√Geek

In 2014 I was the post-doctoral researcher on an AHRC-funded research collaboration between the Arthur C Clarke Award and Birkbeck College, called ‘The Geek Pound.’ One of the outputs of this project was the below essay/report into the idea of the “geek”. It was originally published on a tumblr which has since died, so I post it here in case it might be of interest to anyone. It seems to come from a slightly different era – pre-2016 is a different era! – and Gamergate was rumbling at the time. 10K words, so a chunky read!

The geek is a vast category, highly mobile, under continual dispute and very much alive. It is a stereotype, a subculture and, as will be argued here, an approach to knowledge. It is both central to contemporary mass culture and insistently on the fringes.

This report attempts to conceptualise the geek based on a reading of where it has come from and how it has changed and is still changing: a morphology of the geek through cultural history. It will be, by its nature, incomplete and esoteric – one of a multitude of ways into such a subject – but it will aim to be, in the spirit of the geek, never less than fully engaged and mobile.

As a popular cultural stereotype, the geek has proved remarkably resilient, predating the latest incarnation of the hipster, for example, by a decade or more, and looking certain to outlive him. Certain commentators have been tempted to declare ‘peak geek’ but, as a mass media phenomenon, the geek abides.[1]

The ubiquity of the category makes certain questions more pressing. Does it even make sense to speak of geek culture anymore, now that mainstream cinema is so dominated by sff and comic book adaptations? Isn’t geek culture simply popular culture? Should we be thinking of an affinity with technology or computing as geeky when ‘technological miracles’ are everyday phenomena? As Warren Ellis points out ‘a 16-year-old girl using SnapChat on her iPhone isn’t a geek, she’s a functioning modern teenager.’[2] Despite a participation gap that quite rightly causes concern for governments and commentators, increased internet accessibility has made the vast majority of those in mature economies digital natives. This report will argue that the very ubiquity and mobility of the term geek means that it is now more fruitful to think of it as a mode than as a type; that what is distinct about the geek is a particular approach to particular forms of knowledge.

This approach has implications for what might seem the most obvious route into a cultural phenomenon: its canonical works. While it might indeed be possible, and enormously enjoyable, to describe a geek canon, once we get beyond the ur-texts – The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, World of Warcraft – and beyond the advent of the internet, could we hope to achieve any workable consensus? Which Marvel comic books to include? Which computer games? Pac Man? Tetris? The Sims? Grand Theft Auto? Which Grand Theft Auto? Aren’t ALL computer games canonically geeky? Aren’t all comic books? You can be a Sherlock geek, surely, but can you be a Sherlock Holmes geek? Which websites should be included? It is reasonable to ask: who has seen the whole of the internet?

Arguments over the extent of the canon are playful and loaded with irony and are taking place everywhere, right now. The point to be made here is that while different definitions of the geek will locate different texts inside or outside of the canon, the way of conceptualising the geek that we will propose, based on where that concept is now, compared to where it has come from, will insist that any text can be canonically geeky, and indeed that we need to apply a broad understanding of what constitutes a text. The geek is process rather than object. Texts will be mentioned not in order to canonise them but in order to give a representative sample. Embedded with ham radio activists the Geek Group in 2010, sociologist Christina Dunbar-Hester illustrated well the range of the geek:

During my time with the group, the Geek Group collective hosted an evening film screening, at which they viewed Incubus, an obscure pre-Star Trek movie starring William Shatner that was filmed in Esperanto, and Forbidden Planet, a 1950s sci-fi film that is generally credited with the first all-electronic movie score. One evening while looking up some information about building directional wi-fi antennas using a Pringles can (‘cantennas’), Rolf was absentmindedly whistling to himself; I recognized the tune as the Death Star motif from the Star Wars films. Another geek said that he had recently taken up knitting and that one of his most satisfying projects so far was knitting a hat in the shape of a Klein bottle (a closed, continuous shape with one surface, like a Möbius strip).[3]

Obscurantism, soundtracks, electronics, craft practices, topology and sf, three times. Welcome to the geek.

Geek History

An etymological and cultural history of the word ‘geek’ tells some familiar and some less familiar stories. The word derives from the Low Middle German word ‘geck’, meaning, according to the OED:  ‘A fool, simpleton; one who is befooled or derided; a dupe.’ This usage appears twice in Shakespeare plays: ‘Why have you suffered me to be imprisoned… And made the most notorious gecke and gull That ere invention plaid on?’; ‘To become the geeke [sic.] and scorn o’ th’ others vilany.’[4]

The OED notes that usage of the word survived in English into the nineteenth century, in which form George Eliot used it in Adam Bede (1859): ‘If she’s tackled to a geck as everybody’s laughing at.’ There are cognate forms in Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic. The word ‘gecken’ was used to refer to freaks in German circuses in the nineteenth century and seems likely to have crossed the Atlantic with German immigrants.

Certainly, by the early twentieth century, the geek was a familiar performer in US carnival sideshows. Green’s Dictionary of Slang highlights the popularity of a touring sideshow act, Wagner, of Charleston West Virginia, a snake-head-biter, as instrumental in broadening the reach of the term ‘geek’ around 1922.[5] A fairly ambiguous early usage cited by the OED from the Wells Fargo Messenger in 1916 seems likely to refer to this kind of geek: ‘A new Wells agent struck our town the other week, and say – you never saw a more enthusiastic geek!’

Writing in The Guardian, John Sutherland has suggested that William Lindsay Gresham’s novel Nightmare Alley (1947) did much to popularise the term in this context and this seems to be supported by a google ngram tracking the frequency of the use of the term in printed sources scanned by google.[6] Nightmare Alley was adapted for the screen the following year and the sideshow geek entered broader visual culture. The first chapter of Nightmare Alley, ‘The Fool’, introduces the geek from its first sentence: ‘Stan Carlisle stood well back from the entrance of the canvas enclosure, under the blaze of a naked light bulb, and watched the geek.’[7] Stan watches the geek’s act – the biting of the heads off chickens and snakes makes for an arresting opening – and afterwards asks Clem Hoately, the carnival talker, how geeks come about: are they born that way? Hoately describes how a “bottle-a-day booze fool” is manipulated into performing the act in exchange for alcohol: the geek was excluded and fooled even within the carnival subculture.

Green’s examples of variant usages still extant parse our geek into distinct elements, including: ‘one who is considered intellectual and thus alien to the peer group, esp. an obsessive.’ A particularly interesting, because early and, for want of a better term, ‘plugged-in’ example of this usage is from a letter written by Jack Kerouac in 1957: ‘Brooklyn College wanted me to lecture to eager students and big geek questions to answer.’ The geek has long been associated with an enthusiasm that borders on the obsessive and has evidently been attracted to cultural objects.

Bob Dylan’s use of the term in Ballad of a Thin Man (1965) instances an important point of convergence in the sixties counter-culture: Dylan’s song rhymes ‘geek’ with ‘freak’:

You hand in your ticket and you go watch the geek

Who immediately walks up to you when he hears you speak

And says, “How does it feel to be such a freak?”

