Saturday • 3/31/2012

Fake geeks, real love

Remember what Eileen Myles said:
“When I think of being a woman, I think of being loved.”

When I think of being a geek, I think of being loved.

Because by now, no character trope in American culture has as much a claim to lovability as the geek, or nerd, or whichever side of that split hair you choose. The geek is the culmination of every facet of the American ideal: a true original and an underdog who, at least in the movies and at most in reality (Bill Gates), ultimately has the smarts and wits to defeat the bullies (in the case of men) or is sufficiently cool/gorgeous-behind-the-glasses (girls) to win over the guy. Being a geek is about coming out on top, against obstacles and odds, because of who you are. That’s why it lends itself so well to rap. And the geek is such an essential character in pop consciousness that it is now eligible for the grand American tradition of authenticity evaluation. That means geeks can possibly be “real geeks” or “fake geeks.” Can I get a Coke/Pepsi street taste-test?

Responses to the recent denouncement of “Fake Geek Girls” have ranged from dismissive to indignant, and with good reason. Women really don’t need to be divided up along yet another axis of authenticity. And even if non-geek girls—however you specify that—aspire to be geeks, what could be more harmless? In fact what could be better than to notice that young girls think geeks are cool? This certainly wasn’t the case among girls when I was growing up, and I was most definitely called a nerd. To be fair, though, I had a violin case that doubled as a backpack.

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that, relative to what remains dominant in culture, being a woman is already akin to the geek experience in some broad-stroke but pretty significant ways. Women and geeks are often secondary, underdogs, have to work harder to get recognized, etc. Both are simultaneously vulnerable and powerful. Both are often loathed for the same reason they are loved.

On the subway platform the other day, I met these two girls carrying violin cases, backpack style, that they had painted themselves. They were total geeks, and they were fucking awesome. If some tweens want to play pretend geek with thick-framed glasses from Urban Outfitters, I hope they fake it til they make it real.