What is a Geek?

As a part of my blog makeover, I am trying to be more intentional in my writing. It seemed logical, then, to dedicate a post to geekdom.  What is a geek, exactly?  What manner of witchcraft is geekery?  Who is a geek?  Why should anyone want to read about geek life?  Why are you even here?

Because I am a fancy person, I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary, or the OED, as we sad Englishy types call it. The OED defined “geek”(n., informal) as

  • 1a: an unfashionable or socially inept person
  •  1b: [usually with modifier] a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast: a computer geek
  • 2: a carnival performer who performs wild or disgusting acts.

I included the second definition for grins and giggles – if you fit that definition, I accept and affirm you as a human being, but please do not feel the need to elaborate in the comments section.  Not all sharing is caring, kids, and what happens in the Big Top should stay in the Big Top. 

The first definition (both parts) is fairly standard – it makes me think of Dr. Sheldon Cooper and his cohorts on The Big Bang Theory. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past six years, first of all, I want to know how anyone lives under a rock.  Secondly, the show follows Cooper and his scientist friends as they muddle their way through social situations and make Star Trek references.  Hilarity ensues.   


They can build a nuclear reactor; just don’t ask them to fix the elevator that’s been broken for six seasons. Or to go on a normal date.

When people think of geek culture, I imagine this image is one of the first that comes to mind.  Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Big Bang.  I find it a loving tribute to geek culture.  However, I find both it and the OED definition of the word to be lacking – at best, they form a partial image of geekdom that doesn’t quite encompass the true meaning of the word. I consider myself to be a geek, but I know next to nothing about science and math and I consider my social skills to be…passable, at the very least.  The use of the word “obsessive” also bothers me a little bit, if only because it seems kind of…stalkery.  I am passionately interested in BBC costume dramas, but I don’t have a shrine to them.  In fact, I’d say I’m fairly well-adjusted.

Don’t all agree with me right away.

So, where do we go from here?  If we take away the social ineptness and the obsessiveness (which are qualities that a geek may possess, but doesn’t have to), we are left with a word we don’t understand.  This word gets thrown around a lot – you have your car geeks, your lit geeks, your computer geeks.  Is everyone who has an interest a geek?  

Let’s talk etymology. Sexy, I know.  The OED states that the word comes from the “late 19th century: from the related English dialect geck ‘fool’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch gek ‘mad, silly.'”

Charming.  Thanks very much for that, OED.  Super-helpful.

Is it possible, though, that being a geek is what’s considered “mad?” That it’s not the geeks themselves who are strange, but the act of unapologetically pursuing an interest, of learning more about a topic than is strictly necessary?  A car geek knows more about cars than he or she needs to in order to drive, and a movie geek knows more about films than is needed to sit in a cinema.  I can tell you more about the history of the Marvel Comic Universe than you probably want to hear.  It’s a question of moreness.  

This moreness is frowned upon, I think.  It’s funny: we live in a world where we are pushed to acquire more and care less.  Apathy and self-consciousness are no longer considered rude – in fact, it’s the social norm.  We thrive on irony, on being “cooler than cool.”  You can blame the beatniks or the corporate mentality or the hipsters, but the fact remains that being passionate about anything is terribly unfashionable. It makes people uncomfortable.   

That’s what a geek is – someone who is brave enough to care more than they need to.  Geeks ask the “What if?” questions, because they have the courage to wonder about the world, the universe, and human beings.  A common phrase in geek culture is “I regret nothing,” usually paired with a gif of a spinning disco chicken.  Which is fantastic.  Geeks make it a policy to avoid regret, to stop castigating themselves for thinking thoughts beyond the mundane.  They really want to know who would win in a fistfight between Abe Lincoln and Ned Stark.  And they want to write about it, or draw it, or put it on a t-shirt, because they want to share that moreness with everyone else.  At the core of fantasy and science fiction and good horror is the moreness – the willingness to ask what more could happen.  

The OED definition of “geek” is too negative, I think.  In its simplest terms, geekhood is a positive quality. It’s not defined by a lack of social skills or a lack of balance – it’s all about how much more we could be.


– katierose


KatieBug’s Geekapalooza, Week One: Babylon 5

Welcome to the first weekly installment of my new series, Things Katie Bug Geeks Over (AKA The Geekapalooza, AKA Nerdstock 2013).  It should come as no surprise that the first entry in this series is dedicated to the great love of my life, J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5.  First of all, I’d like to state that this post is not meant to spark a flame war: I love Star Trek, Star Wars (well, apart from the prequels that never happened), Dr. Who, and a whole wide world of geeky goodness. I will discuss these in turn.  They are like my children; I could never choose between them. I’d appreciate if my gentle readers would love them all likewise. See also: Haters gonna hate.

My second point: I will attempt to avoid major spoilers in any way possible, but I make no promises. Hopefully I’ll inspire some new fans, but this is really a love letter to the fandom, because they are lovely people.

