Dawn of the Geeks, part five
By Ian Wilson
05 March 2009 — "Geek" has a complex definition for me as Earth-2.net's self-styled diversity hire. The word itself, not least its connotations, originate from North America to the extent that it is an obvious sub-genre within that society. And like most cultural output from the USA, the idea of "geekdom" has slowly made its way across the Atlantic to be applied as a negative term in today's British school playgrounds. But in that my homeland has given geek culture some of its brightest moments — Doctor Who, Thunderbirds, Rentaghost — I cannot pretend to be anything otherwise, and should be proud about everything my country has contributed. Except Rentaghost.
The last five years with Earth-2.net has been as much an education as it has been a pleasant community of people, many of whom I knew of vaguely from The Oratory, which, as a wrestling-based website, already put me in good company. I've always known wrestling to be a bit niche, but seeing how broad the geek net is across the multi-headed beast that is media, it's been fascinating to see how many boxes have been ticked off my own personal checklist of geek traits. This is particularly true because I have never had much interest in comic books which is largely seen as the first hallmark of being a geek. But through a well-balanced diet of cartoons, films, general television and video games, there is enough out there to distract me from the blander side of the mainstream entries into each different medium.
I don't want to make it sound like American culture has been too pervasive in my life, but it's been with me for as long as I can remember. As a young sprog in the 1980s, my mother would ensure that over lunchtime I would watch, along with my younger sister and brother, Sesame Street. It was an hour of pure wonder. It was educational and comical, but above all, I was being taught basic grammar by American puppets. I still remember a lot of sketches, songs and pieces of animation, as well as the fact that Sesame Street introduced me to the concept of parody. Only last year did I realize that a song that went "every story has a beginning, middle and an end" was being sung to the tune of the chorus of "And She Was" by Talking Heads, a band I started getting into 15 months ago. Even having seen American Psycho, "Hip to Be Square" by Huey Lewis and the News will always first be associated in my mind with a square singing about how great his life was and how he hung out with other shapes as well. Apparently I hit the ground running when I started going to school, and despite being read to a lot as a child, my parents do partially credit Sesame Street for my grasp of early concepts. But again, I was watching Alastair Cookie presenting "Monsterpiece Theatre" where Twelve Angry Men was literally a dozen Muppets shouting at each other, or watching Forgetful Jones driving his director Kermit the Frog to his wits end by going through all the vowels of the first syllable of his big musical number in Oklahoma.
Speaking of starting school, Christmas 1990 saw my parents get me the NES. Nowadays I'm aware that children older than me were marginalized slightly for playing on computer consoles as gaming has only really become mainstream in this last decade, but that was never a problem for me. I had played Sonic the Hedgehog on the Master System at a local Children's World store and had been round to a friend's house to play Alex the Kid. And from the first time I started playing Super Mario Bros., I was hooked for the rest of my adolescence. Between me and my brother — who was two when we received the NES, and which may well have warped him — we have owned every single Nintendo console to be released in the UK. Nintendo games were my comics; instead of Spider-Man or Batman, I grew up with Mario, Luigi, Link, the re-imagined Donkey Kong, the Starfox universe, a variety of Disney games and Ryu to name just a few.
The early 90s saw a television revival of classic Gerry Anderson shows, such as Captain Scarlett, Stingray and Thunderbirds. The latter in particular was a favorite of mine, as I even had a Thunderbirds-themed birthday party one year. My mum also took me to see Gerry Anderson himself, as he was doing a speaking tour around the country which went through every puppet-based show he ever devised. I'd still watch every other popular kids TV show going, from Art Attack, Fun House and Woof through to Get Your Own Back, Round the Twist and Blue Peter, but cult television programs have been ingrained in me for a long time.
I was also growing up as a film addict. My very first film was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, because I was obsessed with that franchise at the time — as was every other boy my age. As I grew up, I became more and more aware of films by reading the explicitly-titled Movies, Games & Videos. This had replaced actually visiting video stores as my youthful imagination and the unfortunate knack of wandering into the horror area of the local rental led to many a-nightmare and a slight phobia of looking at box art. Despite this, I was not only watching more films, I was really getting into the characters. I was a fan of pretty much everything Jim Carrey did at that point, which brought me towards watching Batman Forever. I had only been able to watch Batman: The Animated Series sporadically and the Adam West TV series was only on television over the summer holidays, but my general interest in Batman and his universe was sealed by that Joel Schumacher masterpiece of 1995 — as seen through my less discriminating childhood eyes.
