For as long as I can remember, the words “geek” and “nerd” have been synonymous with someone who likes science-fiction and comic books. At times, those terms were pejorative. When I was a young lad in the ’80s and growing up in the ’90s, geeks were outcasts.
But, over the years, the term has been gladly adopted by many of us, taking on the language of our detractors and taking the spite out of the vocabulary. Now that “geek culture” is mainstream— and accounts for the highest-grossing summer films—and C-listers from the world of comics are now household names, “geek” is used as an affectionate term.
It’s largely a label we give ourselves, though, often in conjunction with our specific areas of expertise. I’m a Star Wars geek, first and foremost. Then come things like classic cinema, Batman, history and comic books, more generally.
Some in the geek community are finding themselves being called out on their use of the term. “You’re not geeky enough to be called a geek!” is a common cry heard ’round the Internet and in geek circles. For some reason, it’s most often a charge leveled at girls and women who have only a limited area of geek expertise. Perhaps they call themselves Avengers geeks, but have never read a single comic book in their lives. Or maybe they love Doctor Who, but couldn’t tell the difference between a lightsaber and a phaser if their lives depended on it.
I hate to break it to everyone, but geekiness doesn’t have set levels like mercury in a thermometer.
Are you enthusiastic about something? Does that thing bring you joy? Do you know bizarre little details about it that someone who doesn’t enjoy it as much as you wouldn’t know? Then you’re a geek.
Which is why there’s such a thing as a “sports geek.” They could tell you who pitched a no-hitter in the 1956 World Series (Google tells me that it was Don Larsen, pitching for the New York Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5) as readily as I could tell you the name and race of most of the aliens in Star Wars. It’s the same reason you can see a history geek’s face light up when you start talking about the intricacies of famous Civil War battles, and it’s why you get costumed geeks re-enacting those battles.
If that girl obsessed with Doctor Who doesn’t know about anything else outside of Doctor Who, that doesn’t make her not a geek. It makes her simply a Doctor Who geek. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I’ve met every kind of geek, and there’s one commonality among them: When they talk about the thing that gets their geek engine going, their face lights up in a smile. That’s what being a geek is all about. Finding that thing, whether it’s basketball or Batman, is important. It’s a passion. It’s a hobby. It’s a happy place.
And it doesn’t matter what that place is or what bit of popular culture it comes from. If you’re excited about it, and want to share it with others, you’re a geek. That’s all there is to it. No one can take that away from you, or redefine it for you.
If you haven’t found that thing you’re passionate for yet, you’ve got the best job in the world. You get to try everything—music, TV, books, comics—until you find it. And when you do? Don’t let go.
Bryan Young is editor-in-chief-of BigShinyRobot.com.