Do “Fake Geeks” Exist, and Why Do We Care?

I’ve said before on this blog that I’m not a fantasy purist. That means that I don’t think you need to be able to recite the royal lineage of Númenor from memory to consider yourself a Tolkien fan. (Though it would earn you bonus geek points, and my lifelong friendship.) It also means that if you didn’t know who George R. R. Martin was before “Game of Thrones” debuted on HBO, I won’t call you a poser for wearing that t-shirt emblazoned with the words “WINTER IS COMING” beneath a direwolf head.

"Pumpkins Are Coming" © Kailey Rynne

If you were really cool, you’d carve it into a Halloween pumpkin, like my mom and I did.

But I’ve also talked about how mainstream acceptance of fantasy has encouraged the cheapening of fantasy as a genre. And it isn’t just fantasy—it’s all of geekdom. The same sort of people who bullied me for being “weird” in high school are now the ones watching Doctor Who and dressing up as the Avengers at comic cons.

This is a good thing, right? I mean, we’ve been trying for years to convince people that Tolkien and GRRM and Doctor Who and comic books are awesome! Even if they aren’t as obsessed wither, that is, as interested in—geek culture as we are, shouldn’t we be happy to see the fandom growing, to see others experiencing that joy we’ve felt all along?

But we aren’t happy, are we? Deep down inside, a lot of so-called geeks feel uncomfortable, annoyed or even spiteful around newcomers who started calling themselves geeks only after being a geek became cool.

I think it’s equal parts pride, resentment and mistrust because:

    • We were playing video games long before “Call of Duty.” Ever heard of Zelda?
    • Ten years ago you were stealing our lunch money, and now you want to be one of us?
    • You’re going to ruin the things we love with your dirty pop-culture, you goddamn hipsters.

Some geeks even scorn or shun those who haven’t done enough to “prove” their geekiness. Which leads me to an important question:

Do fake geeks exist?

It’s a question that’s been on my mind ever since watching this YouTube video by albinwonderland, posted on December 1 of last year:

If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, here’s a quick summary: Comic book artist Tony Harris wrote a Facebook post demeaning “quasi-pretty-NOT-hot” female cosplayers who know nothing about comics but dress up in slutty costumes at comic cons to prey on “helpless” male geeks.

Albinwonderland claims that his remarks are sexist. She says:

“There is no such thing as ‘fake geek girls.’ There are only girls who are at different varying levels of falling in love with something that society generically considers to fall under the ‘nerd culture’ category. We all started somewhere, and elitists are elitists, whether they’re wearing thick-framed prescription glasses or Gucci suits.”

I wanted to agree with her, but something about her argument felt wrong. I didn’t want to believe that I might be an elitist, but neither could I bring myself to accept that there really are no fake geeks. Then, a YouTuber by the name of Random633 hit the proverbial nail on the head.

Here’s his/her comment on albinwonderland’s video, outlined in red below: YouTube screenshot of a comment on "Fake Geek Girls" by albinwonderland

Yes. That’s it. That’s exactly what I was trying to articulate. Geeks don’t CALL themselves geeks. “Geek” is the label that the rest of the world forced on us. When someone asks what we like to do for fun, we don’t respond by saying, “I’m a geek.” We say, “I like to watch anime,” or “I read a lot of books,” or “I spend most of my free time programming.”

But Kailey,” you might say, “you have a banner at the top of your blog calling yourself ‘a nerdy girl.’ Isn’t that a little hypocritical?”

Not really. The ‘nerdy girl’ label I use is part of the COFFEE AND DRAGONS brand, a marketing tool to help attract visitors to my site who are looking for a blog about nerdy stuff—and that’s exactly what this blog is, or tries to be. It helps build community. If this were a blog about food and sports, I might call myself “the baseball chef,” or something equally obnoxious. (Good thing I’m not blogging about baseball, huh?)

As a writer trying to make a name for myself on the web, it helps to use labels. But you won’t find me in online chat rooms, or in real life, introducing myself as “a nerdy girl.” I might introduce myself as a writer, as someone who enjoys the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, but never as a nerd.

So, what exactly is a fake geek?