A part of what makes geeks geeks is that a series, book, or movie is never just that: there’s always a story behind the association, a starting point.  When I was a child – Babylon 5’s pilot aired in 1993, the year I turned 5 – my dad used to watch the show, but I didn’t rediscover it until I found it on Netflix Instant my junior or senior year of college. I devoured five seasons in about two months.  I don’t remember eating, sleeping, or showering during that period, so I’d like to apologize to my classmates and friends for that period of time. Rather, I would apologize if I regretted any of it, but as you might have guessed, I regret nothing. I’ve rewatched it several times since then – and it’s the one I keep coming back to.

Yes, it’s the black sheep of the space operas.  It doesn’t have the Roddenberry touch; its dialogue isn’t Whedon-snappy; it lacks BSG’s flashy action sequences and gritty style.  There’s that regrettable Spaced scene (and that’s all we shall say about that particular moment). Its set design shows the budget (or lack thereof), and who knew everyone in the future had awesome ’90s hair?  The first season can be difficult to get through, but you have to watch it the whole way through (more on that later). I admit all of this.

So why does this Geek Girl love Babylon 5 so much that she is seriously naming her firstborn child Susan Ivanova?

I could say that it’s for the brilliance of the story arc.  Five seasons, one main plot (well, one-and-a-half, kind of.  Season Five’s debatable).  This series takes continuity to a whole new level of wonderful, with events from the pilot reoccurring as late as the final season.  We geeks love this. I believe it’s because we want to have to work a little bit for our plots.  Intellectual masochism? Maybe.

I could say it’s because of the universe JMS has created.  It’s not a utopia. Nor is it a dystopia.  Rather, it is the future – cosmetic elements aside – of the human race as we are.  Poverty, mental illness, prejudice, and violence still exist, but these do not comprise the core identity of the human race.  We’re a work in progress.  This universe is a little worn around the edges, a little bit raw, but full of potential.  A significant example of this characterization of the future comes from JMS’s inclusion of a variety of human faiths.  I could dedicate a blog post simply to faith in B5 – in fact, I probably will. Suffice it to say, human beings are not universally religious, but neither are they “beyond” faith.  In fact, new faiths have sprung up in response to contact with alien races.  People of faith are neither all bigots nor all saintly and pious.  It’s an evenhanded portrayal that characterizes the universe created in the series.  As a person of faith (and also an unapologetic open-minder), I find this resonant.

I could say it’s because of the number of badass women in the series.  In a world where strong women are almost always portrayed as either repressed hardasses or hypersexualized femme fatales, it’s refreshing to see women presidents, ambassadors, commercial telepaths, resistance leaders, and military personnel.  It’s even more refreshing to see that their strengths are not determined by their sexuality or lack thereof. Again, this is another blog altogether.  I live a B5 appreciation life.

All of these elements are, of course, lovely and wonderful and delicious.  However, that’s not why I keep revisiting this series.  It’s because of its scope, its powerful emotional scope. It’s about the people, whether they have fanlike hair or spots or bonecrests, whether they wear Jedi Ranger robes or hideous Cosby Show sweaters. At the core of Babylon 5 is the belief, stated by Delenn (paraphrasing Carl Sagan), that “we are starstuff. We are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out.”  This is, above all, a story about people trying to comprehend their relationship to the unknowable forces governing their lives: destiny, history, love, hate.

It’s because these are people who feel like real people.  They are a dizzying mixture of virtues and vulnerabilities, and we both love and hate them in turn. The goodnatured, easy-going security chief is also a recovering alcoholic.  The bombastic, corrupt Centauri ambassador is an unexpected romantic. The severe, mysterious Vorlon has a hidden sense of humor.  War heroes cope with battle scars, both physical and spiritual.  No character is completely “good” or “evil,” and no one is beyond the power of redemption or sacrifice. We watch as a favorite character sells his soul, and as another one finds his after a lifetime of hatred.  We are troubled by the paths traveled by these people as they struggle to discover their purpose in the universe, how best to serve, and who they can trust.

It’s because of the moments.  As Dr. Franklin states at one point in Season 3, “The moments are all we’ve got.”  It’s because this series is heartbreakingly beautiful in its exploration of betrayal, redemption, sacrifice, and love – love of every kind.  It’s because of those moments when prophecy is revealed and the moments when prophecy is fulfilled in ways no one could have expected.  Yes, the series starts off a little slow, but if you stick it out, you get the most beautiful of stories which, like all beautiful stories, takes a little time to grow.

In the end, it’s because these beautifully flawed people – straight, not-straight, alien, human, progressive, conservative, believers and questioners – all find a place in the wide, frightening universe. They make choices, for better or for worse. They refuse to accept the status quo.  And in the end, it’s not because they are special, but because they’re us.  I can’t say it better than JMS does in the final episode (don’t worry, it’s not too spoilerrific):

“Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations. There would never be another. It changed the future and it changed us. It taught us that we have to create the future or others will do it for us. It showed us that we have to care for one another, because if we don’t, who will? And that true strength sometimes comes from the most unlikely places. Mostly, though, I think it gave us hope, that there can always be new beginnings. Even for people like us.” – Susan Ivanova

That’s why I keep coming back to B5.  Because of the hope.


Mamas, Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be Geeks

My eternal apologies to Willie Nelson.

