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Some Days in the Life - S. John Ross and the Art of Geeking

Posted 4/20/99

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It's grey out there at this point, but not actually raining. Which is a real pity, as its the worst of both worlds. It's grey, so we don't have the pleasant sunshine, and it's not raining, so raging fires aren't being quelled and prevented statewide. I'm sure there's a way to blame someone. Probably S. John Ross.

S. John Ross is an iconoclast and rabblerouser over on the Pyramid boards. He's actually an excellent writer, professional and otherwise, and darn funny. However, he suffers from Opinionated Bastard syndrome, which is far less bad than it sounds.

Opinionated Bastard Syndrome is different from being either opinionated or a bastard. An Opinionated Bastard is someone who goes out of his way to argue about the subjectivity of opinion and experience, then proceeds to assert their opinions as natural laws. Some Opinionated Bastards are just trying to be entertaining. Some succeed. Others truly don't see why people don't accept their opinions as fact, while they assert that opinion is meaningless. Still others are trolling for responses.

S. John's not an aggravating Opinionated Bastard. He's something of a troll, but not a particularly offensive one. The interesting thing about his particular brand of OBS is the number of people who bend over backwards to disagree with it. One of his rants are about people who allow their technical and scientific knowledge to overshadow their enjoyment of something. (Like Star Trek, for example.) He calls them 'geeks,' and he means it as a pejorative.

By S. John's definition and in S. John's opinion, he's not a geek. By my definition and in my opinion, he's so mind numbingly geeky that colors change to geekier shades in his presence. But I don't consider 'geek' a pejorative. Where he finds a geek to be an annoying person who nitpicks to the point that they don't enjoy something they claim to enjoy, I find a geek to be a person who suffers under the impression that role playing games, comic books, science fiction, computer expertise, Mystery Science Theater, video games, the Muppets, the Society for Creative Anachronism, UFO clubs, web site creations, anime, Myth II, most cartoons and South Park are cool. If someone has more than three of those items on a list, they're a geek.

However, geeks generally enjoy each others' company far more than they do most non-geeky people. I have non-geek friends, and I like them. However, my geek friends have a lot more in common with me. If I tell my geek friends to watch The Powerpuff Girls because it's well written, gut-bustingly funny and hip, they're not likely to squint at me and say "isn't that for kids?" Yes, it is. But the point is it's well written, gut-bustingly funny and hip, and they'd enjoy watching it.

If I tell anyone on the Pyramid boards my definition of 'geek,' I'm positive they'll agree it makes them one. They might be sheepish about it, but they'll accept it. They might even feel kinship about it.

However, S. John's definition infuriates them. They scream and argue about the fact that "no, they're not a geek and this is why!" And for the life of me, I don't know why. First off, it's just his opinion. Second off, he's right that people do let their real world knowledge get in the way of their enjoyment of things, a lot of the time. And thirdly, anyone who will nitpick a definition about nitpicking is missing the point in a rather cosmic way.

I guess part of the problem is his term. Geek. Frankly, it's no longer a word you get to bend to your own definition, like Wonk is. Wonk and wonky are my terms for... well, stuff. Wonky is good sometimes, and bad sometimes, and indifferent sometimes. It's like the word "smurf" in the language of the Smurfs on the Smurfs cartoon which I hated as a kid.

Geek no longer has that flexibility. It also no longer means "one who bites the head off of a chicken." It means "a person without social skills." It means "a person good at science and good with computers." It means "a person who likes science fiction and fantasy." Geeks are traditionally disliked by the cool, but the cool are liking geeks more and more as the tools of geekdom enter common society and someone needs to teach them.

And geeks, together, form a social clique of their own. To the point where geeks now point at other geeks and come up with names which mean what "geek" used to the general population.

S. John's trying to take a word with all that baggage and make it mean something else. People resist that, because he's changing the rules on them. For my money, it weakens his argument -- because my definition of a geek is a lot closer to society's, and S. John's as geeky as I am by that yardstick. So, while S. John is not a hypocrite, he comes across as one.

Either way, he's entertaining and it's fun to blame our lack of rain on him.