Monday, 10 April 2017

In praise of geeks

“Geeks,”  I said, “Geeks!  That’s what you need in your life.”

I was trying to explain to my friend as we sat in the pub why I think she would benefit from having some people in her life who don’t follow the crowd.  Why it might be good to surround herself more with the type of people who, just as a ‘for instance’, would prefer to dig up dirt and find Iron Age brooches than to dig up the dirt on perceived love rivals on Facebook. 

This had followed on from a long and animated conversation about all the bad influences in her life, and then led to us drinking a toast to how, actually, we don’t really like 'people'.  To quote Charlie Brooker from the back cover of his excellent book, ‘Dawn Of The Dumb’:

“I don’t get people.  What’s their appeal, precisely?  They waddle around with their haircuts on, cluttering the pavement like gormless, farting skittles.  They’re awful.”

Of course I know not everyone’s like that  –  I know you’re not, for a start.  But we all know what Charlie means by ‘farting skittles’ and sadly, in her self-proclaimed bid to ‘fit in’, my friend has allowed herself to be drawn to their world. 

I sense that many of the people with whom she wants to fit in are also desperate in their bid to fit in.  They are full of insecurities disguised as material aspirations and boob jobs.  To fit in to what they see as ‘normal’ – to meet the expectations of others, the irony being that those ‘others’ with their expectations are also doing the same thing and so it goes on and on and the most shallow social stereotypes get reinforced.  To be true to oneself, to embrace one’s funny little ways, quirky interests, tastes and obsessions, to accept one’s imperfections and  to have a different perspective in a world full of farting skittles (I’m getting to like that term more and more) – well,  it makes you a bit of a geek.

I realised I was a bit of a geek from quite an early age; there was that time at primary school when my best friends were the ones who hated sport but loved reading - plus, they were boys.   Andrew and the two Ians (one with an extra ‘i’) shared my interests – we all liked drawing and tortoises and the Wombles and playing in the sandpit with our Itty Bitties.   It was a happy time in my life, but I realised that Andrew, the two Ians (one with an extra ‘i') and me were not quite like the majority of our classmates.  Later, my close girlfriends were the ones who went through punk with me, we revelled in being in a minority in our neighbourhood, and in our school, we liked the music no-one else did and the look that people ridiculed.  But then on Tuesday and Saturday nights we’d go down to our local gig venue and fit in effortlessly with all the other misfits.  We found our niche.

My friend said that ‘fitting in’ and 'wanting to be normal' had always been her desire, even in childhood.  She must be one of the few people I know who didn’t have a teenage rebellion.  But through not just going along with the majority, you find your own crowd of like-minded others, don’t you?  Work and broader social situations may require compromise, but there’s no point in trying to change yourself into the type of person who’s never going to ‘get’ you anyway.  

I'm hoping my friend will embrace the true geek in herself, and then she'll find some others who will embrace it too.  It's about time.


Itty Bitties.  In case you were wondering...

34 comments:

  1. I'm happy to go along with anything Charlie Brooker says... or, to be more pretentious about it, paraphrase (and misquote) Jean Paul Sartre: Hell is other people.

    I grew up reading comics, hating football, and listening to uncool music... for me it was Queen and Billy Joel, but in that regard, Billy is just as punk as Poly Styrene. In fact, he may be even more punk, because there weren't any clubs playing Billy Joel when I was a teenager (apart from the cheesy ones that played Uptown Girl). Sorry, I went off on a tangent there. I have this theory I'm working on about alternative music being whatever is the alternative to what all the cool kids are listening to. Right now, you don't get much more alternative than Hall & Oates.

    But yeah, I'm happy to be a geek. I embraced that in my 20s and never looked back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Blimey, you are bloody well right about Hall & Oates. How about the Alessi Brothers? Let's start a movement!

      Delete
    2. But if we start a movement, can we still claim to be outsiders?

