What it means to be a geek
To boldly go where lots of people are headed
Originally published July 7, 2014 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel
More than a few DIY books are being published lately with the word “Geek” or “Nerd” in their titles: “Geek Crochet,” “Geek Chic,” “Knits for Nerds,” and “World of Geekcraft” to name a few. So it follows that there must be a lot more geeks out there than I would have guessed. Just exactly what is a geek?
What was once used to describe a socially inept person (and before that, a bizarre carnival performer à la Ozzy Osbourne), “Geek” now describes someone who is no longer so marginalized. It has become more broadly inclusive, referring to knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiasts, with just a whiff of awkward and weird.
In his new book, “The Geek’s Guide to Dating,” Eric Smith says that even though geeks may need some extra help when it comes to social skills, they “possess plenty of admirable qualities that are sorely lacking in most normals,” such as the ability to think deeply, recall minutia, find solutions and retain a wide-open mind.
He also defines three broad categories of geeks:
- Pop Culture Geeks – includes comic book fans, TV and film geeks, and gamers
- Technogeeks—includes geeks who favor internet, Apple, PC, or social media
- Academic geek—includes book geeks, history and politics geeks, and math and science geeks
To find out more about geeks, I talked to freelance writer Chris-Rachael Oseland, who proudly refers to herself as a second-generation geek. Since being a geek wasn’t exactly trendy in the late 1980s, she says, her mom would lie rather than tell people she was taking her young daughter to a sci-fi convention. But Oseland remembers those gatherings fondly as “a safe place to grow up.”
Twenty-five years later, geeks have mainstreamed and their conventions are more popular and numerous than ever. “This is truly the golden era,” says Oseland. “People want to be a part of the subculture because it’s trendy.” Oseland links the geek rise in acceptability and desirability to the growth of tech jobs and big special effects in movies. With a masters in ancient Middle East history—she says she’s both an academic geek (owner of 3,000 books) and a pop-culture geek (sci-fi, gaming, steampunk, horror, comics, your name it).
She lives in Austin, Texas, self-publishing her cookbooks with geek-themed recipes. By far her most successful cookbook, “Dining with the Doctor: the Unauthorized Whovian Cookbook,” has sold an astounding 15,000 copies. To create the recipes, Oseland spent a year re-watching the first six seasons of the popular BBC series “Doctor Who,” to create dishes that would tie in with each episode.
In true geek fashion, her first cookbook, “Wood for Sheep: the Unauthorized Settlers Cookbook” was written to enhance her social life. “It was in self-defense,” she says. “I don’t know what it is with geeks, but if you get five in a room, at least three will have something wrong with their digestive system.” To keep the game nights she hosted going, she developed recipes that were sensitive to everyone’s dietary restrictions.
website, kitchenoverlord.com, |
features many of her geeky culinary creations, including
this “Dune” inspired Sandworm Crudite made from cucumbers,
red bell peppers and hummus. In her illustrated recipes
she says, “Whether you’re entertaining visiting guests from
Caladan or have recently had emergency dental surgery, this
soft crudite platter should delight any new visitors to Arrakis.”
But her bizarre culinary creations are as much fan art as they are tasty, diet-sensitive party food. Picture a giant sandworm from the classic sci-fi book series, “Dune” (a sequence of sliced cucumbers), rising up from a desolate sand dune (a bed of spicy hummus), with gaping jaws full of crystalline teeth (pointy chunks of cucumber), surrounded by the gory remains of some unfortunate natives (shreds of red bell pepper)—a dish she calls “Fremen Crudite Plate”—and you begin to realize there’s a whole genre of cookery never explored on Iron Chef.
“Making is a huge part of geek culture,” says Oseland. “It’s one of the defining hallmarks.” And what special talents do geeks bring to making things? “A lot more attention to detail,” she says. The geek maker-mentality is, “If you’re going to make something, make it well.” Oseland is currently taking sewing classes to costume herself for sci-fi, fantasy and comic conventions. “You gain street cred for having made it from scratch,” she says.
But can anyone who is passionate and knowledgeable on a topic be a geek? Can one be a baseball geek, a yoga geek, NASCAR geek? Oseland refers to this recent trend as “the devaluation of geek.” When it’s applied to everyone and everything, it loses its meaning. She says “nerd” might be preferred by true geeks.
For a good dose of authentic, fun, geekiness, log-on to Chris-Rachael Oseland’s website, kitchenoverlord.com, for her recipes, cooking videos, cookbooks, commentary and photo index of her bizarre culinary creations. To support her next project, publishing “The Kitchen Overlord Illustrated Cookbook,” look for the Kickstarter.com link under the “Books” tab.
|A little something for everyone from kitchenoverlord.com: a fake-meat-stuffed Starfleet Insignia made with puff pastry for vegans, combined with her non-vegan Starfleet Academy Cafeteria’s Horta Meatloaf.|