The truth is, when people say “geek” they often mean “nerd,” and a nerd is something different. But equally cool. A nerd is someone who, for example, took the National Latin Exam for fun in ninth grade. Or, I don’t know, played the French Horn for a dozen years. Or knows that forensics is not about CSI: Miami. No. Forensics is the only sport a nerd can hope to letter in, besides band or orchestra. As you might imagine, a nerd had to suffer for their passions in high school, and was branded an outsider. Which, incidentally, is the subject of the majority of geek literature: the experience of difference.
A nerd also knows that, most properly, there is a three way Venn diagram of nerd, geek, and dork, and while of course an actual three way between a nerd, a geek and a dork would be awesome, let’s face it, that’s not going to happen, at least not in this dimension.
Why won’t it happen? Because the dork is too socially awkward to instigate, and while the nerd or the geek might have the chutzpah to get the party started, they are too busy topping each other with Dr. Who references to get on to the more serious business of topping each other.
So on to the finer point of what separates a nerd from a geek, and a geek from a dork:
A nerd’s idea of a great night in is reading the latest Pulitzer Prize winning novel
A geek’s idea of a great night in is a marathon viewing of the latest Joss Whedon enterprise, and/or, the latest voyage of the Starship Enterprise
A dork’s idea of a great night in is…wait, there are other options than spending the night in?
So these days, when Hollywood comes to court the former prom queens and homecoming kings masquerading as social misfits, who try to slum it with their vague interest in Iron Man, an alliance needs to be built between the nerds, the geeks, and the dorks.
Those of us who qualify in more than one category are called upon to be diplomats between these worlds. We must unite to resist the co-optation of our culture! Comic-Con is not for Teams Edward or Jacob and theoretical physics does not belong to Ashton Kutcher!
But part of me wants to hesitate when I trash on Twilight fans, because let’s face it, most of them are women. When I say I want to keep “the mainstream” out of geek culture, I realize that could easily be mistaken as keeping it “pure.” Keeping out the “riffraff,” the “unintelligent,” the people who “just don’t get it.”
I know geektopia isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. I know that if you’re not a straight white dude, this world can be less than inviting. This shit runs deep. The currency of the geek, nerd, and dork worlds is intelligence. White supremacist heterosexist patriarchy insists that straight white dudes are smarter. It’s an ugly, uncool bullshit reality of privilege and oppression. Also: men act, women are acted upon. So in comics, men are the heroes, women are, the vast majority of the time, the scantily clad villains. This sucks. Geek culture, for all its subversive hijinks, rarely escapes these biases completely. Actually, it often reinforces them. Take two glances at the majority of women superhero “costumes” and their Barbie-esque physiques, and you’ll know that when Stan Lee wrote the character Mystique, he wasn’t thinking about Betty Freidan. And even though the metaphor of the X-Men’s difference is intersectional and can be applied to the struggles for racial equality, one look at Storm can assure you he wasn’t thinking about bell hooks either.
So I do want geek culture to expand. Just not in the direction it’s going. So to all the straight white dudes who were picked on for being too smart in high school, but now make six figures in the tech industry: your difference is not the only difference that matters.
But Twilight sucks, and I’ll stand by that, in equal parts because of the horrible writing and horrible sexism and racism. Yes. Stalking your girlfriend and depicting indigenous people as werewolves are both problems.
Being a geek is a commitment. You have to worship at the altar of commodity fetishism for a while. You have to waste a good bit of time and money on comic books and cult television. You have to learn some passwords, like: “The Tardis: it’s bigger on the inside.”
Being a nerd is a commitment. You have to worship at the altar of your academic discipline for a while. You have to waste a good bit of time and money on books, and alienate at least a few friends and lovers with your snobbery. You have to learn some passwords, like: “string theory, or…white supremacist heterosexist capitalist patriarchy.”
And this brings me to my last point. What we can all learn from the red headed stepchild of the Venn diagram, the one geeks and nerds are afraid to own: the dork. The dork is not afraid to be unpopular. She’s embraced it. The dork is not afraid to say things that will piss people off. In high school that might mean Napoleon Dynamite level social awkwardness, but as an adult, that can mean calling out the sexism, racism and homophobia of the sacred geek texts, and acknowledging that the sciences are still, sadly the bastion of the straight, the white, and the dude. Calling this stuff out is not comfortable. Not “cool.” And that’s better than okay.
So no, this isn’t revenge of the nerds. It’s The Rise of the Geek Nerd Dork Trifecta.