Saturday, May 25, 2013

Geekception: Happy Geek Pride Day!

In my reality, geek pride day is pretty much every day of the year. But I can’t resist a fun holiday, and besides, any excuse to be extra geektacular is a good excuse -- so happy Geek Pride Day, everypony!

I considered picking a favorite geeky topic to write about, but the confustication of choosing just one was too much for me. So instead, I decided it’s time for a little lesson in geekology -- rather than looking outward at our collections of figures, books, movies, and prop replicas, I’m asking my fellow geeks to look inward and consider: what does being a geek really mean?

Of course, everyone’s going to have their own answer, and it might even change per person from one day to the next. But wisdom is rooted in knowledge -- the more the better -- so before you answer, consider this utterly useless and yet utterly fascinating information I have unearthed about the origins and story of the word “geek” for your reading pleasure.

Origins: The Beginnings of Life, The Universe, and Everything Geeky

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the origin of the word geek is "probably from English dialect geek, geck fool, from Low German geck, from Middle Low German" (meaning a fool or simpleton), and its first recorded use was in 1914. Even more interesting, the dictionary gives us not one, not two, but three meanings to choose from:
  1. a carnival performer, often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting off the head of a live chicken or snake,
  2. a person, often of intellectual bent, who is disliked, or
  3. an enthusiast or expert, especially in a technological field or activity.
So, if you imagine concerts are like carnivals in that they're both theatrical-type shows, what this tells us is that it's perfectly correct to call Ozzie Osbourne a geek.

Seriously though, according to this article by Daven Hinskey, the first definition is actually where the word started. Basically, "geeks" were the maddest of the mad in the freak-shows -- the ones that were fun to gawk at and make fun of, but you would never want to have tea with, or run into in, say, a dark, deserted alleyway. Their antics were entertaining to the public, but the geeks themselves were considered fools, if not outright lunatics. Sound familiar?

"Geek" Over Time: Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey Stuff

Of course, pretty much no one thinks of carnies when they think of the word geek. If you're not thinking of yourself, you might be imagining someone you've seen in movies or on the street, someone obvious and memorable. A cosplayer, perhaps, in full Klingon mode (speaking the language, no less), or a Big Bang Theory character, complete with a Marvel or DC t-shirt and a room full of movie collectibles and comic books. Or maybe it's just that girl that sat across from you in algebra class doodling Sailor Moon scribbles all over her perfect-scoring homework and muttering "baka" every time someone gave a wrong answer or asked a stupid question.

Thanks to the skyrocketing popularity of things like superheroes, epic sci-fi/fantasy/adventure films, graphic novels, and big-name conventions like San Diego Comic-Con, the term geek no longer seems to be as universally pejorative as it used to be, often implying instead something between teasing and tolerance. (Though, now and again, I do still come across the girls-aren't-geeks stereotype, or the equally infuriating geeks-are-all-socially-inept-losers theory, and have to take a deep breath and remind myself that, "anger, fear, agression; the dark side of the force, are they.")

But not so long ago, in a galaxy not that far away at all, geek culture was something Mainstream World pointed at and laughed at as it passed by on the street, on its way to more Serious, Real-World Activities (like shopping sprees, watching football, and number-crunching? No thanks). Sort of like fair-goers making faces at carnies. The main gist of the scoffing seemed to be aimed at the idea that geeky interests were not applicable in real life and not useful towards creating a successful lifestyle -- not to mention being labeled a "geek," even by association, was social suicide. At least, that's what high school movies tell us -- at least 99% of them, whether seriously or satirically, include a popular cheerleader or jock explaining to some well-meaning high-school newbie that if they sit at the geek/weirdo table, no one will ever talk to them again. Ever.

So what changed? Most articles, like this one from USA Today, point to Jobs, Gates, and the computer revolution. Everyday treasures like iPods, Disney/Pixar movies, best-selling literature, and all the best scary stories were created by self-proclaimed geeks and nerds who turned their "obsessions" into high-flying careers. I mean, J.K Rowling has her own theme park, for crying out loud. You can't get much more successful -- or geeky -- than that.

Their success gradually changed the public image of the geek as a painfully awkward loser with no future to, at the very least, an awkward fanboy/girl with a potentially extremely lucrative future, and pulled geek culture out of the basement and into the blinding limelight of mainstream-land. This results in more than a few caricatures, but also much more widespread acceptance than ever before. And that's just what Geek Pride Day is all about: accepting your inner geek and/or the geeks around you (if you haven't already) and being proud of your passions and interests what make you who you are. A little showing off wouldn't be totally frowned upon, either.

The Cake is [Not] a Lie: Celebrating Geek Pride Day

Obviously, there's no one right way to celebrate any holiday, especially one as open to interpretation as Geek Pride Day. In fact, the reason (or at least one of the reasons?) May 25 was chosen for the holiday is that the date is attached to three separate significant events. The first Star Wars film, A New Hope, debuted on this day in 1977. It is also officially Towel Day, in honor of Douglas Adams and his masterpiece of a series, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Finally, fans of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels know it as Glorious 25 May.

If you're at a loss for how to celebrate, you could start by honoring your favorite of these, or all of them. Or you could familiarize yourself with the one(s) you've yet to have the pleasure of watching/reading. You could dress up as a Jedi, buy a new towel (because you never know when you might need a backup), or wear a sprig of lilac.

Really, anything and everything that comes to mind is probably acceptable. You could organize a 24-hour gaming party with friends -- either virtual or in person, with some nice 20-sided dice and a good dungeon-master -- or a costume party with an appropriately awesome theme, like 80's glitter fantasy or Marvel vs. DC. Bake a Portal cake (or not and say you did). Try a recipe for lembas bread. Get a little Ghibli with a Miyazaki marathon. Stock up on shinies by taking advantage of special offers, like ThinkGeek's Geek Pride Day giveaway thing. Cast a spell with a homemade wand. Take some notes for your next cosplay while watching a season or two of Face-Off. Or, if you're not a geek yourself (or a new recruit) and looking to learn more about the culture, you might want to start by looking up some of the awesome references I just made.

The sky is not the limit, because there are no limits. If you can imagine it, you can do it. And if you build it, they will come. Happy celebrating, everyone -- may the Force be with you, the odds be ever in your favor, and, as Neil Gaiman once said, "May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness." Also, tribbles. Lots and lots of tribbles.

Me? I'll probably be gaming, chowing down on some pocky, enjoying a sweet anime marathon, and/or curled up with a good graphic novel. What are YOUR plans for May 25, 2013? Inquiring minds wish to know!