Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Who gets to be a geek?

A bitter debate is raging online whether Miss USA Alyssa Campanella is a genuine “geek” or whether she is too pretty, too popular or too whatever to qualify as a genuine fan.

In a Washington Post: Entertainment article, Campanella uses the word “geek” to talk about her fascination with history, particularly the Stuart and Tudor eras of the British monarchy. During an Access Hollywood interview, she accepts an interviewer’s labeling of her as a “‘Star Wars’ nerd,” stating, “I have a variety of interests that some people wouldn’t expect out of a beauty queen, I guess, I have been told.” She then correctly answers several “Star Wars” trivia questions that are put to her.

The video, “Is The Force With Miss USA Alyssa Campanella?,” can be seen at www.nbcwashington.com.

Normally I would not pay attention to what a celebrity does or likes. But being a geek myself, someone who was ostracized for not fitting in with anybody else, it bothers me that self-professed geeks would exclude someone from their ranks.

Can’t a person self-declare as a geek and have that declaration be accepted, or can this status only be conferred by others? If so, who gets to decide who is or is not a geek?

At what point does a person genuinely qualify as a fan of “Star Wars” or of “Fill-in-the-blank?” Is it enough to say you like something or must you be seen in a costume at least once? Do you have to attend a convention? Is a single convention enough?

Do you have to contribute to or, better yet, publish, a ’zine?

Do you have to collect figurines or can you build simulacra out of Legos? Do you have to give references?

Does the fact that Miss USA wears a tiara exclude her from the ranks of geekdom? Tiaras are actually not that difficult to come by; I myself own three.

My first tiara was a silver circlet decorated with oak leaves and a single green stone. I commissioned it in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I next won a plastic tiara decorated with pink and blue “stones” playing arcade games at the Rogue Valley Fun Center north of Ashland, Ore. I acquired a third tiara, made out of white beads, at a fundraising yard sale for KPFZ 88.1 FM.

A reign as Miss USA accompanies Campanella’s wearing her particular tiara. The achievement behind it was arguably greater than my effort in acquiring my three: but if her possession of said tiara disqualifies her from geekdom, I should be disqualified times-three.

And Campanella’s reign lasts for only one year. Why should the headgear of a single year negate a lifetime of fandom?

Do you have to have been bullied and ostracized in order to qualify as a geek? What does it say about someone who was excluded who then does it to someone else? Wouldn’t that be giving tacit approval to the behavior that was directed at me?

I think there is already too much exclusion going on in the world today. Real geeks shouldn’t practice it. Fandom should be an inclusive haven for people who have common interests; it should not be an exclusive club whose members get to veto who belongs.

Published July 5, 2011 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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