The Geeks Shall Inherit What They’re Worth?
So, geek comics.
First of all, anyone who willingly adopts a name stolen from a sub-breed of circus freak that specialized in biting the heads of live poultry should be shot.
That being said, it’s about time those alcoholic half-mad savages in the filth-encrusted cages of the carnie sideshow had someone to look down on, and thank you, webcartoonists, for fitting the bill.
Cheap shots aside, this issue’s Comixpedia theme – geek comics – actually leaves this curmudgeonly scribe awash in not only his usual revulsion, but a bit of envy. Because, as it has been pointed out by countless pundits better read and more witty than I, the geeks have indeed inherited the earth. If you had told a younger me, playing skeetball in the back alleys of my beloved Skokie, that the tape-glasses knock-kneed spineless human dodgeball target that spent his lunch hours curled up in a corner of the library picking his nose and thumbing through copies of BOY’S ELECTRONICS would one day be the richest people on earth, I probably would have hit you with the skeetball.
Envy, too, because I am struggling through the Byzantine labyrinth that is Linux, trying to stand proud and free and not beholden to Microsoft products, and finding it ludicrously complicated. I have a secret theory that Linux actually doesn’t work at all, and it’s really an enormously stable Windows XP shell that runs a bunch of gibberish over top of it that nerds just pretend to “get”. This version of Windows just radically reduces the functions of everything within a forty-foot radius of your computer, including your coffee maker and possibly your spouse, until a part of the nerd conspiracy comes over and pokes it with a ten-foot rubber-tipped prod.
And the question I most commonly ask myself is “why bother?” XP, for my limited purposes of moving pixels around to make words, is stable enough. I don’t really do much except keep a massive multi-megabyte database of things to complain about, meticulously cross-referenced, and a lot of cantankerous letters to the editor squirreled away on my hard drive. The NEED for Linux does not seem to exist, and it’s a tremendous amount of effort, and other than that old Edmund Hilary logic, there doesn’t seem to be much point to it.
That’s where the reservations about this whole “geek culture” thing comes in. Aside from gaming comics – arguably a sub-breed of the uberset of geek comicry – geek comics are the foundation of Internet strippery. The first big Internet strips – Sluggy, Goats, User Friendly – were all self-proclaimed geek comics. And they stuck around, and they were successful, because they had a good built-in audience that wasn’t being addressed.
People that care about Star Wars and Lord of the Rings (pre-movie) and Buckaroo Banzai and the Shogun Warriors comic. People that get upset when Judge Dredd takes his helmet off. People that can tell you not only what a stardate means, but what today’s stardate actually IS. They’re out there, and in a few scarily important ways, they rule the planet.
And they care about the stupidest crap you’ve ever set your mind to.
Think of a hobby. Any hobby. And I guarantee it won’t be as thoroughly unrewarding as a lot of the things these uber-geeks commit most of their brainpan to storing. Let’s take a look at the big nerd hobbies of the past – the geek pastimes, if you will, of yore. Stamp collecting? You’re learning a lot about the world, and, through research, its cultures and idols and figureheads. Model trains? Physics, urban design, electricity. Rare books? Literature, culture, appraisal.
Quoting entire episodes of Blake’s Seven from memory and shouting down people in message boards about how Harry Potter could never take Tim from the Books of Magic just doesn’t seem to carry the same sort of real-world rewards as even the most useless of the old-guard geekdom.
So “why bother?” seems to be the order of the day. Why care about defunct short-run SF series that even the creators are in a hurry to write off? Why blow your life converting stats so you can make a GURPS fansite for The Lexx? Why not take an interest in politics, auto repair, Chinese cooking, shortwave radio, something even modestly useful?
The answer depresses almost as much as it fascinates: because you never know where passion will find you. It might be looking at the engine of a rusted-out AMC Gremlin, or it might be in the first thirty seconds of The Impossibles. You might get your jollies figuring out how to feed Africa, or you might find immense kickage in reorganizing your X-Men collection by the chronological age of Nathan Summers.
Obviously, genetics favours the singularly obsessed to some extent, or we’d never have evolved into creatures that play pub quizzes and clutter up the Internet with lame jokes about tribbles.
This column is usually a big kibbitz about the worst of the webcomics scene. It’s here because somebody has to bitch and moan about quality and encourage us to pull up our socks if we’re ever going to be taken seriously as a medium. But geek culture is vast. It encompasses anybody that’s really, really interested in any minutia, be it the evolution of the cockroach or the lounge music of 1968. Geek comics are so broad that they have a cosmos unto themselves, and the best and worst of them span the breadth of all other things.
Envy the geeks, the true geeks, because they’ve found something to care about, no matter how irrelevant and useless it seems. Pity the rest of us, still floundering about for a driving passion and some meager understanding of Linux.
And pity the geeks, too. Because hell, it’s easier to memorize Star Trek scripts and argue fervently about people that never existed than to actually bruise your intellect against the bricks and mortar of the real world.
There. That was sort of mean, wasn’t it?
Quota filled. Back to bed.
Dalton Wemble is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.