geek identity crisis. "Why?" you may ask. "Geeks rule the school these days! We got an X-Men movie, a Green Lantern movie, a Thor movie and a Captain America movie all in one summer! We've finally inherited the earth!"
I know, I know. And I never could have dreamt in my comic book-collecting, D&D playing, Doctor Who convention-attending youth that this day would actually come, no matter how many times I prayed to the Elder Gods for it to happen. But here we are. Like Christians and their little rear bumper fish, once upon a time, me wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt was my secret beacon to others like me, the black eye and subtle nod as I passed someone else who knew Tyler Durden. I knew in a heartbeat we'd be able to talk to each other. It was a simple signal that we shared a language, a history, likes and dislikes, passion, safety. But I can't be sure anymore. The emblem on my shirt may just mean that I watch Big Bang Theory, and that I wouldn't be able to tell Wally West from Barry Allen. Or even know who they were. It's gotten to where I bristle at the mere mention of the word "geek". I can't trust it anymore, and unless you're referring to a sideshow act who bites the heads off live chickens, I don't want to hear it.
Reading over what I've just written I sound, old, bitter, elitist, and whiny. It's not true. Or maybe it is. This is an identity crisis, after all. To be sure, I love having access to all the geeky stuff we have today. I can watch several lifetimes worth of geeky TV and movies at the push of a button. And if I want to go deeper, I can play games that put me in the worlds I've always fantasized about living in. I can order actual replica rayguns and action figures and find any comic book I want on the Internet, without even having to travel to a convention in the hope that maybe someone will be selling it. And that's just in my free time. My "job" is playing the characters I've played since I was three years old. Creating the next line of things that I would have obsessed about when I was half my age now, rubbing shoulders with people I've admired my whole life, contributing to the mythology that birthed me. I actually get paid to revel in the thing I've always loved. Hardly the job I thought I'd grow up to do. Luckily, I haven't had to grow up to do it. And it likely never would have turned out this way if the secret stuff I loved hadn't gone mainstream. So, no, I'm not complaining about where we're at.
So what am I doing? I can finally talk about superheroes and spend the weekend playing video games and not only do I not get beat up for it, there are hot girls (besides my wife) who not only put up with it, but love the same stuff and aren't afraid to say so! The incentives are strong to be as big a geek as possible these days. And maybe that's it. Maybe it's not that I feel like my secret club has been invaded, and that everyone who used to make fun of us just jumped on the bandwagon, but maybe it's that it just used to be harder. You really had to earn the geek mantle. When I was younger I put a lot of time into my obsessions. You kinda had to. If we wanted to see a movie, we had to go to the movies, and if it was something culty, sometimes we had to go far to the movies. When the director's cut of Blade Runner came out in 1992, we drove several hours to see it. If we missed the pilot of Kids in the Hall on HBO, we had to wait until it was on again. And because, let's face it, nobody was ready for Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse reboot, I didn't think to throw a tape in the machine and record it, so it was years before I was able to find someone willing to sell me a bootleg copy so I could watch it again. And if I couldn't afford the comic, I couldn't read the comic. Now, all this stuff is a mouse click away. You used to have to be hardcore to reference it accurately. And you had to watch it a hundred times so that it became a part of your vocabulary. Now I can just go to Wikipedia or the IMDb. And I'm embarrassed to say that I have. In the interest of full disclosure, I even did it while writing this article to make sure I didn't embarrass myself.
It being so much harder back then (he said, rising wearily from his chair and reaching for his pipe) made it feel like we were doing everything we could to stay on top of all our geeky obsessions and that was enough. Nowadays, frankly, it's become impossible. There's just so much damn stuff available! I used to think I was a nerd for keeping up with Blake's Seven and Doctor Who all at the same time. But now, I've got the new Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, The IT Crowd, Spaced, Jekyll -- and that's just recent (and not-so-recent) stuff from Britain. Don't even get me started on my own country's shows like Battlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13, Eureka and The Walking Dead. Add to that all the stuff I missed that's now available whenever I feel like it... Look, when I was a kid, there was Star Wars. Mercifully we got 2 other films, but those took a while. In the meantime, I devoured everything I could find, from movie novelizations to Star Wars comic books, albums, A Splinter in the Mind's Eye, Han Solo at Stars' End, the NPR radio drama. I was hungry and could barely keep myself fed. But now, I can't eat fast enough. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a great show, arguably better than most of the movies (if you even count any past the first two), but I don't have time to watch it every week. This week alone there's an H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, a John Carpenter film festival, a bunch of geeky new shows premiering in the Fall lineup, new Who, podcasts, DLC for games I haven't even cracked the plastic on, blu-ray releases, new anime from Japan... I just can't keep up anymore.
Whoa, maybe that's it. Did I just get old? I don't even have kids and I'm complaining about not having enough time to geek out? Hm... Sports fans -- who, arguably, are just geeks who memorize sports statistics and paint their faces with their team colors and freak out when their team loses rather than know which episode of Star Trek Harlan Ellison wrote (Ep. 28, "The City on the Edge of Forever", by the way), go larping and freak out when Firefly gets canceled -- grow old and still follow their teams...
Maybe I just need a geek off-season, some time for me to catch my breath and catch up on what I missed. Hey, I don't want to get caught with my pants down. With geeks being in the limelight the way we are, there's a lot of pressure to know everything, otherwise you might be revealed as just another poseur who hopped on the bandwagon to get work in the entertainment industry and pick up chicks. Lately I've been waking up in a cold sweat fearing that ninjas will show up in the middle of the night to revoke my geek card. I guess I could just specialize, but that's not our way. Being a true geek is like being a Jack of all Obsessions. Otherwise you're just a Trekkie.
I guess I should just STFU, relax, and enjoy this embarrassment of riches. If only there was enough time in the day. In the meantime, feel free to direct any incorrect geek references you find in this article to Mr.Wikipedia. I'll be too busy watching illegally downloaded episodes of Naruto.