The carnival context from which the original geek emerged was often called a freak show, but it was the word ‘freak’ that had the settled meaning of ‘strange or abnormal individual’ from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Some of this broader sense of being an outcast pertains in the contemporary usage of ‘geek’, but both the idea that ‘geek’ might be a term with which one would actively identify, rather than a pejorative, and some of its sense of awkwardness, seem to come about almost by chance.

Geeks and Freaks

In 1967 the writer Joe Simon created the character Brother Power the Geek for DC Comics. In The DC Comics Encyclopaedia Dan Wallace glosses Brother Power:

After a bummer of an evening one night in San Francisco, two put-upon hippies named Brother Nick and Brother Paul hung some of their threads on a tailor’s ragdoll dummy in an abandoned clothing shop. A lightning strike, combined with the era’s groovy vibes, somehow animated the dummy and transformed him into Earth’s only “puppet elemental.” Brother Power the Geek drifted throughout California helping out fellow free spirits and learning about the world in a series of unlikely predicaments. When a big top promoter kidnapped Brother Power to be the centre-piece of his psychedelic circus, Brother Nick and Brother Paul returned to spring their puppet brother so he could continue his road trip search for truth. Eventually he took a cosmic voyage aboard an experimental space missile that blasted into orbit.[8]

A rumour – originating, it seems, from Scott Shaw’s now-defunct oddball comics site – claims that Brother Power was originally to be dubbed ‘the freak’ but that DC management balked at that appellation due to perceived drug culture associations. They may have been correct – the seminal hippy comic book The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers was just four years away.

Regardless of the veracity or otherwise of such claims, the term ‘geek’ here is clearly extremely closely related to ‘freak’. It denotes membership of a community outside of mainstream culture, and we should take note of the hippy adoption of that initially derogatory term ‘freak’ and its anticipation of what happens in the nineties with the term ‘geek.’ The fact that the term ‘geek’ emerges in a comic books context also demonstrates early cultural convergence between alternative cultures that are eventually united under the ‘geek’ banner.

The sideshow associations of the geek were maintained throughout the seventies. Another intriguing and muddled context is professional wrestling. “Classy” Freddie Blassie, who’d been a wrestler himself, adopted the phrase ‘pencil-necked geek’ as a catchphrase with which to taunt audience and opponents during his managerial career of the 1970s. In 1975 he recorded a song of the same title with Johnny Legend. Blassie started using this phrase during his own wrestling career, when he would go up against a wrestler who was styled as a carnival geek. Evidently, the carnival and wrestling contexts have some historical correspondences.

Craig Nova’s 1976 novel The Geek maintains the older, carnival usage: having won two chickens in a raffle the novel’s protagonist, Boot, journeys to the island Iskaria where he encounters a carnival with a geek.[9] The geek is both a drunk and a fool, barely capable of speech. More successful, perhaps, as literary fiction is Katherine Dunn’s 1986 novel, Geek Love, an outsider classic telling the story of one particular carnival family and their experiments with mutation.[10] Dunn’s novel marks another convergence within alternative popular cultures that will warrant further examination: Geek Love’s carnie settingis emblematic of Generation X or slacker culture’s affection for vintage folk forms and its adoption of alternative and outsider social structures, inclinations that can still be observed in such contemporary cultural phenomena as burlesque strip tease and the Burning Man Festival.

Supportive of this association is a short-lived industrial music fanzine called The Geek, published in London in 1980: the context and titling of this ‘zine references the carnival usage of the word ‘geek’ but, like Dunn’s novel, instances identification with the more extreme, socially transgressive elements of the idea of the individual considered a social outcast even by freaks.[11] Industrial music’s rejection of cultural normativity meant that in its acts of apparent transgression it was frequently extremely progressive.

It Was Acceptable in the ‘80s

The first signs that the colloquial usage of the word ‘geek’ was broadening occur in the 1980s. The phenomenon of the Valley Girl – a primarily female social group from the middle-class San Fernando Valley – began to emerge in the early 1980s, with a very distinct slang of its own. Mike Gancarz, author of The UNIX Philosophy, was working for Compugraphic Corporation in 1980 and borrowed the code from an existing dialect filter to create the Valspeak filter, which would output any text fed into it in the argot of the Valley Girl.[12] It replaced the word ‘man’ with the word ‘geek,’ which lends Valspeak a remarkably broad sense of the geek but also a uniformly gendered one. Two years later, Frank and Moon Unit Zappa released the song Valley Girl. While this contained no mention of the word ‘geek,’ interviewing Moon Unit for The Guardian Bart Mills used it in his rendering of Valspeak: ‘Come onnn – bag your face, you geek, you grody totally shanky spazz.’[13]

The Valley Girl type began to appear in Hollywood films, as did its slang. In the 1984 John Hughes film Sixteen Candles, Anthony Michael Hall’s character is referred to as ‘The Geek’, and numerous additional cast members are ‘geeks’ of varying flavours. The same actor was a ‘brain’ in the promotional material for the following year’s film The Breakfast Club and a dork in Weird Science, so the term ‘geek’ had not yet achieved priority for the association of socially awkward but intelligent science enthusiast. The Revenge of the Nerds was also released in 1984.[14] Transmedia sharing of the term contributes to the relentless ascent of the geek stereotype at this time. California is also clearly an important locus: home to the Valleys both Girl and Silicon, and to the Hollywood Hills.

In 1987, Alex Brummer was on the campaign trail with George Bush senior reporting for The Guardian. Pondering the representation of Bush as a ‘wimp’ in the US media – something that the US media might want to consider the consequences of in retrospect – Brummer reports ‘a desultory search for a more appropriate slang for Bush; the “geek” currently in favour among American teenagers; the “nerd”, latched onto by the film industry, or the good old English “wally”.’[15] By 1989 David Bowker was writing in the same newspaper that Scottish pop duo The Proclaimers were ‘geeks.’[16] Such reports seem to indicate that towards the end of the 1980s the meaning of the word was softening: geeks might be on the edge of mainstream culture but they were looked upon fondly; it certainly was not such a term of abuse.

The OED currently defines a ‘geek’ as: ‘an unfashionable or socially inept person; [usu. with modifier] a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast: a computer geek.’ For Green’s the primary meaning of ‘geek’ is ‘a clumsy, eccentric or offensive person.’ Only the sixth definition in Green’s, the most recent, implicates computer culture: ‘(orig. US campus) a devotee or an expert in computers and computer-related culture.’ The College Slang Dictionary has an entry from the University of Chicago from 1989 for ‘Internet geek: what everyone calls each other whose usage frequency is inversely proportional to the number of days left in a semester.’[17]

One example of usage given in Green’s illustrates another important shift towards a broadening of application of the term ‘geek,’ particularly as compared to ‘nerd.’ The script for Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, written 1993, had a waitress taking an order from ‘a bunch of film geeks.’ In this use the term seems roughly synonymous with the words ‘enthusiast’ or ‘fan,’ and it applies outside of the only-recently defined affinities with computing or technology. Intriguingly, one also suspects that the author of the script would self-identify as a film ‘geek.’

