16 years ago, geek culture transitioned to the mainstream (Commentary)


eek culture is indisputably mainstream today (as evidenced by the 57 superhero shows on TV), but that wasn’t always the case. So when did the transition happen? It was a gradual process, but I like to point to the game show “Beat the Geeks” (2001-02, Comedy Central) as a fulcrum. Like many great geeky things, it didn’t last long, but it did signal that it was safe for geeks to come out of the woodwork, and safe for non-geeks to show their geek side.

I think my NDSU Spectrum (my college paper) column on the topic from Feb. 15, 2002, holds true today, minus any whiff of stigma. But some things have definitely changed, notably the fact that geek pleasures from the past don’t have to stay in the past, as – for example — many canceled TV shows are being revived. In fact, I think it’s a good time to bring back “Beat the Geeks” …

You might be a geek if you read this


feb. 15, 2002


As you may have noticed in the past few years, geeks are slowly and steadily taking over the planet. The latest example of this is Comedy Central’s game show “Beat the Geeks” (6:30 p.m. weekdays). In each episode, contestants have an opportunity to challenge three regular geeks (the TV Geek, Movie Geek and Music Geek) along with one guest geek (for example, a Simpsons Geek, a Sopranos Geek or a Michael Jackson Geek).

Rather than being the butts of the joke, these geeks — decked out in colorful robes and perched behind their podiums like Gods — are actually rather cool. Perhaps it’s because they are so uncool that they become cool — when the TV Geek correctly names a James Cromwell cop show that lasted half a season in the mid-‘70s, it’s hard not to be awed.

But the more likely reason for the acceptance of geeks is that we live in a geek culture. Have you ever used a movie anecdote to explain something? You may be a geek yourself.

But the more likely reason for the acceptance of geeks is that we live in a geek culture. Have you ever used a movie anecdote to explain something? You may be a geek yourself.

Understand that I don’t mean this is an insult. Not only am I a gigantic geek myself (it’s hard to own a life-size Jar Jar Binks standup and claim not to be a geek), but most of my best friends are also geeks.

But what makes a person a geek? Sometimes it’s obvious: If you are planning on attending Dustin Diamond’s Feb. 22 comedy act at SU as a joke, you are safe. If you are planning on attending because you are his biggest fan, you are definitely a geek. Here are a few other telltale signs.

You might be a geek if …

  • When someone asks you what kind of geek you’d be on “Beat the Geeks,” you have to mull over three equally valid options.
  • When someone mentions that sequels are never as good as the original, you reel off 20 sequels that are better than the original.
  • You have strong feelings about Ewoks.
  • On command, you can reel off the episode titles and detailed plot synopses of every third-season “Buffy” episode.
  • Rogue is your favorite “X-Men” character, and you can list 10 reasons why.
  • You forgot what color your bedroom walls are because every square inch is covered by Japanese anime posters.
  • You take personal offense when an amateur movie critic makes a few slightly negative and inaccurate comments about “Lord of the Rings.” (Sorry Kristen.)
  • When watching “Freaks and Geeks,” you feel a deep kinship with Sam, Bill and Neal.
  • You own over 20 slightly distinct Boba Fett action figures.
  • You brag to people that one of your pen pals is Doug Jones and then become exasperated when they don’t know who he is. (He played the lead Gentleman in the “Buffy” episode “Hush.”)
  • You cut off all communications with your “Star Wars” pen pal when he claims that Darth Maul is better than Darth Vader.
  • In absence of a real girlfriend/boyfriend, you live vicariously through Max and Liz on “Roswell.”
  • You are on a first-name basis with the entire staff of Comic Junction.
  • You’ve adopted “X-Files” creator Chris Carter as your personal God.
  • You keep blabbing “That’s the dumbest idea since Greedo shooting first!”

All of these examples involve TV, film or comics, which are the traditional geek pastimes, perhaps because a person has to make an effort to turn on the TV, travel to the theater or stop by the comic shop. For years, music fans evaded the geek label, perhaps because you don’t have to purposely listen to music — it could be playing on your car radio, at work or in a store. Furthermore, the appeal of TV, film and comics centers on fictional characters while the appeal of music centers on real people. But the “geek” definition has recently expanded to include music.

Here are some signs that you might be a music geek:

  • Your list of all-time top five recording artists includes 23 recording artists.
  • You know the entire track listing of Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde.
  • You never listen to the radio.
  • Any artist who gets into heavy rotation on MTV instantly loses all credibility with you.
  • You purchase a leather jacket and shades in order to look more like Rob Gordon from “High Fidelity.”
  • You can name every member of the band Whitesnake.
  • You know who the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Beatles are.
  • When someone questions your inclusion of two Counting Crows albums among your all-time top five albums, you defend the choice with “Hey, they shouldn’t be penalized for making two of the top five albums of all time.”
  • Your license plate reads PRL JAM.

With music fans now considered geeks, can sports fans be far behind? If a person can be a geek for knowing how many doubles Kirby Puckett had in 1988 or for being able to list off the entire Pittsburgh Steelers 2001 roster, then the percentage of geeks in our population goes up substantially.

However, this isn’t to say that all geeks can blend effortlessly into society. There is also a small percentage of people who have crossed the line from “geek” to “insane.” In other words, “Star Trek” fans. Even I have to gape at the concept of exchanging marriage vows in Klingon or going to work every day in a “Star Trek” uniform. To determine whether you fall into this category, watch the documentary “Trekkies.” If you are shocked by what you see, you are still sane. If you can understand the appeal of getting your ears surgically altered to look like Mr. Spock, you need help.

But as long as you keep part of your brain focused on planet Earth, year 2002, embrace your inner geek. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to mull over whether I should be a Star Wars Geek, Buffy Geek or Roswell Geek.