Tag Archives: geek


16 Aug


I’m in the US! I’ve been here for six days and I cannot believe the amount of stuff that has happened since I left Australia on Tuesday. So many adventures that must be chronicled.

But first: BACK STORY.

1. It’s not the most interesting backstory in the world, however backstory is necessary in order to provide context; context which will hopefully enhance feelings of triumph attached to some incredible moments of fortune.

This trip has officially been planned since January but has been in the workings ever since I started my research on nerd identity. I’ve always wanted to take the pilgrimage to Nerd Mecca, Nerdvana – COMIC-CON! Seriously, how can you do a PhD on nerds and not go to Comic-Con!? There is no way that I could experience nerdom on such a massive collective scale in Australia. And in the last few years Comic-Con has become a major port from which nerdom is exported across the world. I’ve been desperate to know whether the nerdom I experience everyday is at all similar to the nerdom I observe – through many layers of mediation – in the States – the place where the nerd label originated. How much negotiating and modification takes place in the exportation of nerd identity from the States to Australia?[1] There’s no way to adequately answer this, but I sure as hell can get closer by going to SDCC. It would be a sort of ethnographic pilgrimage.

So I’ve been saving up for a few years with such a trip in mind. In January one of my close friends (she is Canadian, from here on in she shall be called: The Canadian Friend) called me up and said that she and some of her friends were going to road trip from Toronto to San Diego for Comic-Con (nerds are CRAYYY-ZEE-eee!) and asked if I would like to join them. I said yes.

Now, planning a trip to Comic-Con is hard. Especially if you live in a timezone outside the States. The dates of the event are available quite early in the year, however, very little notice is given for when tickets go on sale. You basically have to stalk the crap out of the SDCC site everyday for months, then when you do find out, the tickets inevitably go on sale at 3 in the morning for Aussies. If you don’t check the website for a week, or set your alarm, you can pretty much guarantee you have missed out on tickets. On top of this, hotels in San Diego are booked out almost a year in advance of the event.  Getting to Comic-Con is a hassle and a half.

So, because the tickets go on sale so close to the event, if you’re travelling from overseas you need to take a gamble. You need to book airfares and accommodation without knowing whether you’ll actually get to go to SDCC. I took this gamble.

Lady Fortune likes me though. I have family who live in San Diego. So a trip to Comic-Con would not just be a trip to Comic-Con, it would also involve a ridiculously special catch up with my lovely cousins with the bonus of free accommodation.

Having relos in San Diego turned out to be a very good thing, because I did miss out on tickets to Comic-Con, and a few other things I’d applied for fell through (it’s best to spell your name correctly on forms – just a handy hint for people), and The Canadian Friend couldn’t make it to SDCC after all. SO. I was going to be in San Diego at Comic-Con time, but wouldn’t be going to Comic-Con. Bummer.

But HOORAY for family!! And HOORAY for (a kind of) holiday[2]!!

The end of back story: Start of ‘MUrrrrkAH!

It takes a long time getting to LA. Left Wollongong at 5:30am to get to the airport on time. Boarded plane at about 8:30am. Landed in LA at 10am the same day I left but 14 hours later. Very little sleep, probably got about an hour and a half the whole trip. But, on the plus side, I had an isle seat and there was no one sitting next to me which meant I was able to score extra pillows and blankets to form an amazing cocoon-like structure around me, expand myself over a large area, and in the process become one of those horrible passengers that others have to do gymnastics to push past in order to get to the loos. There’s power in being that person.

I’d heard a lot of unsettling stories about getting through American customs, so during the flight I was bracing myself for a bit of hostility and bureaucracy.

Again, loooooong lines waiting for customs (customs officials must get REALLY bored, no wonder they look so uncheerful).

Finally got to the front counter. Passport. Declaration form thingy. Fingerprints. Face scan. Short, disguised interrogation: “What brings you to the US? How long are you here for? What do you do back in Australia?”

“I’m a student”

“Ahh. What do you study?”

