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Posted at 04:54 PM ET, 06/20/2011

Miss USA, Best Buy and the Geek bubble


Just a couple of geeks.
I realized that we were in a geek bubble when Miss USA Alyssa Campanella said she was not only a “huge science geek” who believed in evolution but a “huge history geek” who loved the Stuart and Tudor eras.

This is getting ridiculous.

Will Rogers said that “we can’t all be heroes because someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.” The same once applied to geeks. We couldn’t all be geeks because someone had to harass us verbally and steal our lunch money. It built character. Later we avenged ourselves by flooding popular culture with 38 More Movies Based On Comic Books, Even Comic Books We Didn’t Personally Read Like The Green Lantern, Since Those People Who Mocked Us In High School Would Probably Get Confused And Attend Anyway Thinking It Was Something They Should Know About Or Maybe Mistaking It For Batman With a Poorly Adjusted Color Filter. This was a mouthful, but we were determined.

I knew Geek Culture had taken over, but I had no idea that it had gotten so bad.

Now Miss USA wants geek cred? And Best Buy — of the infamous Geek Squad — values the term so highly that it’s suing people for using it — at least in a font that resembles its own?

Geekery without the stigma? Is that even geekery?

There was once a distinct aroma associated with geekery, something like a damp computer lab on a Friday night. Now, Geeks are everywhere, among us, disguised as beauty queens and Cool People.

Do we need to reclaim that word? Or do we need a new one? Or — has it simply become so embedded in our culture that there’s no way out?

Now, as countless articles and trend pieces constantly inform us whenever any movie based on a comic book comes to theaters (do they still make movies that are not based on comic books?) the geek is king, and everyone must go to Comic Con to genuflect before him.

We are throwing this word around like all you have to do to earn it is slip on those fake black-rimmed glasses or one of those blue polo shirts. Sure, those glasses look chic, but we’re forgetting that they once came with a price.

There was supposed to be an associated social cost. Love Batman? You’d pay for it at prom.

Julie Smith described a geek as “a bright young man turned inward, poorly socialized, who felt so little kinship with his own planet that he routinely traveled to the ones invented by his favorite authors, who thought of that secret, dreamy place his computer took him to as cyberspace — somewhere exciting, a place more real than his own life, a land he could conquer, not a drab teenager’s room in his parents’ house.”

Is that still true?

The Internet is turning the inward outward. It is removing some of the social cost. And it’s opening the geek floodgates.

If Miss USA wants to insist that she’s a geek, clearly something has snapped in our popular consciousness.

Maybe we’ve all always been geeks, if the word is taken — as these days it increasingly is — to mean not one who bites the heads off live bats at a carnival, but one with an outsized and singular passion not shared by those around him.

After all, with the Internet, everyone’s around us all the time. The Internet allows you to answer the question “Was anyone else thinking this?” Type your query into Tumblr or Twitter and the answer is invariably “Yes.” Few are the phrases that have been Googled only once.

The Internet exists so you never have to be alone, and this means that the person who gets mashed potatoes in the face in the lunchroom for comparing everything to dwarves can now go home and tell 1,500 fans about it. They say reading exists so that where one man has lived finely, tens of thousands of others may also live finely. The Internet exists so that where one man has drawn pictures of the Green Lantern as a centaur finely, tens of thousands of others may reassure him that this was a good idea.

But something happens to a culture when it becomes embraced by the so-called mainstream. Geekery used to be hard-won. Now you need to be a bit of a geek if you don’t want to flail around in our culture. But the flip side of the rise in those hip boxy glasses is that it’s impossible to tell who is wearing them only for color.

This makes it harder than ever to decide whom to mock in the cafeteria and is forcing us, as a society, to turn on the cool kids. “Don’t you have a rich inner life at all?” we crow. “It’s like you’re aggressively trying not to be welcome at the 10-year reunion!”

Except that if Miss USA is any indication, the cool kids are crossing over in droves.

Maybe it’s the ineluctable progress of technology. It used to mean that you were weird and different if you wanted to link your mind to a magical screen. Now it just means you have the latest smartphone.

Everywhere you turn, everyone’s a geek.

Perhaps this was inevitable.

Maybe the word’s not watered down. Maybe it’s simply coming into its own. If there’s one lesson the Internet conveys, it’s that everyone is much weirder than we thought. Even beauty queens.

By  |  04:54 PM ET, 06/20/2011

 
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