Positive Geek Self-identification

In 1993, users of web fora such as Usenet began appending their posts with a block of code by way of a signature. The Geek Code identified a set of capabilities and inclinations in certain key categories that were seen as defining geeks: Geek Coders described their abilities in various computing categories – UNIX, Perl, Emacs – and their affinities for stereotypically geeky cultural objects: Star Trek, Babylon 5, X-Files, Role Playing, Dilbert and DOOM! There were also categories for ‘Television’ more broadly, for ‘Books’ in toto and for ‘Roundness’ in the personal section.

The geek who came up with the idea, Robert Hayden, wrote in an introductory webpage:

So you think you are a geek, eh? The first step is to admit to yourself your geekiness. No matter what anyone says, geeks are people too; geeks have rights. So take a deep breath and announce to the world that you are a geek. Your courage will give you strength that will last you forever.[18]

The Geek Code is like a time capsule – how many geeks still ‘Watch the Skies’ or read Dilbert? It emphasises the significance of key texts, particularly in the sff field, and of television and gaming over literature. Most importantly, perhaps, it evidences positive geek self-identification. Where Brother Power might have become geek by accident, Geek Coders were becoming geek by choice.

The active reclamation of the geek as an identity aligns itself with prior lexical reclamations. Christina Brontsema writes of this process: ‘At the heart of linguistic reclamation is the right of self-definition, of forging and naming one’s own existence.’[19] Offensive terms such as ‘queer,’ ‘nigger,’ ‘cunt’ and ‘dyke’ have been re-appropriated by activist groups and communities with an agenda to rob highly abusive language of toxic potency and these processes have been fraught and ambiguous. Brontsema, indeed, questions the extent to which such re-appropriations over-write the prior usages.

The reclamation of the term ‘geek’ has not been led by political activism but by rather more diffuse processes typical of online cultural community. I want to suggest that it has also been playful and that this playfulness might also evidence an ironic awareness of prior lexical reclamations. As Susan Leigh Star writes in her ‘Introduction’ to The Cultures of Computing (1995):

Understanding this sort of humour and elaborate word-typography play is an important part of understanding the culture of those who spend a lot of time on line, playing with long-distance relationships, and developing identities linked to those activities.[20]

Since 1993, increasing numbers have aligned themselves with the geek identity. Christina Dunbar-Hester emphasises that this sense of identity persists:

Though the word originates as a term of insult […] the use of it by these geeks (and many others) to describe themselves is a fond, self-aware form of teasing and playfulness. It may be that as with other iterations of identity politics, geeks have laid claim to a title that had a history as a term of disparagement in order to gain power over its use. In this way they might derive strength from a label that had once been injurious to them, and use it instead to highlight their own uniqueness from others and commonality with each other.[21]

At first glance the word ‘geek’ leaps out in the company of the words ‘nigger’ and ‘queer.’ In terms of identity politics, one is minded to check one’s privilege when considering the lot of the geek: black and LGBT activists have faced down entrenched historical prejudices that have been enshrined in legislature. While the geek was a lowly performer, and while the term had pejorative connotations up to and into the 1980s, modern geeks have never been enslaved or outlawed. There are, however, those who point to violence against the socially ostracized to argue for the geek to be protected by hate crime legislation. Legal scholar Michael Blake writes:

Being ostracized as a geek […] is something which happens to you without regard to your particular self-understanding or preferences, and which you have good reason to resent; it places you in a certain social category, but such membership is more a matter of how the world sees you than  how you do, or should, see yourself.[22]

Katz’s geeks recounted the positive experience of turning of the tables on traditionally established social hierarchies, of their own marginal identities, but the path of identity reclamation has not been smooth. Blake suggests that geek self-identity is itself a privilege not afforded to all: ‘[The] phenomenon of geek pride is still largely a phenomenon for wealthy, urban professionals, who are able to use their improved social standing to gain the pride and confidence necessary to use the word geek in self-description.’[24]

Geek Fails: Gender and Race

Katz describes a group of ‘mostly young men’ responding to his articles and the masculine gendering of the geek has frequently led to gendered exclusions from within. At the time of writing, ‘Gamergate,’ an attack on feminist games developers and critics, is dominating online discourse.[25] This aspect of geek culture is currently engaged in an ideological turf war between conservatives and progressives focussed on gender and rights to professional and cultural equality. Gendered disputes in geek culture have not always been so clearly divided upon obviously ideological lines, at least at their genesis. In a notorious 2012 article on the Forbes magazine website, Tara Brown condemned supposed geek minstrelsy:

Pretentious females who have labeled themselves as a “geek girl” figured out that guys will pay a lot of attention to them if they proclaim they are reading comics or playing video games. Celebrities are dressing up as geeks to reach a larger audience.[26]

Here, women who self-identified as geeks were doubted by another woman self-identifying as a geek on grounds of geek authenticity. Male respondents, such as columnist Joe Peacock and graphic novelist Tony Harris supported Brown’s argument; author Neil Gaiman and feminist geek sites such as The Mary Sue vigorously opposed it. Given the gendered nature of the object of criticism, Brown was accused of feminist false consciousness; male supporters of the idea did not have the falsity to hide behind.

In response, psychologist Dr. Andrea Letamenti made sense of the dispute by identifying three reasons communities are threatened by imposters: ‘1) The false notion of limited resources […] 2) The misinterpeted sense of ownership […] 3) Resentment of the changing culture.’[27] It is significant that this particular identity dispute became focused on cosplay, a practice that has recently ballooned in the context of certain Comic and sf conventions, spawning its own celebrities and TV series. Cosplay represents a particularly intriguing development of geek culture, clashing with earlier conceptions of the geek and complicating that essayed here. It warrants more detailed attention below with regard to how it is valued and what it places value on.

Compared with gender, race has caused fewer controversies within geek culture, but racially coded representations of geeks in broader culture have drawn remark. In his book Color Monitors, Martin Kevorkian has noted the disproportionate number of black geeks in Hollywood blockbusters of the 1980s. Responding to this over-representation, and to IBM advertising campaigns featuring black computer workers in the same period, Kevorkian argues that

fears about the dehumanizing, disembodying effects of information technology work as mutually reinforcing impulses behind the depiction of black males as computer experts […] The image of the obliging black man behind the monitor reassures viewers that the displayed body is safely occupied, both contained by and containing the threat of the computer.[28]

In this reading, mass popular culture of the 1980s and 1990s mapped fears of both the black male and technology onto each other. There are causes for cautious optimism elsewhere in the media landscape, perhaps. Reading novels published mainly in the 1990s, Alexander Weheliye reads black geeks as interstitial figures, alienated from ‘both white and black cultural contexts, while also drawing attention to how black geeks navigate between these two worlds through their intelligence and wit.’ Weheliye also essays a useful distinction between the nerd and the geek from which the current argument takes a lead: ‘the nerd relates compulsively to the technological and/or scientific, while the geek obsesses over information/knowledge. Both are intelligent and socially discomifted to varying degrees.’[29]

Positioning these two commentaries next to each other is instructive: both critics respond to the embodiment of black characters, and draw contrasting but complementary conclusions. For Kevorkian, the black body is represented as a threat that must be contained; for Weheliye the hyper-embodiment of black stereotypes means that black characters are often excluded from geek stereotypes. Perhaps the most pragmatic conclusion that can be drawn from the differences in these readings is that what is consistent is the notion that the geek is not typically embodied. Indeed, as a mode and valuation of knowledge, it is almost entirely cerebral.