Hyper & Leahs Geeky Birthday Party! : Crew 1 by HyperXP.com, on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Apparently all geeks buy their clothes from the Salvation Army rummage bin and their glasses from Halloween stores. I’ve been shopping in the wrong place all these years.

Bizarrely, the “fake geek” conversation has revolved almost entirely around “fake geek girls,” like the ones albinwonderland was defending. It’s part of a broader conversation on geek sexism, and that’s a subject that I’m not going to address, because frankly the idea that an attractive female can’t be a nerd is so ridiculous that I’m not going to waste my breath deconstructing it.

What I am interested in talking about is the difference between a genuine geek and a fake geek—or a “social” geek, if you prefer.

For me, being a geek means wanting to spend ALL of your time doing your geek thing, whether it’s reading fantasy or gaming or cosplaying or watching anime or playing D&D.

Now, we all know that isn’t possible. Even geeks have jobs and families and dishes to wash and homework to finish. But there’s a part of every geek that dreams of winning the lottery and buying a mansion in New Zealand with an entire room devoted to the unhealthy worship of Star Wars figurines.

Dueling Figurines © Kailey Rynne

By this definition, a fake geek is someone who professes to be a geek, identifies as a geek, and yet prefers to spend Friday nights at the club instead of buried in the latest library find or huddled around a table with graph paper and a jar of D20s.

We’ve all known people like this. There might be one among your classmates or coworkers—the guy who wears that Minecraft shirt with the creeper face, or the girl who watches “Game of Thrones,” but all they ever talk about with their friends is hitting up the frat party down the block.

It’s not about being able to sing “Screw the Nether” by heart or answer trivia questions about the Starks and the Lannisters. It’s about the genuine appreciation of a certain sub-culture, and it’s a lifestyle.

You either “live geek” or you don’t.

Why do we care about distinguishing ourselves from “fake geeks”?

All human beings want to feel like they belong someplace, and that they’re exceptional in some way. Our entire world is built around the concept. “We are citizens of [X] country.” “We are graduates of [X] college.” “We are fans of [X] sports team.” “We are members of [X] country club.”

Most of us aren’t bothered by the fact that other people exist outside of our own self-made communities; in fact, most of us welcome it. But when that little section of the universe that we’ve claimed as “ours” is infiltrated by impostors, we revert to our primal instinct: Defend our territory.

I think that’s why it’s so hard for people who’ve been labeled as geeks all their lives to accept this new influx of “social geeks.” It’s like we’re being forced to relinquish the one thing that’s always made us exceptional, and share it with people who don’t even really care.

There’s an episode of the MTV show “Daria” in which the title character’s ditsy younger sister Quinn receives an unexpectedly good grade on her English essay. Because Quinn is a “popular girl,” being a “brain” suddenly becomes a fad, while Daria (who has always been an intellectual outcast) finds herself struggling with her own identity.

Quinn Morgendorffer

“Yeah, that’s what Camus would’ve done.”

In a heart-to-heart with her father, Daria says,

“Let’s say you have an identity you don’t even like…but even though you don’t like this identity, somebody suddenly comes along and steals it from you. You didn’t want this identity, but if they take it away, you’ve got nothing. What do you do?”

That’s why we care about distinguishing ourselves from “fake geeks.” We may not have wanted this “geek” identity that the world gave to us, but now that it’s ours, we can’t help but feel like it’s a part of who we are, and if someone else takes it away, we’ve got nothing.

But the thing is, they can’t take away our identity. There are just too many of us damn geeks, and we’re everywhere. The geek community is one of the most diverse, most accepting, and most fun-loving communities out there, and now the internet makes it possible for geeks to connect from all four corners of the globe. We have a whole geek network, a geek army standing at our backs.

So let’s cut the “social geeks” some slack. We don’t “own” geek culture. In fact, card-carrying members of the geek community should do everything in their power to share and spread the love of all things geek, to everyone and anyone who shows interest.

Yes, even that guy writing Bilbo/Thorin slashfics who’s never even read “The Hobbit.” Because, believe it or not, we have more commonalities to share than differences to drive us apart.

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