Geek (definition from Merriam-Webster Online)
1: a carnival performer often billed as a wild man whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake
2: a person often of an intellectual bent who is disliked
3: an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity <computer geek>
This is merely the seed of an idea.
When I was in high school it wasn’t cool to play D&D or other tabletop games, read fantasy or sci-fi, read comics, or play video games. Those pursuits were often considered childish or weird D&D was still associated with satanism. Fantasy was considered a genre with little or no literary value. Video games and comics were often looked down on. Anime was almost unheard of (Although some Robotech made it to my little TV!). The idea of dressing up as your favorite fictional character was reserved for Halloween and Halloween was for kids.
My, how things have changed… It actually took me by surprise. All of these hobbies have become, if not more mainstream, then more acceptable and kind of cool. Comic book movies are killing at the box office. Shows based of comic series and certain Fantasy novels are joining Sci-Fi series to make TV a veritable Geekstravaganza. People now take Fantasy novels and Comics seriously as art and commentary. I can admit I play video games or tabletop games among strangers… in fact, if I do, it will almost certainly spark a conversation.
Many of you are probably shrugging your shoulders and thinking, so what? Tastes change over time.
True, but I think this is more than a passing fad. What I term Geek Chic, the love and acceptance of all things Geeky, strikes me as an enduring trend in our society. Geek society grew up with the internet. The internet empowers us to search out knowledge, down to an obsessive level of detail if we desire. The internet also allows us to easily find and communicate with others who are interested in the same things we are. This allows Geek culture to flourish.
If I love a quirky game like Dwarf Fortress, I can easily join a community of people that also loves the game. Being able to communicate with other people who are passionate about the game will spur my enthusiasm for it. As my love for the game grows I will share my favorite moments on the official forums (Bay12), sites like reddit, and on any social media that I am currently into. This means that anyone who is interested in a game like Dwarf Fortress is far more likely to hear about it. It also means that novices can join ready made communities that can help them out and drive their interest. Dwarf Fortress is a really complex game, and might be too daunting for some people without the support of that community. Even if you were able to find it and get into it on your own, you still be missing out on all of the mods and discussions, which often seem to be the best part of a hobby.
Fads come and go, but communities have staying power. Geeky pursuits like games, SFF fiction, and comics all lend themselves to the type of enthusiastic discussions that proliferate like weeds on the internet. Unlike many other internet communities these tend to be relatively friendly and open, and thus attractive to new members. Most Geeks like to share their knowledge, after all.
Geek Chic is what happens when these communities hit a certain critical mass and begin to influence the culture at large. I can already see this happening. The most interesting part is in how these separate hobbies influence each other. Video games borrow from comic books. Fantasy fiction borrows from Video games. vice versa and ETC. Halloween has much more adult, and far more popular (and makes $ like crazy). Web-channels like Geek and Sundry cater to all things geeky and attract new people to the fold with groups like Vaginal Fantasy and shows like Sword & Laser. People use the power of the internet, the sum of all, to Geek out on what interests them in the same way that it can empower work, research, and any other field that involves information.
Geek Chic is, quite possibly, the first fumbling steps of information age culture, an age where content is not just manufactured for us, but rather created by us, promoted by us, and validated by us. Steampunk fashion shows. Paid Gamemasters. Admiration for knowledge without the fear of intelligence. What a world that might be…