Both also respond to language, Kevorkian noting that ‘white workers adopt […] blackness as an identity accessory, the most colorful sign of their hipster ironic pose as digital slaves “workin’ for The Man.”’[30] Weheliye observes that ‘a new form of geek has emerged in recent years who traffics in arcane pop cultural knowledge that is presented in a hip, loquacious, self-deprecating, and idiosyncratic verbal style.’[31] This is a particularly useful qualification that dates the post-millennial geek, as exemplified in the character of Eric Jeffrey Outfield, the ‘übergeek’ of Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, published in 2013 but set in 2001:

looking, except for the bare upper lip and a newly acquired soul patch, just like his ID photo. He is wearing cargo pants in a camo print whose color scheme is intended for some combat zone very remote, if not off-planet, and a T-shirt announcing, in Helvetica, <p> REAL GEEKS USE COMMAND PROMPTS </p>, accessorized with a Batbelt clanking like a charm bracelet with remotes for TV, stereo and air conditioner, plus laser pointer, pager, bottle opener, wire stripper, voltmeter, magnifier, all so tiny that one legitimately wonders how functional they can be.[32]

The Geek Mind

A 1967 article by Dallis K. Perry and William N. Canon, employees of the System Development Corporation, a subdivision of Rand, reported the results of a survey of over a thousand men employed as computer programmers. ‘Perhaps the most striking characteristic of programmers,’ wrote the authors,

is their interest in problem- and puzzle-solving activities. Interestingly enough, this interest is not limited strictly to mental problems, as represented by a strong interest in all forms of mathematics, but extends as well to the mechanical area. Programmers show some liking for research activities, but no more interest than other men in most of the sciences themselves. Perhaps research work is attractive primarily as an opportunity to avoid routine, which appears to be particularly distasteful to programmers, as evidenced by their dislike for regimentation and their preference for varied and even risky activities. Another striking characteristic of programmers is their disinterest in people. Compared with other professional men, programmers dislike activities involving close personal interaction. They prefer to work with things rather than with people.[33]

Presenting to an industry conference the following year, analyst Richard Brandon went further still, describing the typical programmer:

often egocentric, slightly neurotic, […] he borders upon a limited schizophrenia. The incidence of beards, sandals, and other symptoms of rugged individualism or nonconformity are notably greater among this demographic group. Stories about programmers and their attitudes and peculiarities are legion, and do not bear repeating here.[34]

As the computer historian Nathan Ensmenger writes: ‘The idea that computer programmers lacked people skills quickly became part of the lore of the computer industry.’[35] Historians such as Ensmenger are keen to alert us to the historically contingent cultural assumptions that accounts like these declare loudly and clearly. Nevertheless, and taking into account possible flaws in survey methodologies – Ensmenger writes that ‘it is almost certainly the case that these profiles represented, at best, deeply flawed scientific methodology’ –  it is useful to note these accounts as registers of typologies because they bear such close comparison with more contemporary geek stereotypes. Take the definition of a geek given in The New Hacker’s Dictionary (1991): ‘One who fulfils all the dreariest negative stereotypes about hackers. An asocial, pasty-faced, malodorous monomaniac with all the personality of a cheese-grater.’[36]

What is clear is that stereotypes persist. There is anecdotal distortion in the second account of what the first records as an anti-social tendency. For Brandon, this tendency borders on the pathological: ‘neurotic […] a limited schizophrenia.’ This external ascription of pathological behaviours has been repeated several times in commentary on contemporary geek culture. Most notoriously, popular media have long been fond of distance diagnoses of autistic spectrum behaviours in male computer entrepreneurs. The foundational article in this unhappy tradition, ‘Diagnosing Bill Gates,’ was published in Time magazine in January 1994.[37] It compared two 1993 essays from the New Yorker, one on autism and one on Bill Gates, and noted apparent correspondences between Gates’s reported behaviour and descriptions of autistic behaviours. In 2001 an article by Steve Silberman in Wired magazine updated this stereotype, dubbing Asperger’s ‘The Geek Syndrome’ and suggesting that because of the prevalence of Asperger’s in Silicon Valley and the tendency of geeks to marry each other, Asperger’s was on the rise.[38] Numerous similar articles followed.[39]

Assessing this popular scientism, Jordynn Jack responds with a wonderfully straight face: ‘Despite popular acceptance of the idea, to date scientific studies have not supported the notion that autism can result from geek mating.’[40] For Jack, such media representations have had a distorting and damaging effect on the public understanding of conditions such as Asperger’s: ‘Equating Asperger’s with computer geeks has shaped definitions of the syndrome as associated with science and technology – and with maleness and masculinity.’ Simon Baron-Cohen’s Extreme Male Brain hypothesis has achieved prominence at the expense of alternative theories of autism, such as Intense Word Syndrome, that better account for the slow language uptake of autistic infants. For Jack, the larger issue becomes one of gender: while most autistic people are male, women have been marginalised in research into autism because EMB focuses on male traits.

Digging a little deeper demonstrates that pathological stereotypes of sixties programmer and contemporary geek are even closer than immediately apparent. Schizophrenia and autism were both coined by the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler and disseminated in his 1911 book The Group of Schizophrenias. The use of the term ‘monomania’ in the Hacker’s Dictionary should alert us to the fact that while psychology has been culturally and historically contingent, the colloquial abuse of psychological terminology has a long history: ‘monomania’ derives from the early nineteenth century when psychiatry still used cold-water treatments and swinging chairs, and monomania frequently afflicted characters in Gothic stories. There is evidently a power relationship inherent in the ascription of negative psychological diagnoses towards a diverse group with shared interests and the persistence of these stereotypes has material effects.

Ensmenger observes that the original surveys

created a gender-biased feedback cycle that ultimately selected for programmers with stereotypically masculine characteristics. The primary selection mechanism used by the industry selected for antisocial, mathematically inclined males, and therefore antisocial, mathematically inclined males were overrepresented in the programmer population; this in turn reinforced the popular perception that programmers ought to be antisocial and mathematically inclined (and therefore male), and so on ad infinitum.[41]

Such feedback loops become damaging in terms of popular perceptions and reductions, as Jack argues, which can obscure more complex realities. Ian Hacking has commented on the rise of diagnoses of autism, which has coincided with the growth of the geek stereotype, and stresses the essential neurodiversity lying behind these various conditions:

We say ‘autistic spectrum’, which is not quite right, because a spectrum is a one-dimensional range. Autism ranges in at least three dimensions: language deficit, social deficit and obsession with order. We should talk of an autistic space. So, are all the individuals that we now place in this space of symptoms in the same neurobiological space? Or should we more cautiously speak of the group of autisms, without implying that in terms of causes they are variations of the same thing?[42]

Without wishing to route into debates over the validity of diagnoses of autism, we should note the complicated interface that occurs with increased popular awareness of certain pathological conditions and the colloquial ascription of medical terms to social behaviours. We may describe ourselves as ‘obsessed’ without intending to indicate pathological behaviour, but when we describe ourselves as ‘a bit OCD’ about a subject, we exaggerate in a way that can obscure the complexity and difficulty of what constitutes the experience of an individual whose Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not colloquial. The monomaniacal geek internalises the spread of awareness of neurodiverse conditions and maps them onto non-conformist social behaviours sometimes at the expense of the experience of others.

