Hey y’all! The benefit show is all sold out. That’s nice. That’s about the best we can do, right? Good deal. Now all we have to do is play well. Shouldn’t be a problem. After all, we’re seasoned professionals, right? Er…ehrm…uh. Hmmm…Sure we are. Okay, so that’s all set, we’re good. Moving on:
The other day I heard a long discussion about the difference between a nerd and a geek. This is a hotly debated topic and I think that there’s a lot of cultural and regional stuff that goes into it, but I was halfway through this blog this morning when I read over what I’d written and it was little more than a list of complaints about physical ailments and well…that’s not interesting, so in the spirit of continued entertainment and my unfettered ability to just expound on anything without having any preconceived uh…ideas or information at all, I deleted it and now I’m gonna go ahead and separate and define the geek and the nerd for posterity. Never fear. This is gonna be definitive. Anyway, here goes:
Okay, to start we need some archetypes. For ease we’ll go with the computer geek and the Star Wars nerd. These are common sorts. You probably know one of each. I don’t really feel the need to explain who either of these people are, but quickly, if your computer won’t show porn in the proper resolution, the friend you take it to who fixes it effortlessly, he’s a computer geek. The friend that corrects you when you misquote yoda, he’s the Star Wars nerd.
Now, at first, these might seem like unfair archetypes since a computer geek is ostensibly doing something productive (fixing your porn) while the Star Wars nerd is simply irritating the shit out of everyone, but make no mistake, the nerds and the geeks can both be charming lady killers and they can both be hopeless dinguses (ed. Note: the word ‘dinguses’ did not set off my spell check. Hmmmm).
The key difference between the geek and the nerd has nothing to do with practicality, as many have erroneously suggested, but rather the social/personal medium through which they practice and demonstrate their wealth of specialized information. Too vague? Sure. Let’s back up a bit.
The geek and the nerd are hard to separate because inherent in both species is the notion that these people contain a vast wealth of knowledge that society at large doesn’t possess (this, however, leads to a lot of mislabeling, as we’ll show at the end of this article). The difference is that a nerd concerns himself with the intellectual and the geek with the clerical. What do I mean?
A nerd’s stock in trade is memorization, adherence to the rules, facts, fallacies and of course factual errors of the universe that they’ve immersed themselves in. So, our Star Wars nerd will, by definition be able to quote some lines from the films, have some strong opinions regarding what can and cannot be out there on Hoth or in the Dagobah system and so on and so forth. They’ve got their favorite movies and they find parts of the mythology (or, in extreme cases, competing mythology [see the star wars nerd mocking the Trekkie for the highly unlikely methods of time travel employed to bring Kirk back to life for an example of this…very, very sad stuff folks]) to be laughable and worthy of mockery.
Here’s the key part about defining a nerd: there are pursuits that nerds are drawn to like moths to a flame: Fantasy, sci fi, comics, etc. but a civil war historian is also a nerd. Ditto a Dostoevsky scholar, though here’s the interesting thing…a scholar concerned with Dostoevsky’s stories, the meat of the character, the underlying themes, he is a nerd, HOWEVER, the scholar concerned with the formal elements of the Idiot or Crime and Punishment; he is a geek, and that is the difference.
Before we go any farther, yes…the same person can be a nerd and a geek. Of course. It’s just a very different thing to ‘geek out’ and to ‘nerd out.’ We’ll get there in a minute, but first, the geek:
The geek specializes in something more physical than memorization, though memorization plays a large role in geekdom. A computer geek, for example knows the ins and outs of the mac operating systems and that requires memorization, but it’s not something that exists in his head (forgive me for using the masculine pronouns throughout this, but come on folks…we know who we’re talking about here, right?) just for the sake of accruing knowledge. There’s a physical application.
Now, again, this does not make the geek mightier than the nerd. A nerd writing a book about the civil war or the comparative presidencies of Bush vs. Nixon or the financial policies of China or something is certainly doing something more practical than the bike geek who exists to dismantle his bicycle, paint the frame and reassemble it seasonally. But you see the difference. Photo geek, bike geek, computer geek, it’s not just memorization and nerdiness (though that definitely comes into play). There’s something else happening there.
I hesitate to use the terms ‘practical’ or ‘physical’ too much because this IS a tricky area of separation and there is honestly a lot of cross over, but lets look at two seemingly grey areas to try to delineate a bit more clearly, shall we?: The Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast and the Film geek/nerd.
