Sunday, May 2, 2010

First Impressions

Well, here goes,

Ever since I was young I was taught that first impressions count. The extent that you consider a person's value begins with the first thing you see them say or do, and even to an extent how they look the moment you first lay eyes on them. I know that some of the more fortunate instances of my life were earned by my ability to impress people, particularly with my ability to show my intelligence in terms of book smarts, diction, and a razor wit. All of these factors combined helped me land my first successful job interview at an elementary school where I still work today.

However, while I consider the need to make a good first impression important to myself, I've known people in my life who've taken that first step far less gracefully, and still managed to capture my endearment over time. On the surface of my mind was a young man I met in a video game club meeting, pausing the revelry of the current game selection to suggest we play a game of 'Loli golf.' (His term of endearment for the early Wii title, "Super Swing Golf.") Between him and a couple of other members I was somehow criticized for picking the only female character in the game who looked remotely like a mature woman. I recall thinking this individual was pretty weird and I avoided contact with him until, over time, he has proven himself to be a good friend who cares about my interests and mitigates our differences with a demeanor even cooler than my own.

Another such person I once met at a distance. While I was attending a local anime convention's comic-writing panel, I saw this awkward looking individual dressed a superhero costume sitting a few empty seats apart from me. When we were asked to offer a question to the panel, this guy sprung up and then proceeded to give away nearly everything about his prospective story's plot on the spot. I remember lowering my head and covering my eyes with my hand, hoping this guy would catch on and stop ruining his own story before he had a chance to even write it. Over time, though, we met more formally and he's proven to be one of my absolute best friends.

As far as first impressions go, the ones posed by these people I now consider my friends were just awful, but I stood around long enough to be proven wrong about them and truly understand them over time, and the question you may be asking yourself now is 'Why?' If I expect myself to make a good first impression, why aren't I more put off by the admittedly off-putting actions of these people?

To put it simply: it is because I am one of them.

You might have noticed how I described the environments I met these two people in: One of them was in a video game club, the other one was at an anime convention. I wouldn't have met these people if I were to have hung out in a single's club or a gym. I met them as part of geeky social gatherings, and therefore I put it in my mind to be more patient with their immediate quirks because they are geeks, and I consider myself to be a geek as well.

To be a geek is to know humiliation. Though I rarely face it as an adult, I got a lot of ridicule in my school days for being overweight and easily distracted by video games and comic books. I was bullied, browbeat, and generally ostracized to the point it's still a part of my psyche to this very day. (Our school's P.E. coach often wonders why I cringe at the sight of anything shaped vaguely like a dodgeball.) Knowing that you're at a gathering that involves comic books and seeing another adult there is knowing somewhere amongst that person is an emotional scar very similar to the one you have. It's like a badge of courage.

Another trait most geeks share is the belief that we are different. I recall once in high school coming back from a date with my heart stomped on and having my father ask me why things went so badly. I shrugged and replied "It's because I'm a geek," and as I saw my dad rev up to lecture me about being insulting to myself I added "Relax, dad. It's what I am. I'm actually very proud." That moment of acceptance comes through in any geek's life. It is the point where despite all the constant turmoil, you know you'll always care about the latest issue of Spider-Man, you'll always have a special place in your heart for Sailor Moon, and you'll still sing the theme to Ghostbusters in public whenever the next opportunity arises.

When you grow old enough to let the cruelty of high school slide off your shoulders and you can live a life free of persecution, you're still inclined to introduce yourself as a geek in any public situation. Whenever other people ask me about the things I like I tell them that I like poetry, I like chess, I like books, I like classic movies, and then I pause, mention that I'm a geek, and proceed in telling them about my video games, anime DVDs, comic books and sci-fi novels. (I often abstain from mentioning my extensive anime figurine collection.) What was once a wall between yourself and any non-geek is now a shield that protects you from ridicule but still serves as a barrier between yourself and anyone you consider to be 'normal.' Some of the normals in my life often ask me why I don't do things like spend nights in bars or listen to the latest trends in music. I usually don't answer them, and I hope they go away assuming it's just because I'm a geek.

The outside world often wonders about geeks. They listen to the stereotypes and wonder why we don't seem to be interested in the fundamentals of life. (Watching sports, drinking alcohol, having sex...) Some of them find us threatening if not wholly dangerous when you consider the popular opinion of people who play violent video games, as well as watch violent cartoons and play Dungeons and Dragons. The old urban myth that quiet, nebbish-y, people will one day go ballistic and mow down hundreds of innocent people with an uzi is also alive and well. (I submit that the people behind Columbine and the more recent Virginia Tech tragedy were not like that at all.) People are naturally wary of what is different, and the status quo has always been rather upset by us for the simple fact that we go straight up to their faces and tell them 'we are different.'

But are we?

I think that, amongst all these evident truths is the fact that the only answer we've ever given the normals is 'we are different,' and we've never tried to explain why. Why is that? I am sure trying to make the outside world understand us is a chore as daunting as teaching your mother how to make an Excel spreadsheet or explaining to a woman at a singles bar why "Thundercats" was such an awesome cartoon. However, there is also the distinct possibility that we don't really know ourselves. If you ask a geek if he or she is considered a part of a social group, a representative of a collective consciousness, or even a participant in a different lifestyle, they would respond with a resounding 'Yes!' But if they're asked to present evidence as to why they believe that to be true, nobody comes forward. Therefore, as life progresses, we consider ourselves to be a rising social construct while the rest of the world sees us as misguided followers of a hobby.

It is because of this that I've decided to start this blog. As a community, we've played our cards close to our chest, keeping the reasons behind our actions to ourselves. However, the reasons behind what we do still exist in the hemisphere, and I'm taking it upon myself to collect information about the nature of geeks from news sites so as to find many of these answers and bring them forward. I may not be the best person to do this. I'm no anthropology major. (Though I took it often as an elective, as I find it an interesting subject.) Nevertheless, in order to make a good argument towards our ends it is important to make our intentions well known, and in order to do it, we must best know ourselves.

How's that for a first impression?

Live Long, Fanboys

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