Who runs the world? Nerds.
Last week, my coworker Peter Smith used ComicCon 2011 as an opportunity to take down geek culture. And while I may or may not be less than geeky than he is — I'm not the one who has a model Starship Enterprise sitting on my desk at work — I felt the need to step up and defend the harbor that has sheltered me so many times. Here are five reasons to love all things geeky.
1. It rewards investment
Geek culture is indulgent, sure. You couldn't watch the final episode of Lost, or see the third Matrix film, or read The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, and understand what was happening. And that's a good thing. We shouldn't discourage anyone from learning everything there is to know about a subject that interests them, whether it's quantum mechanics or the third season of Buffy. And it's true, no one's going to save the world by knowing the backstory of vampire Willow, but in an ADHD world, it's good to have culture people follow, not glance at half-heartedly while playing Angry Birds. Geek culture demands you pay attention, and that's still a practice that should be encouraged.
2. It prompts creativity in its fans
No one is going to say that Kirk/Spock love epics or the story of Starbuck's secret history as a Cylon is great literature, but when was the last time your favorite TV show prompted you to actually interact with the material? Fan fiction, costume contests, trivia quizzes — they all seem a little ridiculous, sure. But geek culture asks its audience to not simply pore over the medium, but to contribute as well. Sometimes you find your calling in a roundabout way — maybe it's not English class that inspires you to be a great novelist, but the LiveJournal Supernatural saga you wrote in tenth grade. People who are geeky as teens may get put down because they are into LARPing in high school, but it's exactly those kind of weird traits that make a person interesting when they grow up.
3. It creates safe spaces
There are a lot of problems with geek culture — it can be racist, sexist, and homophobic. But in truth, it has those problems because our general culture has those problems. There is a terrible lack of persons of color in our super-hero ranks and women are consistently dressed like strippers; but that's the same for most of our television, movies, and books. Those issues aside, it's still a de facto haven for those who feel less than appreciated. It's a world that focuses on outcasts, over-achievers, and black sheep; as a gay man, I found the barely subtextual metaphors of X-Men deeply welcoming. (Reading God Loves, Man Kills when I was eight was quite the revelation.) There is a reason that it's the nerds and not the bullies who gravitate to comic books, D&D, and anime. It appeals to the obsessive, fanatic, and intense parts of their identity that normally get them shoved into lockers.
4. It praises education
This is not to say that science fiction actually educates people about science — most sci-fi films make it seem like there's noise in space, for Christ's sake! But I can think of no other popular form that elevates the math whiz, the history buff, or the word nerd quite so much. This is the genre that celebrates figures like Marie Curie and Albert Einstein. And, reading decidedly geeky webcomics like Penny Arcade, Hark, a vagrant, or xkcd, you need to have a good knowledge of a number of subjects. (At times that can come off as elitist or exclusive, but within geek culture there are enough niches to let pretty much anyone feel like they're in on the joke.) Maybe it's not as pedantic or precise as it could be, but it pushes people in the direction of learning more, and in the end, that's a good thing.
5. It's pretty awesome
C'mon, people. In the end, the reason geek culture has become mainstream is because it's awesome. This is the genre that brings you lasers, vampires, pirates, black holes, telekinesis, cyborgs, super strength, magic spells, elves, futuristic dystopias, cloning, Godzilla, voyages to the moon, sea monsters, UFOs, and Batman. At the end of the day, that puts Two and a Half Men to shame.
This piece was written by James Brady Ryan, proud nerd.