“I’m doing my PhD on nerd identity”

“Nerd identity!? You can DO that!?”

Customs Officer launches into a five minute monologue on nerd identity/ culture and the history of changing attitudes towards nerds since a particular American basketball player started wearing thick nerdy glasses about 7 years ago.

Felt sorry for all the people waiting in line behind me. Felt more sorry I didn’t have my Dictaphone at the ready.

Post-Customs Anti-jetlag program initiated .

Turns out the best thing to unfreak someone who is slightly twitchy after navigating a large-busy-unknown-foreign-place-post-14-hour-cramp session is the sight of three screaming family members[3].

Best. Arrival. EVER.

Now, I’m not a screamer. But it’s hard not to get swept up in it when everyone else around you is talking in capslock and exclamation marks. It feels liberatingly deviant.

After we had screamed/hugged/flailed ourselves out, my cuz filled me in on the plans for the day. Her anti-jetlag policy was to keep travellers awake until 10:30pm. On this particular occasion she was taking me and the kids to Universal Studios in order to achieve this.

Best. Intro to America. EVER!

Summer weather, rollercoasters, studio tours, Mexican food, more screaming = no sleep = no jetlag.

Went past the Hollywood Walk of Fame and then stopped at an amazing tiny Manhattan Beach restaurant for dinner on the way back to San Diego (was served an entire chicken). Got a bit delirious during the drive down the coast. There is a point where tiredness is painful and the line between awake and asleep gets seriously blurred.

But the pain was worth it when I met the love of my life: The Princess Bed.

Not a bad first day in The Land of Nerd.

[1] Actually, the question needs to be even more specific than this. Does Comic-Con as an event shape the idea, performance and appearance of nerd identity, and how much of this (if indeed it does) get transported to a small city in Australia such as Wollongong? Basically, does my experience of nerd identity align closely with the experience of others who live more than a 14 hours plane ride away?

[2] Thesis writing needed to continue – there are no breaks from thesis.

[3] I was staying with my Mum’c cousin (here on in: Pony) and her two kids, Sippy and Fil. My Mum used to look after Pony when she was little; Pony looked after me; and I have looked after her kiddies.


Woefully Imprecise

16 Nov

The name of this blog comes from a phrase used in Michael Chabon’s Manhood For Amateurs. In the chapter ‘The Amateur Family’, Chabon talks about his family and their quirky cultish interests. He loves the eccentricity and enthusiasm his children show for things such as Doctor Who and comic books. He wants to encourage and nurture it. And yet, he seems dissatisfied with the labels frequently used to describe such behaviour. In this chapter he says:

I had always hoped and worked with patience and care – offering running seminars in Vulcan physiology, Jon Anderson lyrics, the history of the Marvel universe – to have geeky children, though the term geek, like its common synonym nerd, is woefully imprecise, with connotations of physical awkwardness, high-water trousers, loserhood, emotional retardation, etc […]

Perhaps there is no perfect word for the kind of people I have raised my children to be; a word that encompasses obsessive scholarship, passionate curiosity, curatorial tenderness, and an irrepressible desire to join in the game, to inhabit in some manner – through writing, drawing, dressing up, or endless conversational riffing and Talmudic debate – the world of the endlessly inviting, endlessly inhabitable work of popular art. (294)

I love this description. It beautifully captures the joy in nerding. I get that bursting, colourful excitement that comes when you feel understood and connected. And despite Chabon’s claims that terms like nerd are inadequate, I think his description is the closest thing I’ve come to a definition of nerd identity. He articulates so clearly the intangible aspects of what it’s like being geeky – the bits that don’t necessarily have accessories or any sort of materiality – the bits that I believe make being a nerd all the more worthwhile, whether it be for participation or for research.

