The Personalist Project

I'm going to talk about Geekdom--communities of enthusiasts or fans--for a little bit. Bear with me.

One of the things self-professed "geeks" often argue about--and geeks LOVE to argue--is what it means to be a "geek," and who qualifies. Sometimes the debate is playful, but sometimes it's an attempt to exclude people for being "fake geeks." 

When the question came up again in a couple different places recently, I put some thought into it. Why is this such a perennial debate, and what can it tell us about the divisions in other communities? 

The answer to "what is a geek" seems clear enough when you use the word as a verb. Generally, if someone is "geeking out," they are enthusing, effusive, interested in everything related to the object of geekiness, unabashed, unironic in their tastes, unconcerned with impressing anyone else, caught up in the subject--sometimes to the point of obsessiveness--fairly glowing with positive excitement over the virtues of the subject.

If enthusiasm is what unites geeks, then what is it that divides us? Why do even well-meaning geeks find themselves at odds, and why do a smaller number seem to be more interested in nitpicking and exclusion than in celebrating the actual object of their professed interest?

There is a division of sorts in here between geeks who take their obsessiveness to the next level of becoming very involved in deep analysis of their favourite subject, and those who prefer merely to celebrate the aspects of the fandom that they find particularly attractive. This division may have something to do with why the question of "who/what is a geek" comes up so often.

(Beginning to see the applicability to communities of faith?)

Over-analysis itself is very geeky, but it doesn't work well to hold your analysis too tightly or take yourself (or your subject matter, even) too seriously, I think, especially to the point of rejecting other fans for their lack of in-depth knowledge or intimidating non-fans with your intensity.

I mean, when you voluntarily call yourself a "geek," you're kind of STARTING from a place of wry self-deprecation, aren't you?

More to the point--while it's true that enthusiasm can lead to intense interest and debates over minutiae, it's also true that nobody's enthusiasm begins with the minutiae.

(Images like this one might spark some enthusiasm, however!)

Nobody loves TOS (the original series) Star Trek, to give an example, because they were persuaded that it is a great work of art that can hold up to lofty critical analysis. They love it for a myriad of other reasons, ranging from the appeal of the characters to the resonance of specific themes to a kind of nostalgia for the era in which it aired or the time in their life when they encountered it.

I can, nonetheless, have a grand old time talking about classic archetypes in TOS. But even when I do that, I know that the actual appeal and role in my life is more human and personal and complex than that, and sometimes the best response to the complexity of "what makes me light up with excitement" is simple acceptance that it is so.

I enjoy the conversation and debate, because it allows me to dwell on details and aspects of something I enjoy, but it isn't the reason for my enjoyment.

The debate is not the beloved thing.

The argument over "what is a geek" gets people caught up in the question of which topics are geeky or artistic or obscure enough to "count" as geeky, and how detailed and exhaustive your knowledge of your topic has to be. But neither of those questions gets to the heart of the enthusiast's love. 

My appreciation--my love--of a story or creative medium or genre--does not rest on a simple, explicable set of sophisticated/artistic/universal grounds, even if I might occasionally mount a playful defence along those lines. It doesn't depend on my ability to retain details or explicate the virtues of the loved thing. It is what it is.

Love is a fact, not a proposition.

Part Two: Theology is Not Faith

Image credits: 

"Ready for Battle" by RalfHuels (photographer), Anja Arenz, Chris Kunz, Dossmo, Niamh, Paolo Tratzky, Svenja Schoenmackers, via Wikimedia Commons

"Samantha Cristoferreti drinks coffee in the Cupola" by NASA, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

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