Tuesday, August 27, 2013

For geeks?

Lately, I've been seeing a lot of references to Tolkien and "Star Wars" that are prefaced with remarks like "you have to be a geek to understand this." I don't see where this claim is coming from: neither Tolkien nor Star Wars fandom is at all "geeky." After all, "The Lord of the Rings" is one of the best-selling books ever, and the three movies are near the top of the list of highest-grossing films. And the "Star Wars" franchise is also a huge success. I guess "geeky"  sounds to me like something more exclusive, less broadly popular, something more like a limited "cult" popularity. 

At some level, though, those who assert their geekiness in this way must get something from it. Downgrading something that appeals to mass taste by claiming it is actually something only for insiders? So much of popular culture does try to individualize massive success: "I see something in it that you don't." It's a version of the beginner's cliche in criticism: "If you look at it more closely, you will see that ..." Perhaps the claim that "geeks" will get it but others won't is a version of that, and the purveyors of such claims are saying that they've looked at it closely, so they know better.


Dominic Rivron said...

Aha! The age-old distrust of the intellectual.

I must say I think the answer in relation to the word "geek" is to work hard to make the word a compliment rather than an insult.

Andrew Shields said...

But the people who are saying "you have to be a geek to understand this" ARE making the word a compliment instead of an insult. They are saying "I'm a geek, and I understand it, and if you don't, it's because you're not a geek."

If it's a matter of something about intellectuals, then it's not about distrust of the intellectual (unless you're saying that I'm distrusting the intellectual in my post). It's about a particular brand of the intellectual asserting itself as capable of special understanding.

But that brand of the intellectual is nothing like an intellectual in the Zola-Sartre-Zizek sense; it's more a matter of computer programming than of philosophy.

Dominic Rivron said...

I've reread your post - I see what you mean. When I was in the 6th form (in pre-computer days), Tolkien was considered essential reading among my friends. As was listening to Genesis and wondering what they meant by lines like

"Imaginary creatures are trapped in birth on celluloid.
The fleas cling to the golden fleece,
Hoping they'll find peace."

It was a world view that saw art as something to be decoded (as you say "special understanding") rather than felt and understood - a world-view that naturally absorbed computer-programming when computers came along.

Jonathan said...

There is a "geek" interest in Tolkien: having read all of his work (not just LOTR) and having detailed knowledge of Middle Earth. This must be distinguished from non-geek interest: having seen the movies.

DaveG said...

any links to these remarks?

Sounds like a totally wierd thing to say, as you mention.

They obviously never read ghormenghast ;-)

I suspect they are just in the process of devaluing the meaning of geek to 'anyone interested in details as opposed to surfaces'.

I concur at my school also it was the book to read -- from about 1963... And all we had heard about computers was there were two kinds: digital and analogue.