It reminds me of my own experiences with my siblings. Some of my favourite moments have been sitting around, not just discussing what had taken place in whatever texts we’re obsessing over at that point in time, but theorising about them, getting so into them that we had to whip out pens and paper and record our imaginings:

“What would happen if Buffy met The Doctor?” “… the Doctor would probably kill Giles thinking he was an evil Krillitane bat thingy…”

“I think Mary Poppins is a Time Lord! Think about it…”

“Ultimate army?” “The Doctor and Buffy strategising while the Harry Potter wizards hold the evils at bay – Gandalf is the go-between. Herminone and Willow BFFs! Aslan would be the ULTIMATE victor!” “Is it cheating to let Aslan join?…”

Cue the fan art and battle diagrams.

It’s like the texts are our own; as though we can, and indeed do, inhabit them. “Conversational riffing”, “Talmudic debate”!? I don’t think Chabon could have chosen better words.

The more I research, the more I understand Chabon’s trouble with using a single word to describe this unique yet vast and diverse identity. I have had a hell of a lot of trouble trying to articulate and in some way delineate the boundaries of nerdom. If I’m spending three years of my life researching nerds and nerd culture, I should probably have a clear idea of who and what I mean by ‘nerd’. Surely!?

But as Chabon so eloquently points out, the terms ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ are often woefully imprecise, perhaps especially for those who identify as such. And any attempt to explain this identity and the culture that surrounds it, I’m too quickly discovering, is always going to be woefully imprecise. In fact, my working title for my introduction is ‘wibbly-wobbly, nerdy-werdy’*.

But I think this lack of specificity is ok. I think anything else is reductive. I’m just going to plod away, and piece by piece assemble a picture that hopefully resembles the wibbly-wobbly nerd in all its woefully imprecise glory.

*Too nerdy?:-).

I’m a blogger now. Bloggers are cool

15 Nov

My name is Rae. I’m a PhD student in cultural studies. My thesis is on changing attitudes to nerds/geeks and the implications of this shift on power relations (with a particular focus on gender and ethnicity). New media is a big part of my study, so I thought it was probably time I practiced what I preached (I think new media is pretty cool and important but I’m a bit of a luddite). Ultimately this blog is for a couple of things. 1. It’s for writing about where my life intersects with my research. 2. It’s also for keeping people up to date with my study.

I actually decided to start a blog months ago. I set it up. I made passwords. I wrote stuff. I drew stuff. It was great. But that’s where my blogging ended. I had the space, I had the content, but putting that content on my space was just too scary.

The idea of keeping a kind of public diary freaks me out a bit. Even the idea of ordinary, unpublic diary keeping unsettles me. My paranoid self tells me no matter what precautions I take, someone will find it and read it and that would be, you know, bad.

But that’s my paranoid self. However, my more rational side is slightly unsettled by it too. I was watching the Ken Burns documentary series The Civil War with my dad recently. Diary keeping was huge among the soldiers during this time. The fervency with which these men kept records of their experiences was incredible. One soldier’s bloodstained diary was found at Cold Harbor; he’d spent his last moments writing “June 3. Cold Harbor. I was killed”. I thought stuff like that only happened in fiction (I always zif* the bit in LOTR where Balin and the Dwarves keep writing when they are about to be attacked by orcs. I mean, put down the frickin’ pen and run!). Yet, apparently it happened.

After seeing this doco on the American Civil War, I found it slightly disconcerting that these people would go to so much trouble and place so much importance on keeping a record of their lives. I found it a bit sad. It’s almost like the record became more important than the life. Sometimes I worry that living takes second place to making sure that people knew you existed.

In a strange way this fear of missing out on living is what has finally compelled me to stick my content on my space. It got to the point with my research that I felt I was just distantly critiquing nerddom and no longer participating in it. I was getting increasingly jealous looking through other people’s blogs, vlogs, and deviantART pages. I missed the fun involved in being a nerd.

This is my space to be a nerd: I’ll write, draw, squee and keep people up to date with my research. And hopefully it will be fun:-)**

* For more on “ziffing” see:  (it’s around the 4 minute mark). Or better still, buy the whole series!:-)

**At least for me… I can’t guarantee this for people reading it.