This week on the podcast, the Geeks discussed what is and isn’t a geek property.
Now, I don’t want to cast aspersions over other people’s interests and definitions. I did not think Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl was a geek book. I wasn’t even convinced the main character was a geek character. A fan? Sure. No question. A geek? I didn’t think so. Why? I’ll expand on this a bit after the cut.
OK, I reviewed this book weeks before the podcast covered it. At the time, I gave it a good review all told. Seven out of ten was my final verdict. I truly believed that Cath was a fan, and a friend of mine did say it could have been her own freshman year of college. But was Cath a geek? I argued no, saying her interests didn’t seem broad enough to be a geek girl.
In fact, what was Cath’s interest? A romantic relationship between two characters that did not exist in the source material she loved. The characters were both in the world she loved, both had something to do with each other, but the romantic thing, possibly even a sexual thing, was totally absent from the “official” world of Simon Snow. It existed solely in the world of fanfic.
For the record, I don’t object to fanfic. I did some of my own once upon a time, the same way Watson did. Like Cath, it was there mostly for the entertainment of the group we were writing for, and gave everyone a chance to stretch some creative muscles with someone else’s intellectual property. Legally, we were well aware what we were doing wasn’t kosher. We didn’t even really share it outside our small group, truth be told. Fanfiction, I am told, stretches back well before the Internet, so it’s not going anywhere at any rate.
But, as a teacher, I will say Cath’s professor was 100% right to fail that paper. Cath was being lazy intellectually. I’d have failed her too. Handing in a paper for a class is roughly the same as doing something professionally. She may not be getting paid money for that paper assignment, but she is getting paid in a grade. And if the class is, you know, creative writing, then even using a few elements from someone else’s work is not as creative as it should be. I mean, Cath didn’t even write a new story for that assignment. She just handed in an old one.
I’m getting off-track. Why did I not see Cath as a geek?
Well, for much the same reason I don’t see Twilight fangirls (and their mothers who should know better) as geeks. They aren’t invested in the geek aspects of Twilight. Technically there are some geek aspects. Technically. These fans are more invested in the half-assed romance between Bella and every resident of that town she lives in. Seriously, that town goes out of its way for Bella. Bella is a special snowflake. A special, particularly bland snowflake that would be beige instead of white.
Romance in fiction, no matter what kind, isn’t particularly geeky. That would be in my mind because just about every movie or TV show out there will throw some in at some point, if only to make lonely men in shirt sleeves leaning out of windows feel worse about themselves.
That T.S. Eliot reference in the previous sentence that only I probably caught? That’s probably geeky.
But getting back to Cath: is she at all interested in how the series overall will end? Eh, not really. She’s invested in the relationship that only exists in the fanfiction. The author of the Simon Snow series doesn’t acknowledge it. What little we see of the real Simon Snow books suggests a more standard romantic relationship for the chosen one male protagonist with a female classmate. Oh, and a love triangle because that Baz guy likes her too.
See, if Cath showed any interest at all in the magic part of Simon Snow’s world, I might be more inclined to think she’s a geek. But, as Ryan pointed out, Simon Snow was more of a cipher. She could have been writing about any fictional world. Even the magic Cath included in her own stuff seemed to be there between smoldering looks between two young men.
Fanfic of this variety actually bothers me a little bit. It gets me to thinking that, for some people, any sort of complicated emotional relationship between two people, regardless of how they seem to feel about each other in the source material, must be romantic. People can’t just be friends or co-workers or enemies or whatever. It has to be romantic. Or just sexual.
But really, what did Cath enjoy outside of this fanfic relationship between Simon and Baz? Kanye West and blueberry muffins. Even if she just stopped to say how much she liked Harry Potter, or hated Bella Swan, I would have gotten more of an impression of whether or not she was a geek. Cath seemed very mainstream in her interests outside of fanfic.
See, the thing is, while I don’t think this was a geek book, I do think it was a fine coming-of-age book as Cath starts to learn to be an adult. Of course, she does leave a bit of the world of fanfic behind as she realizes that it’s actually preventing her from, you know, passing her classes and having friends in the real world. She never gives it up. She just realizes there’s more out there than what she was doing. That’s fine. I think that was ultimately the point of the book, making Cath a more well-rounded person without having a traumatic experience like her sister Wren did.
By the way…arguing over the geek status of something? That’s a very geek thing to do.
And how would I define a geek? Well…I’d say a geek is someone with interests that exist more in the realm of the speculative and mental than in the physical. A level of imaginative thinking into the realms of possibility are essential. Total focus into that makes something geeky. That would account for science fiction, fantasy, horror, superheroes, and many other things (including Indiana Jones, who usually gets wrapped up in spiritual/supernatural cases by the time the end of the movie comes along). It is primarily more of intellectual and mental ways of approaching things than it is dealing with the real world. Even things that deal with the physical (like cosplay or real world Quiddich matches) have to start in the mental realm before crossing over into the physical. The more that realm exhibits signs of either obsession or speculation into the fantastic, the geekier it is. That way you can be a geek about football stats, Broadway shows, or a host of other things. Likewise, the more mainstream something is, the less geeky it may appear to be.
Wait…obsessive fascination? I think I just proved Cather was a geek after all…
Actually, I do believe Cather was a fan. I just likewise believe that a geek won’t limit himself or herself to one fandom. You can have a geeky interest in something, but still not be a geek. My wife loves the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, but I still would not call her a geek. Her interest is geeky. She is not.
Of course, definitions like this are fluid, and with geek material becoming more mainstream, I am sure I will need to rethink these ideas in the future.