Historically and extrinsically, the geek has been an overwhelmingly white, male category. Intrinsically, and at the current point in time, that seems more difficult to sustain: as the geek has become more prevalent and diffuse, as emphasis has dialled up in terms of cultural enthusiasms and down in terms of technology, prior extrinsic associations have been eroded. The church has become broader and admittance is no longer through so narrow a door. Black comic geeks and women who game sit alongside white heterosexual male coders, but as current debates display all too clearly, there remain seemingly insurmountable doctrinal differences among members of the congregation.

Sff and Games

For some, the affinity of the geek with sf is entirely natural: if the defining element of sf is technology, then it is to be expected that the systematising, computer-literate geek should also be an enthusiast for a generic form that is defined by its thematic engagement with technology and its formal progress by chains of speculative reasoning. One might here acknowledge Darko Suvin’s subsequently much disputed definition of sf as a literature of cognitive estrangement and think of the geek as a culture of cognitive coherence. Fantasy literature, however, causes the same problems for this particular reading of the geek as it did for Suvin. Fantasy is not cognitively sanctioned, and yet is central to geek culture and seems always to have been.

That the broad church of the geek is open to worshippers from both denominations is something it seems worth pushing at. Is it perhaps an illustration of cultural trends within sf and fantasy literature, where hybridity has been a powerful narrative for some twenty years? The novels and criticism of China Mieville are exemplary of the generic hybridity that has disturbed boundaries and definitions in literature, but so too are the novels of Jonathan Lethem. Mieville has worked marginalised traditions of the weird into novels in which fantasy and sf tropes co-exist. Lethem brings the fanboy enthusiasm for the work of Philip K. Dick to his writing and editing. Both have worked with comics, Mieville as an author, Lethem as an avowed and thoughtful fan. Where Mieville is regarded as a genre writer – albeit one who actively weirds – Lethem is the more frequently regarded as a literary author – albeit one who actively generifies. Despite these confusions of high-low associations, of the pair Lethem is the writer who has to respond to accusations of being a geek, which he does with considerable negativity: ‘I’ve never related to the work geek at all – it sounds much more horrible than nerd, to me. Like a freak biting a chicken’s head off in a sideshow. Nerds are just deep, and neurotic, fans. Needy fans. We’re all nerds, on one subject or another.’[43] Is Mieville perhaps so deeply immersed in the margins that his outside is the inside? Or is it his scholarship, his work on the theorisation of genre that makes him seem less of a geek? Perhaps it is simply that Lethem wears glasses and Mieville has tattoos (another way of weirding the typologies)?

Hybridity as a formal engine of change has been encouraged and enabled by both the technologies of digital culture and geek approaches to their use. Cut and paste has democratised the sampling and melding of source materials while online distribution and archiving has made the sources themselves freely available. In visual terms, juxtapositional clashes that were once the liberating processes of avant garde artists are the quotidian mill-grist of internet humour. Such technologies enable the free play of communities of fans with their canonical sources: they seem to invite and urge participation. The geek retools, responds, remixes; collapses, collects, collates. Was there a geek before Game of Thrones lightsaber battles? Surely, but can we now imagine one without it?

The reasons behind the geekiness of fantasy literature might be better located in historical social and cultural convergences. The popularity of the writing of J.R.R. Tolkien in the sixties counter-culture has been well-documented and is attested simply and visibly by the names of the nightclub Middle Earth and the psychedelic band Gandalf. As discussed above, computer programmers were already typecast as hippies by the mid-sixties, even if such stereotyping owed more to the exclusionary tendencies of the hegemonic masculine cultures of business than it did to the actual personalities of those who were employed in programming.

Gaming

What is certain is that in the years immediately after the counter-cultural boom of the late sixties, fantasy literature converged with the extant tradition of table-top war-gaming in the form of the immensely influential Dungeons and Dragons game developed by Greg Gygax. In this form, it arrived at the birth of networked computing and a new kind of gaming emerged. Will Crowther, author the first computer-based RPG Adventure, tells the story:

I had been involved in a non-computer role-playing game called Dungeons and Dragons at the time, and also I had been actively exploring in caves – Mammoth Cave in Kentucky in particular […] I decided I would fool around and write a program that was a re-creation in fantasy of my caving, and also would be a computer game that would not be intimidating to non-computer people, and that was one of the reasons why I made it so that the player directs the game with natural input language, instead of more standardized commands. My kids thought it was fun.[44]

The further development of Adventure and the first generation of online RPGs were nourished by a culture of community-sharing among coders. Crowther’s game was distributed on Arpanet and picked up by Don Woods:

I was a student at Stanford University […] and I heard through the grapevine that someone had found this game on the medical center computer [..]  I cleaned it up and began expanding it, adding some of the trickier treasures, and possibly tripling the size of the game – with the help of a few of my friends, roommates and classmates. After that, I figured I might as well put it back out on the ARPAnet. I did, and sent out a few messages to various sites around the country to get people interested. Then I left for a couple of weeks’ vacation. Well, when I came back, Stanford was irritated with me. Their computer had been swamped with people connecting via the internet just to play the game![45]

One of those people was the MIT student David Lebling, the author of ZORK!

Basically, what happened was that the Crowther and Woods Adventure game appeared on the MIT computers through the ARPAnet, and it took the computer science department by storm. At some times during the day you would see half a dozen people playing adventure and nobody else doing anything. We all played it through and really enjoyed it – it’s very hard to over-estimate Crowther and Wood’s contribution – but we were dissatisfied with some of the aspects of the game, such as the fact that the language commands were so simple. Our laboratory has been associated with a lot of work on the development of natural languages on computers, and so we thought we had some good ideas about that. It was partly a case of, ‘Well, we can do better,’ and partly just the sheer fun of writing something like that.[46]

In this game of pass-the-parcel we see illustrated the close convergence of the development of online, fantasy role-playing gaming and the development of the internet. Something essential about the geek is expressed in this particular convergence and it is worth noting that at the particular moment in time at which it took place, it was not just the experience of playing games that encouraged convergence, but the formal language structures underlying them: laws and systems that could be translated between different domains.

