A Geek by Proxy (Karra Shimabukuro, Independent Scholar, North Carolina, USA)

One look at my Netflix Queue will tell you I’m a fangirl: Eureka, Dr. Who, Torchwood, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, Warehouse 13, Battlestar Galatica (both incarnations), Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, SeaQuest, The Guild…you get what I mean.

As will the contents of my house:

My shelves include comics such as Hellboy, Batman, Green Lantern, Astonishing X-Men, Fables as well as Serenity, Buffy the Vampire SlayerConstantine and Daredevil. I prefer the omnibus collections, because I’m impatient, and like my stories all at once. But have quite a few single issues that I had to have the moment they were released.

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My DVD collections includes all versions of Star Wars, multiple times (including a few VHS tapes gathering dust), every comic book movie, both director, and original cuts of Blade Runner. The box set of Alien. The Lord of the Rings, extended versions.

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I have well-loved (read: almost destroyed in many imaginary battles) Star Wars figures.Then there are the role playing books for Serenity,Vampires along with three ring binders that include detailed character charts and histories sit on my shelves next to my bag of dice. There are ‘Making Of’ books, companion books to the X-Files and Twin Peaks. The Lord of the Rings version of Risk. One look around my house, and you can instantly identify that a geek lives there.

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So here’s the confession that will surely keep me from finding the love of my life in geekdom, strip me of any fangirl credit I have, and possibly get my twenty sided die repossessed. I am not the geek you think I am. I did not, I am ashamed to say, come by my geekiness honestly. I stole it.

I am a geek by proxy.

It happened by accident. My first memory ever, is of the Cantina scene in Star Wars. My mother’s idea of babysitting was sitting me in front of Tom Baker’s Dr. Who. I was Wonder Woman several years in a row for Halloween, and obviously took my costume very seriously as I refused to take it off once the holiday had passed. According to my mother, I had a gold piece of yarn that I used as my ‘lasso of Truth’, and for months, no one entering our house was safe, as I would lasso them as soon as they came in the door, and wouldn’t let them enter until I was satisfied with their answers to my questions. My obsession was based not on the comic, but on a steady diet of Lynda Carter. I used to think that Wonder Woman could do anything. I still believe she can do anything (except get a major studio to back her).

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We had family pizza nights that were scheduled around when the latest episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation was on. I really thought I could be Wesley Crusher when I grew up and attend StarfleetAcademy. I know all the lines to all the movies, to the point that some people refused to sit down and watch them with me. I read fantasy and sci-fi. My USB hub for my laptop is a working TARDIS.

But here’s what I began to learn in high school: it wasn’t enough. Because fangirls have it hard. There is a fanaticism with certain people, that if you don’t measure up to their criteria (which usually are bizarre, and differ depending on who you talk to) then you’re not allowed in the club. So many women, who are secretly fangirls in their heart of hearts, won’t admit it, because they are afraid that if they do, that some screaming fanboy or (God help us) “expert” will tell them that they don’t know what they’re talking about and to go away. I first encountered this in high school. Allen was a die hard Star Trek fanatic. Knew everything about the original, and every incarnation. He could name all the red shirt characters. He knew all the episode names, and character arcs. He had read every single supplemental novel and novelization. He wrote fan fiction based in the universe. He built models of the ships. And if you couldn’t reel off the planets that USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) visited in order, he thought less of you.  It started with a small rolling of the eyes which through high school years turned into not inviting you to things because “you wouldn’t understand”. Later, it evolved into a superiority complex. He developed the attitude that he was somehow better, more inspired, more intelligent than you, and was going to DO SOMETHING. It was one of the first times as a young adult where my friendship was rejected because I hadn’t made the grade. I remember being bewildered, but also a little pissed: weren’t geeks supposed to stick together? Writing this many years later, I take no joy from the fact that he still lives with his mother in the same room decorated with Star Trek models and figures. It seems as though he was unable to move on from that time. But what I will never forget is how he made me feel as though I had no right to participate in this conversation.

Later, after college, this lesson was driven home to me, and is often the case for twenty-something fan girls, it came in the shape of a boyfriend. I met him during a regular Saturday role playing session my best friend ran. I was always intrigued by role playing games, but frankly never understood them (there goes a little more of my fangirl status). However, I was more than willing to spend the day hanging out and meeting people of similar interests. Dirk and I hit it off and were soon dating. It didn’t last long though, because World of Warcraft came to the apartment. And it never left. Or rather, Dirk never left. He stayed on his computer (as did his roommate one wall away) all day and all night. He bought a mini fridge and put it under his desk. A microwave soon followed, and sat on top of the fridge. There became almost no reason to move away from the computer screen. After several weeks, when I mentioned that maybe we might want to leave the apartment, he answered me with “You could always play.” And right there is the problem. Because, as long as I’m sharing all my secrets here, I’m not a fan of video games or computer games in general. I can play a mean Tron. Or Pac-Man, or Tekken. I have plenty of games I’ve picked up for a little while, but the long term investment required for so many of these games, just doesn’t interest me. The only time I ever got sucked into this was for a semester in college, when a friend introduced me to Marathon, which I proceeded to play for weeks on end until I realized I was slipping at work, and, subsequently, with my grades. Once I realized there were other things I’d rather be doing, I set the game down and never went back. So the obsession, the single-mindedness that so many geeks develop over online games, I just don’t get it. So I told Dirk I wasn’t interested. And that was it. It took several weeks of me slowly spending more time outside of the apartment to realize he never noticed I was gone, and eventually it all just faded away. I just stopped going over there, stopped calling. And to this day, I’m not sure when he exactly noticed. Dirk’s cliquish attitude was different from Allen’s – he didn’t talk down to me, for example. But it was obvious that if I wasn’t the “right” type of geek, I literally stopped existing.