By the time I'd become a teenager, I'd made two good friends who were both heavily into things that weren't sports, girls or insanely popular in the late 90s. For those of you who listen to For Your Ears Only, I hardly need introduce Adham Fisher, but it was at this point that he was at his keenest on the James Bond franchise, and despite his tastes being a tad fickle from year to year, I could still speak to him about Bond after watching all of the films as they were televised on consecutive weeks. My other good friend, Richard, was a big Doctor Who fan, above all other cult TV series that he watched. He had a number of videos, posters, books and would even go to conventions, which Adham would join him on as my current co-host would suddenly obsess over all things Who — resulting in Adham shouting out something in the middle of a Colin Baker panel. I had a cult film franchise up my own sleeve however: the Carry On films. A series of comedy films that ran from 1958 to 1979, with a failed reboot in 1992, Carry On captured the best and worst of British music hall and seaside tradition with some of the best comic actors of that generation, not to mention roles for William Hartnell and Jon Pertwee. This is the first collection of mine which made me feel geeky within my own age group; although, to my parents' generation, they are memorable comedy classics or embarrassments depending on whom you ask.
During my final years of adolescence, my favorite things to watch were the aforementioned professional wrestling and Cartoon Network's Toonami offshoot. The former came about through a love of the N64 game WCW/nWo Revenge, and I would watch the decline of WCW concurrently against the tail end of the WWF's Attitude era. The thing I really enjoy about professional wrestling is how it mixes in goofy comedy, displays of athleticism and storylines that can be the equivalent of soap operas, which is why, to this day, I am involved in an e-fed, writing a character who is an exaggerated version of myself — more so even than in a segment of Comic Reel-lief. Toonami was the consequence of my accountant parents treating the family to digital television. Whilst Cartoon Network shows always eventually made their way onto terrestrial television at some point, Toonami was something else. I got to watch Justice League, Batman Beyond (or Batman of the Future for us slow-witted Europeans) and, of course, Teen Titans. In fact, the anime style was everywhere from legitimate Kellen-esque programming such as Cowboy Bebop or the various Dragonball series to the sublime Samurai Jack. For a time when I should have been dating girls or experimenting with my hair, me and my brother were happily watching wrestling, Toonami or playing against each other on the GameCube.
So the moment when it became clear to me that I was a geek was the six-month period between leaving school and starting university in Canada. The Commonwealth's very own version of America was still nevertheless a culture shock, although I was living in accommodation with fellow British people. Amongst the sheer wonder of living in a town that resembled a Christmas card for three months of the year, my time in Banff, Alberta saw me mix snowboarding and working as a hotel cleaner with discovering the Comedy Network. My English colleagues had little time for it (apart from King of the Hill, oddly enough), but I was hooked to it as it had new episodes of South Park, introduced me to The Daily Show and Kids in the Hall, and aired something called Puppets Who Kill, which was too dark for my compatriots to watch with me. However, my favorite program was the game show Beat the Geeks and my accumulated wealth of trivia made it a really enjoyable show. But watching those I lived with roll their eyes whenever they made it into the lounge area taught me something: what I enjoyed wasn't wholly popular and that, as the title implied, I was a geek.
And how did I cope with this revelation? I sat back and continued to watch, laughing at the stupid woman who didn't know which band Morrissey led in the 1980s.
Earth-2.net was founded a couple of months after that episode, and whilst I originally regarded it as a charming sister forum to The Oratory, hosted by that nice Master Yoda, it has somehow kept me learning about this culture which is so identifiable in America. I now own a trade paperback, a £75 set of Bond films and even purchased the DVD of the 2005 Fantastic Four — none of which would have happened without this site. And if I should ever try and convince myself that this is just a passing phase and that I'm really an ordinary English bloke, I take one look at my podcast subscriptions and see them focusing upon horror movies, video games and political satire, amongst other subjects. Aside from the binge-drinking of lager, I am not an ordinary bloke, or even a Tim Canterbury type from The Office. I am, for all intents and purposes, a geek. And if I felt bad about it, I wouldn't have turned around a 2000 word treatise on it in the space of two days!