Monday, 3 January 2011

[421] Oxford English Geeks

I'm currently suffering from a mild case of essayitis, so the 2010 blog post is taking longer than expected. It might never appear at all.

In the meantime, more on the whole geek-nerd thing. I often find myself talking about this, most recently at a press junkets for two major upcoming releases. I was there representing Den of Geek, and both times I was asked ‘how is this a Den of Geek movie?’, questioning our coverage of two Oscar-contender pictures. One was The King’s Speech, out this week - a terrific film with wide appeal. The question still remained: why would Den of Geek be interested in interviewing Colin Firth and - just as interestingly for me - director Tom Hooper?

Well, I said, it’s been a hit on the festival circuit; it has already won awards and is tipped for Academy Award success; it’s a small-budget, independent British feature directed by a talented filmmaker, starring three of the best actors working today. Plus, I said, in the interview Colin Firth dropped a reference to Rocky IV. The response, from a thoroughly charming journalist, was ‘is Rocky a geek film?’

There’s no convincing some, I suppose. To me, geekism and nerdery in a cinematic context no longer require foundation in science fiction, fantasy or action films. I think, now, you could be a geek for anything, and a film geek could be just as passionate about Spielberg or Scorsese as they are about Griffith, Lang or Deren. What’s wrong with being enthusiastic and evangelistic, anyway? Aren't they transferable skills?

Actually, Den of Geek seems to be going through a little phase of late. Over the last year, there have been many vocal comments from readers expressing their opinions about what DoG should or shouldn’t cover. Earlier in the year, I had a run of reviews that was met with the same repeated comment: ‘I think you have posted this on the wrong site’. They were for Certified Copy and Tamara Drewe - both films by respected directors, and the latter a comic book adaptation to boot.

Most recently, there’s a discussion in the review of genre-bending rom-com Love And Other Drugs. I’ll paste a selection of the comments below:

B_Ramsay: Umm, ok, I don't usually mind when the site strays onto teritory that isn't exactly geek in nature (e.g. the reviews of The Muppets). But seriously, wtf is this review doing on a geek site? One look at the title and the poster shows that this is not the site for this review. What next, reviews of other dire romcoms, or god forbid, trash like Sex and the City!

bytat: what is this review doing on this site?.. i like it when denofgeek reviews ungeeky, but serious stuff, like Mad Men, etc.. but romcoms?.. it also begs the question; why aren't all the other romcoms reviewed?.. god forbid.

MadProphet: Oy oy. Go see Love And Other Drugs before you judge. People can be geeks about anything, and I don't doubt that there are romcom geeks out there. I've seen it, and it's a cut above most romcoms, to be fair. I might not entirely agree with the review, but what's the harm in posting a review?

JunkBondTrader: I'm pretty sure me being a film geek allows me to be interested in film reviews generally.

I find it fascinating that there’s such a divide, between those that feel a rigid definition of what geek culture is (and The Muppets isn’t included in that!), and those that are rather laissez-faire about it all. Does the definition of 'geek' come in-built with an affinity for certain genres, or is it a more general mood, or approach to culture?

Let’s ‘fess up. I have my overlaps with the ‘accepted’ geek canon, but there are some serious gaps. I don’t watch Doctor Who, haven’t seen much of Star Trek, and have seriously lapsed in my Star Wars fandom. I don’t care about the Buffy reboot, have no intention to see Tron Legacy and have yet to get around to striking most of the landmarks of 1980s horror, sci-fi and action genre cinema from my to-watch list. I don’t think that prevents me from being a geek - although the more territorial sort, perhaps traumatised from the tag’s stigmatised roots, might say it does.

As always of late, I defer to the English language geeks at Oxford. Thankfully, they have this thought-provoking little usage note for both ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’:

Is being a geek something to be proud of? A few decades ago the answer would almost certainly have been no : the word was a cruel and critical label attached to clever, but socially awkward, people: train-spotters, computer geeks, and unpopular college students.

Then in the 1990s everything changed. The computer industry helped many geeks to achieve great success, and the wider perception of geeks began to shift. Being a geek was suddenly a positive thing , suggesting an admirable level of knowledge, expertise, and passion: geeks could do ‘cool stuff’. It's now common for people to be self-proclaimed or self-confessed geeks, with geekiness no longer confined to the world of science and technology (a music geek with an awesome vinyl collection; the kind of film that every true movie geek would give five stars).

What do you think? Usage seems to have softened a little, but that hasn’t changed this instinctive definition that both geeks and non-geeks hold in their minds. Has ‘acceptance’ strengthened this? Surely geeks and nerds were only labelled so for a specific historical period, where certain areas of pop culture, science and information technology garnered a negative reputation?

I like to wonder, how are Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg any different from previous generations of driven, innovative entrepreneurs and persons of industry, like Edison, Brunel or Branson? Did readers of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells experience such stereotyping as fans of the Expanded Universe?

How about the members of early cinema clubs, like the London Film Society, which counted among its number George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolf - when they were obsessively importing and watching films by Sergei Eisenstein, were they geeks? I’d say so.

I’d say once the stigma around the term geek is broken down, all that is left is a collective passion, one that can - and should - challenge preconceived notions of taste, taboo and quality, yet still inspires an open relationship with the media of choice. We’re all evangelists for our pet subjects, so let’s listen to each other.

But then again, I’m not a certified geek. Although, tonight I watched Hollywood Ending, polishing off my project to see every theatrically-released film directed by Woody Allen. So maybe now I can stake my claim.


Mr A. P. Salmond, esq. said...

The idea that the term "geek", really something that was initially an insult but was adopted as a badge of pride by people whose interests set them in some way as social outcasts, is now being used to exclude people is just crazy. Almost as crazy as the idea that the Muppets aren't a suitable subject for geek culture.

Anyway, our modern cultural lives are so fluid and diverse that surely trying to set any kind of concrete labels is a completely subjective, ultimately fruitless exercise?

bytat said...

yay! I'm quoted. :)