      Delete
  2. Sorry to but in on Rol's comment but his thing about the perception of 'cool' really rang a bell down here. Anyway, have to agree with what you say about 'geeks' but must fire-off a warning re the dreaded 'Geek Chic'. That whole thing about 'uncool' becoming 'cool' is bloody infuriating. Regarding Punk - don't you think that is precisely the kind of thing that all the lonely lost souls of today's 'Millennial' generation need? I know a few of these kids who just do not 'fit in' but don't have anywhere to take their 'difference'. Sadly, the modern world isn't able to supply them with an appropriate home. I blame social media and everything else that I fail to understand.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CC - master of the pithy one-liner! :-)

      Delete
  3. Rol and SB - apologies for the joint reply but you've both picked up on something and I can tell we're on the same wavelength here!
    I think in response to the 'uncool cool' thing, it all comes down to appropriation now. I don't think it used to. Punk may now be perceived as 'cool' but but from where I was standing at the time, taking the abuse from strangers and being picked on at school by the mean girls, 'cool' wasn't even in my vocabulary or thinking and my friends and I were very definitely not whatever cool was - just 'weird'. It actually felt more like a 'refuge' from the 'cool'!
    And 'geek chic' - again, it seems like it's the appropriation of something else. Everything that once wasn't seems to have to become accepted, adapted and adopted into the mainstream, which means then that genuine 'lonely lost souls' as you put it, SB, still have to fit into something that's had its edges worn away. I don't know what the answer is!
    Even liking Hall & Oates could become cool through being anti-cool now. Oh it's all so confusing!
    Maybe we should just ban the word 'cool'.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We should ban the word cool, yes. Just as we should ban the concept of guilty pleasures. It goes back to my oft-asserted notion that if an alien landed on earth tomorrow and you played it The Sex Pistols followed by Hall & Oates followed by The XX followed by Ed Sheeran... I doubt very much the alien would have any notion of any subjective difference between them. They all have notes, words, noises, voices. Beyond that, it's all just filtered through someone else's perspective.

      But yes, C, you are absolutely right that punk started out as a true outsider scene, but even in the early days there were those who were trying to co-opt it into the mainstream (if "the mainstream" is what is popular / makes money). Malcolm McLaren is the classic example of that. Weren't The Sex Pistols just as manufactured in their own way as The Monkees or One Direction? I know that idea is horrifying to true punks, but this is a band that was put together by an entrepreneur / mogul with the aim of making money from the zeitgeist. A quick iffypedia search leads to John Lydon saying, "Malcolm and Vivienne were really a pair of shysters: they would sell anything to any trend that they could grab onto". As fans, we often don't realise how much of the music we love is "manufactured", even if it appears to be anti-establishment. Does it really matter though? Once it's out in the world, music takes on its own life and meaning. It has to be separated from its origins. It becomes about what it means to the listener. That's all that matters.

      Delete
    2. Yes, I would happily band the word 'cool'. Bloody daft idea, anyway. Anything that has any soul at all always gets appropriated and distorted, doesn't it? Best to never, ever, under any circumstances, join any kind of movement, cult, church or system of belief. Stay on the outside, even if it's outside the outside. Just have to keep moving ever outwards. Probably end up in outer space but that might be OK. I know what Rol means but I have to draw the line at fucking Ed fucking Sheeran ;)

      Delete
    3. Haven't been to blogger in ages and chuckled to see you all still ranting, very reassuring! ;o) "Cool" is just a daft concept from the word go. Punks thought they were cool at the time, "They" sneered at the Disco Kids, Two-Tone thought everyone else was a racist and the Skinheads (actually, quite egalitarian, in retrospect) tried to kick the living sh*t out of us all... meanwhile, the parents rolled their eyes in jaded despair at anyone under 21.

      Now anyone over 30 is desperately trying to pretend they are 21 and every tiny little sub-fraction of Tribalism has it's own web address and "Rules". It IS ALL just tribalism after all. It means so much to those of us within the tribe and we all rattle our sabres at those whose narrow-mindedness (or lack of boundaries!) we are rebelling against, but to an outsider it's all a bit confusing. Us Geeks felt alone through High School, we didn't fit in, and so found our fellow tribe members through other means than being born within geographical proximity of our peers. Punk is probably so sacred to you, C, because it brought your first true feelings of belonging, something your poor friend is still on a futile search for. She is still to find her niche, passion, groove, some of us are late-developers ;o)

      I was recently attempting to explain to my 21 year old nephew how American Horror Story:Coven was marred for me by the assertion that Stevie Nicks is some kind of ultra-hip living legend feminist icon we should all worship. Ask many American youngsters who the High Priestess of Goth was and they will pick out Nicks over Siouxsie!!!! Seriously??!@£&*)$.... I even had an online spat with the author of some online "History of Goth" (who claimed to have been there from the beginning) over that very subject. It's easy to forget, in these days of global interconnectedness, that the Atlantic used to be more than a physical divide, the 70's and 80's were very different for American youth of the day... but we are all now regarded as living historical artefacts by the young and they pick over the subcultures that we so fiercely defended and don't see any boundary lines at all. PLUS (and this cannot be overstated) they would rather hear that history relayed by an intrepid member of their own generation, who has spent a few hours thumbing through Google to "research" Punk, Goth, Hippies or any other ancient musical tribe, and handily provide some context for them, preferably on how it relates back to a Kardashian.

