I remember when the word was a stigma. When I was in junior high and high school, it was the early days of the Great Geek Uprising, a little-studied sociological shift that started in 1984, sparked by the bonfire speech at the end of “Revenge of the Nerds.” The word “Geek” was not a badge of honor, then. It was a word that others labeled you with, a word that meant “not one of us.”
There were other words, words I could list, but why bother? We all know them. We’ve all heard them. Hell, some of us have even used them, rightfully or otherwise. Labels are easy. Labels are a mental place-holder. They let you sum up a person in one word, file them away. Even geeks used them. Jocks, being the word that comes to mind most readily. Not “Athlete,” mind you. Jock. And it was no more fair of a label than what we got branded with.
And truth be told, insofar as the word meant someone different, someone who didn’t fit in, someone with weird interests, Geek really did fit the bill. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to be normal. But I also liked the stuff I liked.
At the time, I figured it was the obvious stuff. Dungeons & Dragons, fantasy and sci-fi novels, unconventional taste in music. How unconventional are we talking, music-wise? In junior high, the only contemporary artist I liked was Billy Joel. The rest of the time I was listening to soundtracks and Gilbert & Sullivan.
What didn’t occur to me as odd until fairly recently was that I also loved old movies. Not just the normal matinee B-movie stuff that most young boys like–Godzilla or Sinbad films. I loved old comedies and musicals. I might have been the only 13-yr old who had a fondness for such movies as “Bell, Book, and Candle” or the Jerry Lewis classic “Cinderfella.” I might have been one of only a few kids back home who could identify the movie “London After Midnight” a film that pretty much vanished off the face of the earth decades before I was born. I saw “Abbot & Costello Go To Mars” three times and laughed every time. That Laurel and Hardy bit that involves them trying to move a piano up a long set of stairs? I’ve seen it, and can remember the name of the short film it was featured in. And it never occurred to me that it might be…unusual.
My senior year of high school, movies like “Predator” and “Robo-Cop” and “Dirty Dancing” were dominating the theaters. And I saw those and enjoyed them. But something else movie-related happened in 1987. That was the year Danny Kaye died. And boy did I ever love Danny Kaye. He just had this quality about him. His inherent decency shone through in everything he did. I even clipped out and saved his obituary. Never done that for anyone else. Just him. That was the kind of impact he had on me.
And again, this never really struck me as odd.
I credit the fact that I had some pretty strange friends with curious tastes of their own. I also think my dad helped indulge the geekery, letting me watch the Saturday afternoon matinees on Denver’s channel 2 from noon until mid-afternoon way more frequently than a responsible father would have. But he liked that kind of stuff, too. And by liking movies from his generation and before, there was some kind of emotional continuity.
Last night, I was at a favorite neighborhood watering hole, named after an old noir film. Naked City Brewery & Taphouse honors that connection by having two TVs over the bar tuned to AMC pretty much exclusively. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the movie that was playing and thought it was “Robin Hood” for a moment, then I quickly realized I was wrong. No. this was Danny Kaye’s “The Court Jester,” which I quickly pointed out to my dining companions. I went on to mention how I felt it was one of three essential Kaye films, along with “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “The Inspector General.” Turns out that despite being not considerably younger than myself, neither of them had ever seen a Danny Kaye movie.
And my first reaction was, “That’s weird!”
But no. It really isn’t. What’s weird is that I have such strong affection for movies that were made decades before I was born. What’s weird is that these things are important to me.
They were right. Twenty-five, thirty years ago, the bullies back home were right. I was a geek.
I still am.
I always will be.
The stuff a person loves, deep down in their bones loves, that’s what makes them who they are. That’s what makes them unique.
“Not one of us.”
You. Me. Probably all of us on some level.
And that’s wonderful