The Geek Body

While the argument proposed here, that the geek should be considered a mode of approach to knowledge that inherently re-values culture might appear to be disembodied and cerebral, key geek practices have always been performative. In a study that encompasses much of the culture that geeks would recognise as their own Daniel MacKay has argued for Fantasy Role-Playing Gaming to be considered as a form of performance art:

In the role-playing game the rules are but a framework that facilitates the performance of the players and the gamesmaster […] It is possible for a role-playing game to be played without the normal accoutrements (rulebook, dice, compendium of reference charts, miniature figures) of the game; however, it is impossible for  role-playing game to be played without performance art.[47]

While contemporary geek culture has emerged from the connective possibilities of the internet, it retains its roots in RPGs, most obviously in the form of MMORPGs.

In the earliest formulations of internet scholarship, notably in Sherry Turkle’s influential Life on the Screen (1995), identity is transformed in online environments: ‘When we step through the screen into virtual communities, we reconstruct our identities on the other side of the looking glass.’[48] Gaming scholars have more recently argued that the relationship between on- and off-line life is more fluid than Turkle’s looking glass might suggest; that in-game or on-line experiences are just as real to internet users as offline life.

In a study of EverQuest, T. L. Taylor describes the rich formulations of community, social life, multiple identity and real-world meet-ups in which EverQuest gamers participate. Taylor examines gender identity, avatars and the balance between work and play for devoted gamers. Even within the game world there are distinctions that mirror the externalised identity of the geek. ‘Power gamers’, those who are thought to play only to win, are regarded as ‘isolated and socially inept.’[49] Taylor insists on the fluidity of categories and breaking down of binaries and boundaries in consideration of MMORPGs:

We do not shed culture when we go online and enter game worlds, nor do designers create these incredible spaces in a vacuum. And this is a good thing. Culture is what we are and what we do, and understanding the varying ways all participants are productive is one of our best tools in making sense of what emerges.[50]

For Taylor what is needed is a greater awareness of the specificity of experience within different kinds of games, much as internet studies have begun to focus on the different experiences of different forms of online interaction. Just as there is much more to geek culture than computers, so is there much more to life online than gaming.

The relevance for the geek of these arguments and shifts in focus are twofold. Firstly, they emphasise the need to recognise the scale of the expansion of the geek alongside the expansion of online experience. Not only has geek culture and identity bloomed for those who have self-identified as geeks since the late 1990s, so have many more who would not have been geeks in earlier formulations of the term come to identify themselves as such. Secondly, this expansion of the geek and its culture has inevitably led to more profound divisions within it, and nowhere is this clearer than around the issue of embodiment.

Cosplay

The embodied and performative practice of cosplay is an informative case in point. Taking its lead from virtual or imaginative constructions that are quintessential elements in the geek canon – traditionally sf characters, primarily anime or computer game characters throughout the boom of cosplay in the 2000s, Game of Thrones characters providing the source material for most recent fads – cosplay remains controversial and confusing even within geek communities. Introducing a collection of photographs of cosplayers, art critic Carlo McCormick sounds an inclusive summary that positions cosplayers well and truly within the culture under discussion here:

let’s just say it – freaks that they are, the kids are all right. Sure, this has got to be one of the nerdiest collections of hopeless geeks ever assembled, but come on, they’re also way cool. Anytime so much energy is devoted to something so perversely obsessive, fractiously outre, and fleetingly supererogatory, it cannot help but transcend the mundane limitations we otherwise put on human endeavour.[51]

Cosplay has existed as long as sf conventions, but its popularity has increased in recent years, spawning a distinct culture and market within the domains traditionally regarded as geek. It remains a site of dispute, as evidenced by the fake geek girl dispute outlined above, much discussed on websites and bulletin boards and at panels at conventions.

Where so much of the geek mode is disembodied and cerebral (as referenced in the divergent readings of racial embodiment in geek culture of Kevorkian and Weheliye) cosplayers go beyond immersion in cultural arcana to materially perform their affinity with fictional characters: indeed, very frequently, with highly artificial fictional characters. Cosplay has nourished the growth of markets for props, collectibles and costumes: cosplay procures the materialisation of imaginative and fantastic constructions, at the level of simulation, at least. McCormick comments: ‘The individual persona is host to fiction that takes precedence over the mundane matter of quotidian life.’[52]

Cosplay represents a particularly interesting development in the expansion of the geek, the moment at which the actively disembodied geek re-materialises in artificial form. In a theorisation of cosplay that seeks to reach beyond applying the models of queer theory or gender studies, Joel Gn argues that: ‘Through their embodiment of the animated body, cosplayers are able to give their audience an opportunity to establish a deeper connection with the artifical, rather than the real.’[53] This formulation stresses the participation of audience as well as participant. We might read the controversies that surround cosplay as the birthing pains of the Next Generation of geeks.

Geek Cultural Value

The way through the thicket of geek identity politics proposed here is to conceptualise the geek not as an identity but as an approach. The ways in which the geek has always been distinct from the nerd are instructive. Firstly, humour is essential to geek self-identification – as Jon Katz has it: ‘a sense of bitter, even savage, outsider humor.’ The geek does not appear to take itself too seriously. Secondly, the geek has always been active, as indicated by the verbal form ‘to geek out.’ The geek takes its object very seriously indeed.

Jon Rieder’s account of sf genre debates provides a model for this kind of re-conceptualisation.[54] Rieder cuts through the undergrowth of genre theory to read in the push and pull of the extrinsic and intrinsic aspects of a genre a contract under continual renegotiation. Like sf considered as a genre, the geek as a mode becomes identifiable by a set of practices for approaching culture rather than as a list of characteristics of a certain stereotype. Central to the approach is the focused analytical attention or systematising that has given rise to the negative associations of the geek with Asperger’s Syndrome or pathological obsession. This inclination towards systematising tends to be drawn to cultural objects that reflect or reward it: towards imaginative constructions of a large scale governed by sets of rules  – the ‘universes’ constructed in sff or comic book networks; the environments of RPGs or online games; ergodic literatures or transmedia stories.[55] Because of its outsider status, the geek as a mode has little regard for inherited notions of cultural value and insists instead upon cultural parity for productions traditionally seen as low cultural.

Such attention tends towards completism: collecting is part of the geek mode, an approach through which the material objects related to a large-scale imaginative construction can be more effectively ordered and systematised. This mode has flourished under the conditions of the knowledge economy. Those who are able most effectively to apply this approach are more able to deal with the high volumes of information that characterise post-internet society.

The geek has always identified as a member of a community; to geek therefore makes implicit that collectivity. The history of sf fandom may well give rise to the close association of the geek and the generic literatures of sff. Farah Mendelssohn notes that ‘writing to be read by friends was enough of a tradition that when SF fanzines (mimeographed amateur publications) emerged, people recognized them and knew how to respond, with LoCs (or letters of comment).’[56] Such writing and reading groups had grown out of the Amateur Press Associations dating from the late 1870s. H. P. Lovecraft was particularly active in Amateur Press Associations before making his name in the pulps; his circle continued to operate in a similarly collective fashion, creating a ‘mythos,’ a shared universe to which the collective contributed stories, characters and imaginative objects. The Inklings, the Oxford writers’ group of which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were both members, operated on a similar model.