      Delete
    4. You're right, Rol - the Sex Pistols/McLaren thing was not what quite what it seemed early on when all we knew was the music and the controversial TV appearances and pics, and especially for those of us who were still at school - we didn't really care about the whys and wherefores behind punk, it was just new and exciting and angry and weird and arty etc. - it spoke to us, the misfits! It also became about those bands who formed themselves, spurred on by what they'd seen and heard and just coming up organically - so that even though the Pistols were in their way manufactured and got huge, a lot else that followed wasn't, and things went in all sorts of different directions.
      I think you've hit the nail on the head when you say "it becomes about what it means to the listener" - and nothing else really matters as you say - but it did at the time, when I really needed it to, when I felt like such a geek because I felt no affinity with disco fashion and disco boys and disco music (which of course now sounds a whole lot better!)
      Blimey, sorry to ramble on.
      Outside, inside? I don't know any more, just like what I like and it's all over the place. In, out, in, out, shake it all about....

      Delete
    5. Yve! You've just popped up while I've spent an inordinate amount of time trying to reduce what was a turning into a three page comment into a few paragraphs. I'll come back to you (but lovely to see you!)

      Delete
    6. PS Singing Bear - still smiling at "fucking Ed fucking Sheeran"

      Delete
    7. Yve - fab comment and just to reiterate now I've got my breath back, it's really good to see you here again. Yes, all still ranting it seems although I hadn't really expected any comments to go in the direction they have (music only being mentioned cursorily in the post!)
      I agree - you're right about why punk meant so much to me and it irritates me to see it written about by journalists etc. who weren't there and who have converted the info they've picked up on into a version that fits with the contemporary mindset. It is so much about context - and not even just the context of the 1970s, but also regional contexts. Eg. punks in London were different to punks in the provinces, where I was we had fewer of each other and fewer places to go, probably provoked different responses from people on the street because half of them already knew us as kids, still had to contend with Teddy Boys (!) but were unlikely to actually get knifed - and we couldn't even compare notes with others in different parts of the country in real time, let alone across the Atlantic - all that kind of thing. So really the only way to get a full picture is to get several different pictures, and to accept that they might not all tally in every respect. Now, as you say, when written about retrospectively they don't see any boundary lines at all.
      I sometimes wonder if really we can't believe a single thing that's written in the History books ever, because if this small example above we've written about above is anything to go by, the only thing we can ever know to be true is our own experiences...
      And not only should we ban the word 'cool' but also the word 'Kardashian'!
      Thanks again Yve - hope to see more blog posts from you too any time you feel like it.

      Delete
    8. Hee hee, I can see we all transgressed from your original post, and in a way that's cutting to the real core of what is actually COOL... it's whatever gets us passionate and no one person ever really experiences art in the same way as the next. Not just art, life in every form.

      Punk probably means something totally different to you than it does to even the people who experienced it alongside you back in the day. Who gives a toss what Malcolm McLaren intended (or later claimed he intended) because your experience of Punk is totally yours to treasure. For me it's David Bowie, when I hear some of his older stuff it's like that scene in Pulp Fiction where Tim Roth stares into the brief case! When he died I felt quite rocked to the core (Bowie, not the still breathing Mr Roth), and since then have had to contend with everyone's else's version of My Bowie splashed all over the news and in documentaries.... and non of it quite tallies with my own special briefcase full of golden Bowie moments. I imagine the man himself was often quite bemused by how his fans interpreted what he did, but seemed to have the good sense to know that it wasn't his job to try and correct any of us.

