Do we fetishise geekiness?

Morwenna Jones 17 April 2014

If you’re reading this, chances are that on at least one occasion in your life someone has called you a ‘geek’, and they weren’t complimenting your kooky thick-frame specs or your immaculately ironed shirt.  Twelve years ago, when most of us were in primary school, being a ‘geek’ meant being a social pariah, a member of the ‘Warhammer’ club or that one child who was just enviably bright. 

Not any more. According to Shannon Delwiche, Executive Producer of a new game show celebrating geeks, ‘being a geek is cool now’. It’s certainly still all the rage in the fashion world. Look at notable Cambridge alumni Lily Cole for example. Lily achieved a starred first from King’s, and is using her brains to promote the ‘gift economy’ and even played the ‘Chief Geek’ in the film St Trinian’s. 

Few people would say that Lily isn’t cool, yet the same goes for more ‘stereotypically’ geeky types.  Richard Ayoade (aka Moss from The IT Crowd), who studied Law at St Catz, has spoken openly about his social awkwardness, yet he’d barely been on twitter for five minutes before having amassed 73,600 followers. Then there’s Simon Bird and Joe Thomas of Inbetweeners fame, both self-confessed ‘geeks’ who are now adored by adolescents across the country.

However, when we publicly celebrate ‘geeks’, are we celebrating what it really means to be one, or just making up a sort of cult to surround it?  If we return to the example of Lily Cole, she’s famous and adored not because of her brains, but because her beauty catapulted her to fame.  Similarly, Richard Ayoade and The Inbetweeners are popular because they’re funny, in the same way the Michael McIntyre is, not because they’re dorks.  So when we say that ‘geeks are cool’, what we really mean is that ‘these people are cool because of X, but good for them that they’re nerdy too!’

Even the ‘geek chic’ fashion craze, best evinced in the music video for Taylor Swift’s song ‘You Belong With Me’, is based on irony, not that it’s cool to be a nerd.  Even though watching Taylor Swift cavort her seemingly endless limbs on screen while wearing the aforementioned thick-frame glasses is great fun, I doubt she ever got bullied at school because she was wearing clothes her mum picked out, or because she wasn’t allowed glow-in-the-dark Skechers. 

The only show I can think of that doesn’t make being a geek ‘cool’, but shows what it’s really like to be one is University Challenge.  Under Paxman’s watchful glare, students sweat in their short-sleeved shirts, mop their acne-ridden brows, or just look normal.  The best thing is, nobody cares, because they’re not on the show to be cool or make a point, they’re on it because they’re geeks. In short, because they’re incredibly clever. 

When Taylor Swift dresses up as a band-geek, or when we swarm to Primark to buy fake-glasses for a ‘Mathletes versus Athletes’ swap, we’re not celebrating this fundamental point that being a geek is all about brains. Instead, we’re mocking it, and only further emphasising that there is only one way – the media-sponsored ‘cool way’ – to be accepted at school, university, and beyond.

Thankfully, by the sound of things, Original Productions have realised this.  We can only hope that their new game show celebrates true geeks in all their glory, rather than their cult following. I hope me and my seven year old self can look on in curiosity, and not in shame.