Okay, the Dungeons and Dragons nerd/geek. They read the books, they know the mythology they play the games yet they also construct characters and paint tiny figurines which they set up in topographical dioramas. This is an instance where you see nerdiness (the complete cultural immersion) and geekdom (the physical act of collecting, painting and arranging) coming into play. It’s not difficult to imagine someone doing just one of these things. A nerd that simply knows the mythology yet has no interest in the dioramas beyond “wow, that’s kind of cool” is a common breed, likewise the compulsive collector is simply a geek, even if the collection is something that’s typically considered ‘nerdy’ he’s just geeking out painting those little figurines and arranging them if that’s the endgame, and so often it is.
The film geek/film nerd is slightly more tricky, and this is where scholarly discourse on this subject gets heated and nasty. I posit that a film nerd is interested in something that can be obviously compartmentalized (star wars, the films of Kubrick, Italian cinema, sci fi) while the film geek is more into mass consumption and comparison.
Granted, this is not intuitive based on the preceding article, but it’s just sort of the way it is. Think about it, there’s no doubt that Ebert is a ‘film geek.’ He’s not really a ‘movie nerd’ though that description doesn’t TOTALLY miss the mark. However, your friend that obsessively watches the Matrix trilogy, or star trek or Mel Gibson films or nothing but French films is following and indulging in a nerdy pursuit.
The difference here is attitude. The nerd basks in the glory (ha!) of having a complete wealth of knowledge about a specific area of expertise, one that’s entirely theoretical and subjective, and therefore endlessly arguable, while the geek is immersed in the larger picture, the love of the physical medium.
(Interestingly, while both subsects necessarily have strong opinions, it’s the nerds that seem to revel in argument, hierarchy and peer dismissal, while the geek seems generally more focused on individual pursuit, and perhaps that’s an ancillary definition that needs to be further researched.)
Now, finally, we’re all familiar with the massive nerd and the pitiable geek and the solitary and furiously masturbating existences that they lead, but geeks and nerds, like vampires and homosexuals can be found in all walks of life. I am a nerd. Jesse James is a geek (gearheads being a HUGE arm of the geek community at large). Bobby Flay is a geek. Elton Brand (duh!) is a nerd. Guy Fierri: both (and a fashion maven to boot!).
Anyone who happily obsesses over something falls into one or both of these categories. It’s not as simple as a pocket protector or a snide giggle when someone mentions that they still use hotmail. It’s that moment when you’re at the bar and you realize that you’ve ignored your girlfriend for an hour and a half because the other person at the table is as into black metal as you are. It’s the moment where you look up to realize it’s dawn after debating which paring knife is truly best when you’re cutting game meat. It’s not just arguments about firefox vs. Safari or Darth Sidious vs. Darth Nihils; it’s also which Becky on Roseanne was more true to the spirit of the character or exactly the moment when Metallica started to suck or what the fuck people are doing playing balsa wood semi hollow body telecasters in aggressive rock bands. Geekdom and nerdiness are all around you. It’s your best friends, your heroes and your leaders. It’s you and it’s me.
At this point it’s important to point out that ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ can both be used as derogatory terms for people who have no social skills…even if said person possesses no great passion or wealth of knowledge [as per the parenthetical notation at the beginning of this article]. It’s difficult to deny that if something quacks like a nerd, and looks like a nerd, he’s a nerd.
However, as we’ve just shown, there IS NO ‘look’ that clearly denotes the geek or the nerd. It’s a fundamentally attitudinal thing. People with no sartorial grace, people with bad eyesight and obsessive compulsive needs to not damage their shirt pockets with pens, people with ill fighting pants, people with sweaters knitted by their moms who do NOT have the mental capacity to be nerds or geeks are simply unfortunate. And man, they’re so unfortunate! The MOST unfortunate perhaps. They’re not nerds. They’re not geeks and that’s very, very sad. They’re the lowest of the low: The dorks.
Because look, remember when your mom told you that everyone was good at something? That’s bullshit. Most people (you perhaps) aren’t good at anything at all. These dorks are the people to pity, not mock. And to call someone a nerd who’s not even capable of telling you the difference between a middle earth orc and a dungeons and dragons orc, well, man, that’s just cruel. That’s like puppy kicking cruel, and I want no part of that.
Jesus, this is long.