      I guess the History we read in books isn't exactly written by the Victors, but some watered down "Approved Recollection by Committee" with all the joy and anarchy sucked out. I do hope your friend manages to find her mojo and people worthy of her company... and thankfully, she has you :o)

      Delete
    9. Brilliantly put... yes we only now our own versions of whatever it is we've been into, and sometimes other people's versions are at odds with ours- or, at least, different/disappointing. That Committee for Approved Recollection is responsible for a lot!

      Thanks for your kind comment about the friendship thing. Unfortunately at times I think she really is her own worst enemy, but then it's always easier to see that from the outside...

      Delete
  4. I married into geekdom. Otherwise, I wouldn't know of such things. You see, I'm very very cool. Very.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :-) A small but perfectly formed comment, Brian!

      Delete
  5. Oh great, a post about geekdom!. I actually wrote about it last year when I decided to alphabetise my CD collection at 11pm at night (alphabetising and cataloguing through the night - what a joy!). I found a CD with the song It's Not Easy Being Green and the lyrics fitted my situation perfectly - It's not always easy being a geek but once you embrace and accept your geekdom you can never, ever be bored as there is always something to list or collect, a convention to go to or similarly minded people to meet up with. The thing is, I don't really look like a geek (if there is a specific look) and people get a real surprise when they find out that I don't roll with what is the normal pattern of behaviour for a 50-something office worker. No, it's not REALLY important to have a new kitchen every 5 years but it is immensely important to track down that final figure to complete the set of characters for the Buffy library. No, it's not REALLY important to have just the right glass and china - My granny's dinner set from the 1930s is just perfect. I could go on but you get the gist. As I've got older I really don't care about what is seen as cool or not and yes I have written about my love for the Alessi Bros, England Dan & John Ford Coley and many more since starting my blog - feel-good songs that should never be seen as a guilty pleasure. My other half and I always look at each other and say "Emperor's new clothes" when all of a sudden a new "cool" trend appears - it won't last but it's the consumer society we've bought into.

    Loving the blogging as finding like-minded people and I can happily spend whole evenings and weekends organising my various databases of reference material. I would like to have seen you in your punk days C, I was never that extreme myself but I have heard in later life that my friend and did stand out from the crowd in our student days - Especially as I studied geography and they are a very outdoorsy set what with the gators, the waterproof jackets and the woolly jumpers.

    Sorry, have gone on a bit, but although I walk the earth masquerading as a "normal" person, I have embraced my geekdom of late and enjoy it very much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. England Dan & John Ford Coley!!! - their version of Todd's "Love The Answer" is beautiful. But I'll deny it all if some of my cool friends read this!

      Delete
    2. Just to jump in here - It is beautiful indeed and what's uncool about a song that makes you feel as I do when I hear that one. Obviously not for everyone but their loss I say.

      Delete
  6. Just saw CC's comment above - I ramble but he is as succinct as ever which kind of does epitomise "cool" (although we're not supposed to use that term any more). Am just back from a brisk walk (remember the screen time/exercise balance we discussed before?) and remembered that when I wrote my post on Geekdom CC left a comment with the rallying cry "Geeks of the World Unite" which I decided could be very easily acronymised to GOTWU - I think I've got woo, have you?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love that, Alsyon - "No, it's not REALLY important to have a new kitchen every 5 years...." etc. You get it.
      So reassuring to know others who feel similarly. Even coming away from the music theme - I know I'm weird because I'd rather have lots of lovely snails in my garden than lots of lovely flowers (just as an example - it's things like that) but I know that I can't explain that to many people - because surely EVERYONE with a garden is supposed to HATE snails? Of course there's pressure everywhere, advertising, social media, magazines - and none of it matters - but it can make you feel such an outsider if you start to believe you're the only one who doesn't feel the same way and then, like my friend, the danger is that you try to adapt yourself to fit in with that, but if it goes against who you really are inside then it's never going to work.... hence my advice to my friend.
      Love GOTWU! Yeah, woo is where it's at!

      Delete
    2. This post has really got people talking so really struck a chord with many of us - The very fact we partake in all this malarkey probably makes us all part of a tribe of outsiders in the first place so anyone who pipes up (like in The Emperor's New Clothes) and says the mainstream stuff we're supposed to buy into is all nonsense, is going to be applauded.

