Posted on October 16th, 2014
On tumblr, author Neil Gaiman was asked: What’s your opinion on there being “fake” and “real” fans/nerds?
Neil Gaiman goes on to not really answer the question. He says, “I think all people, not to mention fans, nerds, geeks and suchlike are real.” OK… but that wasn’t the question. The question was about fake fans/nerds. Not fake people. He goes on to say that he tells people at his book signings that he’s glad they read his book, no matter their self-proclaimed level of fandom. I think any author with any business sense would do the same. But, again, that really wasn’t the question.
So I think the Internet needs my opinion on the subject, because I am a blogger, and this is what bloggers do: write opinions nobody asked for.
(On a side note, if you Google the term fake geek, you seem to get a lot of stuff about a meme called Fake Geek Girls. I had never heard of that, and don’t really know what it is. This post is only about the idea of “fake geeks” in general, or “wannabes nerds.” As franchises long considered geeky have become mainstream in the last ten or fifteen years or so, and as media companies cash in on the popularity shift, there seems to be a bit of a culture war regarding who’s turf these geeky franchises belong to. This post doesn’t really address that either, though certainly this shift has given rise to a modern epidemic of “fake geeks.”)
Yes, there are “fake geeks.” These are people who claim to love something, but really only want other people to think they love it. It’s nothing new; vanity of this sort has existed since the first caveman lied about how many wooly mammoths he’d slain. (He was a fake wooly mammoth geek.)
The true geek is like Donkey from Shrek; he might be really annoying, but he’s happy with himself. The fake geek is like Shrek, at least the Shrek at the beginning of the first Shrek movie. He puts on a tough-guy act, pretending he doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him, but he’s actually very insecure. (That is why a “fake geek” cares about the label at all.)
Fake geeks care too much about their reputation. You can spot these sorts of people because they care more about showing other people how geeky they are than actually geeking out on the subjects they claim to geek about.
For example, you cannot claim to be a chess geek if you don’t know what en passant is. If you truly love chess as much as you claim, you’d know the rules. That said, it’s OK to be a chess beginner. As Gaiman says, everybody starts somewhere. It’s not snobbery that’s keeping chess geeks from accepting anyone among their chess geek ranks. But the geekdom has to be earned; you don’t get to bestow it on yourself after your third chess game.
And, again, that’s OK. True geeks are out there and ready to help you rise to true geekdom. True geeks love being paid their geeky dues. But you have humble yourself before your geeky interest, and you have to be honest about wanting that true geekdom, because you’re going to have to work for it. If you want to be a chess geek, but don’t actually want to put in the long hours staring at a chess board, reviewing Bobby Fischer’s games, and reading Vladimir Vukovic, no geekdom for you.
If you truly love it, that shouldn’t be hard. True love leads to true geekdom.
But if you’re just in it for the perceived social glory, forget it. You are a fake geek.
“Fake geeks” can be a problem for real geeks because fake geeks are incapable of geeking out about their supposed topic of geekery. When you claim to be a geek just to impress people, but then can’t engage in a geeky conversation with a true geek, you’ve just wasted that geek’s time. That true geek spent a lot of time earning his geekdom, and he’s starving for some deep geek conversations and geeky social bonding. When you claim to be a geek but then can’t actually geek out, it’s tantamount to slapping that geek in the face! How could you be so mean to a geek?
A “geek” is like a “genius”; it’s a subjective label we give to others based on our own impressions of them. Sorry, but you can’t come up to me, proclaim to be a genius, and expect me to be instantly impressed (even if you truly are a genius, which you’re probably not if you feel the need to tell me about it). Similarly, if I am not impressed by your apparent shallow knowledge of a subject, I’m not going to consider you a geek. You don’t get to decide for me how impressed I’m supposed to be by your fandom. But, as I said, it’s subjective. If you claim to be a quilting geek, I’ll probably take your word for it, as I know very little about quilting. But if you claim to be a SpongeBob geek and can’t recite the FUN song, I’m seriously going to doubt that you truly love SpongeBob.
(Even worse is when people claim to be geeks about what you love, but then claim to be offended about what they don’t like about it, as though you too are obligated to be offended with them by virtue of your shared interest. True geeks know what I’m talking about.)
As I’ve said before on this blog, when you truly love something, you don’t care about what other people think anyway. So anyone who’s truly concerned about being labeled a “fake geek” is most likely that very thing.
Now, all that said, this isn’t the perspective from which Neil Gaiman is speaking about the topic. If you’re selling something, the last thing you’re going to care about is a customer’s level of geekery. A dollar is worth the same amount from anyone. Probably 95% to 99% of his sales come from non-Gaiman-geeks, including myself, and he’s savvy enough to not upset us. I’m not saying his views aren’t genuine. I’m saying they come from the perspective of someone who’s selling a product, not a true geek who’s been blatantly lied to by a fake geek.