Cultural, and particularly generic, collectivity has accelerated with the internet. Connection is, of course, essential for most games. As noted above, as soon as computers were networked these networks were used for collective text-based fantasy games. MMORPGs represent only the latest stage in the development of networked gaming. The geek brings together a number of traditions of group play: the amateur/professional writing/reading group of fan culture; the gaming group of RPGs; and now the clans of MMORPGs.

Technological participation, play and community are essential aspects of geek culture, and these might begin to indicate where and when overlap with sff culture solidifies: an interest in the scientific not just at the level of content, but also, perhaps, at the levels of form and method.

Conclusion

Without diverting into discussions over the terms of cognitive-cultural capitalism or the knowledge economy, which are beyond the concerns of the current work, we can nevertheless note that as a result of economic globalisation, in mature economies the numbers of people employed in knowledge and cultural work or service jobs have increased as those employed in agriculture and manufacture have decreased. These structural social changes have privileged skills associated with the geek: categorization, systematizing and programming. What one author refers to as ‘The Geek Ascension’ can be read then as a corollary cultural and social effect of broader economic transformations.[57] Technological advance has been central to these changes and networked computing in particular has been a nourishing factor for the geek. The rise of the geek occurs in tandem with computing culture. 1999, the first year that google ngram records more frequent use of the term ‘geek’ as compared with ‘nerd,’ was the year information design consultant Darcy DiNucci coined the term ‘web 2.0’; the website thinkgeek.com launched the same year.[58]

But technology should not be allowed to become the whole of the picture. Christina Dunbar-Hester recorded an important qualification with the Geek Group:

Identification with a geeky or technical conception of self is high […] these geeks have a closer relationship to technology than do average users. Here, geek identity is not only linked to technical skills per se; it is also reflected in having and displaying arcane knowledge, and not only about technical matters. Indeed, many of the geeks were quite self-aware in embracing a sense of self related to their technical skills, and in enjoying other activities which, though not strictly technical, are considered ‘geeky’: one woman volunteered to me that she enjoys role-playing games, and seemed concerned that I might not learn of this aspect of herself if she didn’t tell me.[59]

The Geek Group stressed that their sense of geekdom was invested in ‘having and displaying arcane knowledge.’ There is already a performative element to geekery suggested in the term display that is consistent with the active adoption of geek identity. So too is play considered as central as the possession of skills, an element of the geek that is foundational. Finally, self-awareness of these nuances is typical: the contemporary geek is nothing if not self-aware.

The present report has been informed by recent research in fan studies and media scholarship. The term ‘convergence culture’, coined by media scholar Henry Jenkins, seems particularly useful for understanding the contemporary geek. For Jenkins, convergence describes the ways in which participants in the new media environments engage with media across diverse platforms. For Jenkins convergence is not technology-dependent, but rather describes the nexus of industrial, social, cultural and technological changes that occur in these environments and the ways in which we read/use/work/play with the material we find therein.

Convergence occurs within the brains of individual customers and through their own social interactions with others. Each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments of information extracted from the media flow and transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday lives.[60]

In some ways this convergence is immediately familiar to anyone who might, for example, be an enthusiast for one of Jenkins’s case studies, The Matrix, a transmedia story that takes in film, comic books, computer games and websites, encouraging the reader to engage with each in order to complete the story. The combination of work and play in the activity of reading such a text is indeed very geeky. So too is the geek inherently a reader of transmedia texts, a digital native whose knowledge-base is likely to span pre-digital forms.

I also want to highlight the repeated instances of ‘convergent evolution’ described by Lawrence Schick in his history of Role-Playing Games in which, for example, Gary Gygax’s ‘Fantasy Supplement’ to the Chainmail RPG hybridised Tolkien and wargaming miniatures battles, becoming, eventually, Dungeons and Dragons. Convergence is a particularly useful term for accounting for the occasionally seemingly counter-intuitive cross-fertilisations that have produced geek culture.

Jenkins borrows from Pierre Levy the term ‘collective intelligence’ to describe the communal and networked way in which participants in convergence culture work together to pool knowledge and better understand their fields of interest and favoured texts. I want to record here that the geek is already well aware of this process, and has its own native term for Levy’s collective intelligence, imported from sf and invoked whenever the ‘hivemind’ is called upon to address a problem. Levy, Jenkins and geeks together all record and recognise the communal nature of cultural engagement in this new media environment. Again, the geek is self-aware and an arch commenter on its own activities in ways that align with scholarly analyses.

Jenkins’s repeated use of terms such as ‘customer’ and ‘consumer’ to describe participants in convergence culture would doubtlessly be more problematic for some geeks, a symptom, perhaps, of a perspective that seeks to report as frequently from the side of the culture industry as it does from the side of the fans. These terms highlight an unavoidable tension in contemporary geek culture. Aren’t we all ‘consumers’ in cognitive capitalism when we hoover up and analyse pop cultural knowledge? Is the geek able to maintain a position on the margins when convergence has shifted her core activities towards the centre? Or when transmedia texts such as The Matrix are planned and produced precisely in order to capture this kind of attention, or to encourage participation?

Jenkins recognises the critiques of other media scholars of the risks inherent in the concentration of media ownership and the power relationships that are at play in the producer-consumer relationship but locates himself as a ‘critical utopian,’ arguing for the democratic potential of participation in convergence culture. Whether or not ‘customers’ will be in a position fully to exercise their democratic rights is the point on which many may differ, and we might observe that geeks will likely by inclination be split between critical utopians and complimentary dystopians. Nevertheless, Jenkins certainly speaks to internal disputes of the geek that require acknowledgement when he writes:

Part of what we must do is figure out how – and why – groups with different backgrounds, agendas, perspectives, and knowledge can listen to one another and work together toward the common good. We have a lot to learn.[61]


[1] See Andrew Harrison, ‘Rise of the New Geeks: How the Outsiders Won,’ The Guardian, 2 September 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2013/sep/02/rise-geeks-outsiders-superhero-movies-dork [accessed 8 October 2014]; Patton Oswalt, ‘Wake up Geek Culture, Time to Die,’ Wired, 27 December 2010,  http://www.wired.com/2010/12/ff_angrynerd_geekculture/all/ [accessed 8 October 2014].

[2] Warren Ellis quoted in Harrison.

[3] Christina Dunbar-Hester, ‘Geeks, Meta-Geeks, and Gender Trouble: Activism, Identity, and Low-Power FM Radio’, Social Studies of Science, 38: 2, pp. 201-232 (207).

[4] Twelfth Night (1601), v, i, 351; Cymbeline (1611), v, iv, 67.

[5] Jonathon Green, ’Geek’ in Green’s Dictionary of Slang (London: Chambers Harrap, 2010).

[6] John Sutherland, ‘10 overlooked novels: how many have you read?’ The Guardian, 6 May 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/06/10-overlooked-novels-how-many-you-read [accessed 3 June 2014].

[7] William Lindsay Gresham, Nightmare Alley (London; Toronto: William Heinemann, 1947), p.1.