I found myself in love with all things geek, a fount of useless pop-culture trivia, in love with fanboys, but somehow, lacking. Experience seemed to be telling me that while I may like geeky things, that wasn’t the same as being a geek.

Like I said, fangirls have it hard. So what’s a girl to do? If you love these things, and love the people who love these things, then what’s the answer? It turns out that there are two issues. The first is that there’s often the feeling that there’s a test to pass before they let you in the clubhouse. The second is that if you don’t learn certain things, not only are you not going to understand the conversation, but you certainly can’t participate in it.
So you memorize the order of Robins in Batman because that’s something only “real” fangirls know. But you’re not quite sure how many times Batman has retired or been killed. You lament the mish-mash timeline in the X-Men movies (where’s Hank McCoy in that first movie? Why is Colossus in there?) you keep to yourself that you don’t really understand (or if you’re honest, care) about the fifty million different timelines in comics. You can thoroughly discuss and debate all of the Star Trek movies, but are probably fuzzy, if not downright out of focus on the original episodes. You know Oracle more through Birds of Prey, than Batgirl.

You become a geek by proxy.

Now, some people are just ecstatic that a girl not only understands that plans can’t be made on the opening day of Lord of the Rings, but also expects you to buy her a ticket. That love is returning my copies of Astonishing X-Men in perfect condition. And who can have long conversations about the number of paradoxes in J.J Abrams’ Star Trek.

But there are others. People who take all the lovely things about being a geek or a nerd and turn it into the same cliques they hated up growing up. Where it’s not enough that you hang out with people that role-play, and help suggest ideas and characters, but you must log a certain amount of hours per week, and only with certain systems. Where you not only have to know who the third guy from the left is on the Enterprise from the original series in episode 13, but you have to have memorized his profile and life story from the supplemental novels/materials. These guys are jerks, but there are other issues with this attitude.

The first circles back to the age old discrimination that women can’t possible like anything having to do with science. Or science fiction. Or “boy” stuff. Or aren’t supposed to. Not supposed to like blowing things up in class, or building model rockets, or imagining going into space. Not supposed to read comic books (although given the lack of female audience geared comics, it’s a wonder any of us kept reading after the first few). Not supposed to have hour long discussions on who’s better, Aquaman or Namor (it’s Aquaman by the way). In a world, that still wants to shut women out of the conversation, it is disturbing to me that a community based on people who rarely fit in their own environments would turn around and exclude people. It’s one of the few places where I think few inroads have been made against gender bias.

The second is perhaps more insidious. It is the implication that only a narrow scope of knowledge is wanted. People are Star Wars or Star Trek. DC or Marvel. It seems that so much of fan culture is based on breaking down the world into binaries and opposites that should never, ever meet. But there are problems with this, especially in regards to new material. This material is created by people of a new generation and mindset- who may not know everything there is to know about one thing but can tell you lots and lots of trivia about a bunch of things. In a world where everything has become interconnected- where “meta” is the norm, and where you have to have seen/read ten movies/comics/books in order to understand the new release, a wide knowledge base is necessary. You have to understand the references and the background in order to understand the current story. Otherwise, you’re not getting the entire story. And I think this makes for a richer analysis, deeper insight, and quite frankly, more fun (how many of you not only read the entire whiteboard in Cabin in the Woods but also understood all the references?).

We should encourage a mindset that enables people to see the richness of texts, that requires them to make connections, and makes intertextuality a requirement. But if people whose interest are wide, but perhaps not deep, continue to be marginalized, then you’re not just alienating a potential audience, but a new generation of scholars and academics.

I always loved the fanboys growing up. They were always the ones I had crushes on, still do. It’s the fanboys I seek out in a gathering (they’re easy to spot- just check out the t-shirt collection). Hopefully, my confession that I’m only a geek by proxy won’t hurt my chances of living happily ever after with someone with whom I can debate the pros and cons of the Phoenix storyline.

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About

Karra Shimabukuro is an independent scholar from North Carolina, USA.  Her research focuses upon Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost, the roots of folkloric characters and how they are forwarded in literature and popular culture, such as comics, fairy tales, and horror films. She firmly believe that popular culture has become our new folklore. Karra is a fan of Joss Whedon, Dark Horse Comics (Buffy Season 8 and the Firefly, Shepherd book series), HellboyIron Man, Superman and Wonder Woman and considers herself a ‘freak’ for all things X-Men. Her favourite comic book character is Daredevil: ‘What I always loved was, like Batman, he was a real guy, with no “special powers” (not really anyway, I know his “sonar” is cool) but you saw him suffer, and get beat up, and yet every day he went out and did it again. I loved that strength of character.’ Karra’s dad is a ‘huge comic book freak’ and she adopted his love of all things Green Lantern. By proxy, of course.