I have a confession to make. I’m a geek. Some of you might know this; some of you may have only suspected. Many of you who know me don’t know the depths of my geekiness.  I’ve been listening to the Babble On Project podcast (plug!), and as a result, I’m coming out of the shadows (if you get the reference, you’re clearly a Fiver, and we’ll get along).  It’s been such a joy, and it’s pushed me to come clean: I’m not a dabbler, nor a lurker; I’m an all-out geek.  I have a comic book collection, and a Tumblr. I know my Trek, and I’ve written fan fiction.  Babylon 5 changed my life, and I push that show on everyone I meet like it’s crystal meth (but crystal meth made with one cohesive, five-season serialized plotline, instead of with stockpiled Sudafed. Seriously. Watch it. All the cool kids are doing it).

I am a geek.  More than that, I am a girl geek.  A female fanboy. A she-nerd.

We girl geeks are everywhere. Sometimes, we’re wearing ComiCon tshirts and Converses. Sometimes, we’re dressed in all black, tatted out. Sometimes, we’ve got our iPods cranked up, blasting Florence + the Machine and thinking that the lyrics must be talking about Character A’s storyarc this season.  Sometimes, we are LARPers (for those not in the know, Google is your friend). And sometimes, we’re the girl in heels and pearls, grabbing a coffee after teaching class and surfing Tumblr in the coffeeshop.  Window seat.  And we’re probably also blasting Florence (seriously, you can’t tell me she’s not a Fiver).

It’s not easy to be both a girl and a geek.  It can be isolating and embarrassing. Teenagers can be cruel.  Being open in your geekiness might cost you homecoming court, or a pageant tiara, or a quarterback boyfriend.  And some days, it’s no easier to fit in at 24 than it was at 14.

Why raise your daughter to be a geek, then?

Raise your daughter to be a geek because geekdom is a beautiful place. In geekdom, it’s okay to be a strong woman, to be a smart woman, to be a funny woman.  It’s great.

Raise your daughter to be a geek because she will have amazing role models.  Instead of autotuned pop singers, sexcapader reality “stars,” and tv-drama-heroines with serious attachment issues, she will see starship captains, warrior mothers, female presidents, girl geniuses: all genuine heroines. She’ll see normal girls and women, not Barbie dolls, who really can do anything they set their minds to do.

Raise your daughter to be a geek because she will get to see beauty, and bravery, and sacrifice.  Feed her stories about people (of all races, genders, sexual identities, faiths) making difficult choices in the face of daunting odds.   Let her see Buffy give her life for her sister. Let her see the survivors of Flight 815 form a community to stand against evil.  Let her read about the Pevensies growing in faith and bravery. Give her the chance to see these things.

Raise your daughter to be a geek because she needs joy and enthusiasm.  Let’s be honest: often, life is less than we deserve, and it is too easy to become tired and jaded.  What makes geekdom so countercultural is not the spaceship saltshakers, the fake Hobbit ears, or the Klingon desk dictionary.  It’s the joy.  We live in a society that encourages constant, empty pursuit and perennial dissatisfaction.  Geeks are joyful. We never worry about keeping our cool because, to be frank, coolness has never been in our possession.  We love what we love and we want to share it with everyone else.  That’s so radical.

Raise your daughter to be a geek because she will surround herself with other geeks. Friendship is an oft-neglected relationship in our culture, where girls are pitted against each other in competition and the only legitimate relationship is one defined by the ability to attract boys.  As a result, women make it to their 20s unable to form fast friendships. Don’t do this to your daughter.  Give her the chance to find joyful, awkward, nerdy friends, to surround herself with people who will share in her joys and encourage her via Joss Whedon metaphors (“You know…this situation reminds me of ‘The Zeppo’…”).  Let her form her own Flight 815 (though hopefully with less fuselage damage). What’s more, geek unity is stronger than ever due to the internet. Let her find her own community of people who love what she loves and want to multiply that love.

Raise your daughter to be a geek because you will give her the gift of an unrestrained imagination.  Life without dreaming is gray and tense; teach her whimsy and color and starlight.  One of the most dangerous habits is to think that we know everything, that there’s nothing left to be marveled at.  If being a geek has taught me anything, it’s that the universe is full of wonder and joy and the Great Mystery. And that is worth protecting and passing on.

Not all of you will have daughters. Not all of you will have children.  But some of you will.  And some of you will meet young geeks, both boys and girls.  Encourage them. Give them books about warrior mice in Abbeys, and truly wretched Extended Universe works. Hand them a paintbrush.  Let them tell you all about this classic TV show they’ve just discovered about a girl who kills vampires, or about a space station and a war against Shadow aliens.  And do more than listen.  Share.  If you’re a geek yourself, tell them.  They need to know that it turns out okay for misfits like us.



In celebration of the beauty that is geekiness, I will be dedicating a series of blog posts to the books, tv series, and other works that inspire my geekish joy. My hope is to start a dialogue and maybe to introduce some of you newbie geeks to the great works that have shaped who I am as a writer, a teacher, a counselor, and a geek.  So be on the lookout for my Bug Chronicles weekly posts. There will be squeeing, and you don’t want to miss that.