[8] Dan Wallace, ‘Brother Power the Geek,’in Beatty, Scott, The DC Comics Encyclopaedia (London: Dorling Kindersley, 2008), p. 62.

[9] Craig Nova, The Geek (Henley-on-Thames: A. Ellis, 1976).

[10] Katherine Dunn, Geek Love (London: Hamilton, 1989 [1986]).

[11] Paul Jamrozy, ed., The Geek (London: 1980).

[12] Ian Johnston, ‘Valspeak,’ http://www.obairlann.net/reaper/filters/source/valspeak.l [accessed 21 June 2014].

[13] Bart Mills, ‘This One’s for All You Geeks out There,’ The Guardian, 26 October 1982, p. 8.

[14] A play by Larry Shue entitled The Nerd originally produced at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre in 1982 played later the same year at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, with Derek Griffiths playing Rick, the eponymous nerd. A 1984 production at The Aldwych Theatre had Rowan Atkinson in the same role. The script, published in 1986, blurbs the play thus: ‘A Nerd – for which there is no British equivalent – is a mixture of twit, wimp, wally and creep. One of those individuals whose presence is as pleasing as fingernails drawn across a blackboard!’

[15] Alex Brummer, ‘Bush Does Not Meet Traditional Tests of ‘Wimpdom’,’ The Guardian, 14 October 1987, p. 8.

[16] David Bowker, ‘Double Strength Cream,’ The Guardian, 18 January 1989, p. 20.

[17] ‘Geek,’ in The College Slang Dictionary.

[18] Robert Hayden, The Geek Code, http://www.geekcode.com/geek.html [accessed 2 December 2014]

[19] Robin Brontsema, ‘A Queer Revolution: Reconceptualizing the Debate Over Linguistic Reclamation’, Colorado Research in Linguistics, 17 (2004), 1-17 (1).

[20] Susan Leigh Star, ‘Introduction,’ in The Cultures of Computing (Oxford: Blackwell/The Sociological Review, 1995), p. 20.

[21] Dunbar-Hester, p. 206.

[22] Michael Blake, ‘Geeks and Monsters: Bias Crimes and Social Identity,’ Law and Philosophy, 20: 2 (2001), 121-139 (129).

[23] Jon Katz, Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho (London: Random House, 2000), p. 5.

[24] Blake, p. 130.

[25] For a recent and sane summary of Gamergate please see Jesse Singal, ‘Gamergate Should Stop Lying to Journalists — and Itself,’ New York Magazine, 20 October 2014, http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/10/gamergate-should-stop-lying-to-itself.html [accessed 22 October 2014].

[26] Tara Tiger Brown, ‘Dear Fake Geek Girls: Please Go Away,’ Forbes, 26 March 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarabrown/2012/03/26/dear-fake-geek-girls-please-go-away/ [accessed 22 October 2014].

[27] Dr Andrea Letamendi, ‘The Psychology of the Fake Geek Girl: Why We’re Threatened by Falsified Fandom,’ The Mary Sue, 21 December 2012, http://www.themarysue.com/psychology-of-the-fake-geek-girl/ [accessed 22 October 2014].

[28] Martin Kevorkian, Color Monitors: The Black Face of Technology in America (Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 2006), p. 2.

[29] Alexander Weheliye, ‘Post-Integration Blues: Black Geeks and Afro-Diasporic Humanism,’ in Contemporary African American Literature, edited by Lovalerie King and Shirley Moody-Turner (Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis, 2013), pp. 213-234 (215, 220).

[30] Kevorkian, p. 115.

[31] Weheliye, p. 220.

[32] Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge (London: Vintage, 2014), p. 222.

[33] Dallis K. Perry And William M. Cannon, ‘Vocational Interests Of Computer Programmers,’ Journal of Applied Pscyhology, 51: 1 (1967), 28-34 (32).

[34] Richard Brandon, ‘The Problem in Perspective,’ in Proceedings of the 1968 23rd ACM National Conference (New York: ACM Press, 1968), 332-334. Quoted in Nathan Ensmenger, The Computer Boys Take Over (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010), p. 69.

[35] Ensmenger, p. 69.

[36] ‘Geek,’ in The New Hacker’s Dictionary.

[37] Anon., ‘Diagnosing Bill Gates,’ Time, 24 January 1994, p. 25.

[38] Steve Silberman, ‘The Geek Syndrome,’ Wired.com, December 2001, http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aspergers.html [accessed 3 December 2014].

[39]

[40] Jordynn Jack, Autism and Gender: From Refrigerator Mothers to Computer Geeks (Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2014), p. 119.

[41] Ensmenger, pp. 78-9.

[42] Ian Hacking, ‘What is Tom Saying to Maureen,’ London Review of Books, 28: 9 (2006), pp. 3-7 (p. 7).

[43] Peter Wild, ‘‘No, I don’t paint anymore’ – Bookmunch Classic Interview: Jonathan Lethem,’ Bookmunch, 1 July 2004, https://bookmunch.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/no-i-dont-paint-anymore-bookmunch-classic-interview-jonathan-lethem/ [accessed 24 October 2014].

[44] Dale Peterson, Genesis II: Creation and Recreation with Computers (Reston, VA: Reston Publishing Company inc., 1983), p. 187.

[45] Peterson, p. 187.

[46] Peterson, p. 187.

[47] Daniel MacKay, The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art (London: Mcfarland, 2001), p. xx

[48] Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1996 [1995]), p. 178.

[49] T. L. Taylor, Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006), p. 70.

[50] Taylor, p. 154.

[51] Carlo McCormick, ‘Introduction,’ in Elena Dorfman, Fandomania: Characters & Cosplay (Aperture, 2007), p. 4.

[52] McCormick, p. 6.

[53] Joel Gn, ‘Queer simulation: The practice, performance and pleasure of cosplay,’ Continuum, 25: 4 (2011), 583-593 (591).

[54] John Rieder, ‘On Defining SF, or Not: Genre Theory, SF, and History,’ Science Fiction Studies, 37: 2 (2010), 191-209.

[55] For the foundational definition of ‘ergodic literature’ see Espen J. Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997).

[56] Farah Mendlesohn, ‘Fandom,’ in Rob Latham, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

[57] See Katz, p. 1.

[58] Darcy DiNucci, ‘Fragmented Future,’ Print, April 1999, pp. 220-222.

[59] Dunbar-Hester, pp. 207-8.

[60] Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York; London: New York University Press, 2006), pp. 3-4.

[61] Jenkins, pp. 245-246.


Acknowledgements

The Geek Pound would like to thank all those who have assisted in this research project, giving generously of their time and expertise: Roger Luckhurst, Stacey Abbott, Lucija Dačić, Dennis Duncan, Mark Bould, Joe Brooker, Will Brooker, Andy Butler, Zara Dinnen, Caroline Edwards, Martin Eve, Edward James, Patricia Matos, Heather Mendick, Farah Mendlesohn, Adam Roberts, Jared Shurin, E J Swift, Tony Venezia, Andrew Walker. Any inaccuracies or aberrant opinions are, of course, entirely due to the authors. We are particularly grateful to CreativeWorks London for providing the funding to undertake this research.

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