      Anyway I got side-tracked, I came back as I was reminded of the story from my schooldays when I was challenged by a "friend" on my way home from shopping as to which album was in my music shop carrier bag (they were a very distinctive shape). I was going through my Glenn Miller phase at the time but thought it would be seen as really uncool to say it was an album with his music so managed to stop myself just in time - "Oh, it's G..G..Gary Glitter's new one" I said thinking that would be so much more acceptable (it was the early '70s). How the passage of time has rendered that answer wrong on so many levels and I decided soon after that telling the truth is so much easier than telling porkies to fit in with the crowd as the crowd are often found to have got it all terribly wrong!

      Delete
    3. I think you're right - hadn't expected such a 'conversation' from this post at all, but yes, it must be just the right place for it!

      Love your story and that sums things up perfectly. It's a shame that any of us have ever felt a sort of unwritten pressure to not admit to something as innocuous as our particular taste in music for fear of being judged harshly. Who is anyone to judge, and why are some things perceived as 'ok' (not going to say 'cool'!) when others aren't, who dictates all that and based on what? Crazy really, but a big part of many areas of life. Still, yes, how the passage of time has given your particular anecdote a very different perspective!

      Delete
  7. Would it be geeky of me to mention that the Pistols did, in fact, cover I'm Not Your Stepping Stone by the Monkees? I'll get my (duffle) coat?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah that was a great version... if geeky is good, which it is on these pages, then yes, very geeky John! :-)

      Delete
  8. I lived through the 60's Mods & Rockers thing and never took a side. The (1st) Summer Of Love never really took off in N-East Scotland, although, in 1967, my best mate and me organised an all-nighter with a dozen or so local bands. (We were asked to talk about it on BBC's Reporting Scotland but chickened out.)

    We weren't hippies cos we were still in 4th year at school. By the time punk arrived I was 3/4 years shy of 30 and preferred reggae and country music (Waylon, Willie and George Jones) but I liked me some Clash and Pistols singles. Were Ian Dury or the Feelgoods punk? I don't recall if NME said they were. I never jumped a bandwagon and always felt different (being full-blown manic helped) but can't describe myself as a geek. I just love music and will admit - under torture - that my tastes are probably post-modern/post ante-modern eclectic as Charlie Brooker or Jean Paul would probably have said if they owned my record collection AND had my skills as a wordsmith. :-D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi FurryBootsCityBoy, thanks for dropping by and joining in - and with a conversation which I didn't expect to come from a non-musical post about geeks but which seems to have struck some chords with people!
      Brilliant to hear from someone whose musical experiences go back to '60s Mods & Rockers and obviously all thats evolved since... many changes but many repetitions also. (Do you ever write about it?)
      I keep thinking now that there can't be much left to do that's new musically; ok, popular music is getting more technological/electronic, there's a sound which is definitely very 'now', but even then you can still date that synthesised sound back to ELP, Kraftwerk or whatever, and we keep having these '80s revivals, so really I suppose nothing is completely new any more - just an adaptation.
      Funnily enough when I used the term 'geek' in the original post I wasn't even thinking of musical taste - more just for that whole 'outsider/misfit' complex in general - but then the two things are so often linked. Funny how music can be so defining.
      I like your description (without having to torture you I hope) of 'post-modern/post ante-modern eclectic'.... not sure I know quite what it means but it sounds good!

      Delete
  9. 'don't follow leaders watch the parking meters'

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had to remind myself of that just now Old Pa... you know I'm no Dylan fan! But SHB is a good one.

      Delete
  10. This year, a friend who is a bit of an outsider asked me "what is normal anyway?". A big question which I didn't have an immediate answer. He asked me to think it over. Your post touches on that too and I think we can safely say we are all wonderfully different and thank god we are not all the same.

    To me, trying to fit in is not all bad, reading the same books and seeing the popular TV shows certainly does have it's appeal in that a dialogue(even a book club) can be started on those overlaps. But shouldn't take it too far and sacrifice your own uniqueness to fit in. Sometimes those who try and be "normal" are insecure as you say, and lack a strong direction of their own. Geeks or not, I hope your friend finds her place. Diversity makes life interesting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Chris - and "what is normal anyway?" is a very good question. There is a Sigmund Freud quote along the lines of "show me a normal person and I'll cure them" which I think sums it up nicely!
      I agree - thank god we are all so different - but I like that we can all unite on various themes too as you say.
      Thanks for the kind words for my friend, I think she believes that finding good people to surround yourself with is hard - but they're definitely out there!

      Delete

Please come in, the door is open

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...