When I was 8 years old I came down with the chicken pox. It is one of those things so many of us did as children, and it is almost a right of passage. For me, it was a turning point. I was covered in spots, tears rolling down my eyes as I tried to do what my mom said and not scratch the unbearable itchy things and had to stay in bed. The only plus side was my mom, in an effort to keep me occupied and happy. That was where I entered into the world of the geek.
Not that it turned me into a geek, I was already a geeky kid. It was who I was. But it took me into a world that I never quite grew out of. I’ll admit, I am not a collector, I just read comics when I get the chance, but they were my gateway drug. My mom could argue it happened when I was an infant, and went to see Star Wars at the drive in, and have held the obsession to this day. The point is, comics are synonymous week geekery, and that has always played a huge role in my life. I never quite fit in. I have this nasty habit of hiding from crowds, I spoke with an adult’s vocabulary at age 4 (leading my step-father to call me by the oh so politically incorrect “40-Year-Old-Midget) and going on at great length to people who have no interest about movies and comics. This didn’t exactly make me the most popular kid in school.
As I grew older, I learned to hide some of my more annoying habits, but I am still the same kid to my core. People will tell you it isn’t easy growing up geek, but in truth, it just isn’t easy growing up. We all have our challenges. But now, because of factors such as the internet, geek, isn’t quite the dirty word it used to be. We can still be looked at as strange or odd, but we can wear the title no longer as an albatross dragging us down, but a badge of honor. Geeks have always been around, and we have always influenced the world, but our emergence into mainstream pop culture is nothing short of a miracle I would have thought impossible had you told me as I lay in bed, covered in calamine lotion and tears.
Being a geek today is no longer about being an outcast, but a celebration of creativity, unflinching fandom and knowing who and what you are regardless of what the world thinks. We have grown. We are legion, and we are strong. I would never dare compare the hardships of growing up geek as being the same as growing up as a racial minority in an unaccepting culture, or being gay, but it is a challenge for a lot of kids and even adults. And it isn’t limited to kids who love comics, or role playing games. Geeks are those of us who face the daily challenges of being ourselves, either because we choose not to conform to the “social norms” of the rest of our surrounding culture, or those of us who simply cannot assimilate. The point is, those things are ok. And today, while we still get funny looks and people who don’t understand, being geek is now about being us. It is about being who and what you are, because that is a good thing.
Today, they still get funny looks, but finding an online culture where we come together has made us strong. We celebrate those hard working and obsessive creative cosplayers who spend months pouring literal blood, sweat and tears into making their costumes. We applaud those amazingly creative types like Joss Whedon who took their geek flag, and flew it high enough to bring people together and break records. Wil Wheaton showed us geeks can be embraced, celebrated, and survive as human beings (even after being as irritating as Wesley Crusher was). And so many more.
But there is an ugly side to this power too. Recently I have seen blog posts and articles come out one after another chastising people who call themselves “geeks” by those who were tormented, hurt and bullied saying “They aren’t real geeks.” Turning up their noses at “fake geek girls” and celebrities they accuse of jumping on the band wagon. And to them, I say shame on you. Shame on you for becoming what you claim to hate. We need to embrace, and accept those we could call outsiders. It is a deep anger bred of years of being an outcast, and I understand. We cannot allow ourselves to become the bullies. As they said in the Captain America movie, the little guy should understand the power of strength and not abuse it. In the words of Uncle Ben, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” We should welcome into our fold, not shut others out as if it is our own private club.
We, the geeks, are quickly taking our strength, and turning it against those who hurt us because they were better looking, more athletic… more “normal”. If we are to ask for acceptance, we cannot abuse it when we find it. So I welcome you all. Sports gamers and tabletop players alike. Cosplayers and fashionistas. Those that can name every football stat known to man as equals to those who can tell you the first appearance of their favorite comic book characters. Being a geek is no longer about being shamed and ridiculed for loving things obsessively. It needs to be about acceptance of those people from all sides.
Do you obsessively love something others don’t understand? Do you say “I will be me, and I wont let you or anyone else change that”? Do you know who and what you are and let it shine proudly, or at least hope that you some day have the strength to do so? Then welcome. Welcome geeks. Welcome all. Join us and let’s make the world a tiny bit better for being a part of it. Let us embrace those who want to be one of us, and smile at those who turn their noses up at us. So don’t hate ComicCon San Diego because it isn’t all about comics anymore. Celebrate that it has become so much more where cosplayers and “outsiders” can stand side by side. Don’t hate beautiful women for calling themselves geeks just because they don’t know who Thanos is. Stop turning your nose up at stats nuts just because you are like me and have no idea why people care about the designated hitter rule. Embrace, educate and accept. It is our destiny.
We have grown to staggering numbers, let’s not sully that by acting like those who gave us the title of geek, that we now wear with pride. Welcome them into the fold and lets make the world what we wished it was when we were bullied weird kids. Be geeks, proud and accepting.