Geek Chic

March 16, 2010

It’s no big surprise that nerds are taking over the universe.

This, of course, is something that has been a long time coming. Most of us knew, deep in our hearts, that eventually the smart folks would be in charge. However, a lot of us assumed that Type A personality salesmen and that high school quarterback who still pumps gas at the hometown Citgo station and still does whippits in the Denny’s parking lot during shift change would be able to hold off the full-scale invasion for at least a few more decades. But it looks like their time has come.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When Percy McPocketprotector asks Molly Sue Easypants to the junior prom, he’s still getting the floor mopped with his braces. But nerds have come a long way since the slide-rule stereotyping of years gone by.

But a word of warning to many of you self-described geeks out there: Just because you’re a video-game-playing, science-fiction reading, Pokemon-loving dork doesn’t mean you’re something special.

There are plenty of ways of determining exactly when it was that being a geek became cool. Nerds have wallowed in the lower depths of the social scale for a long time, and there are plenty of items to point at as a turning point as to when this shifted. Most people would peg it to the ascent of Bill Gates as the world’s richest person, because–let’s face it–he probably still showers with his underwear on, and all the money in the world apparently doesn’t stop one from using a cereal bowl as a hairstyling product.

I’m sympathetic to that thought, but making gobs of money and being awesome on the social scale aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. I peg it to the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King winning the Best Picture Academy Award. It’s fair to say that Hollywood hasn’t necessarily been hostile to geeks, but they certainly haven’t helped–for every Grade-Z science fiction flick and grating performance by Jerry Lewis perpetuating nerdiness as a valid lifestyle choice, there’s a thousand Ryan O’Neals, Tom Cruises, and Sean Connerys slamming the ladies and being the hit of the party. But having the movie industry actually recognize the epitome of the best representation of what it means to be a geek…well, let’s just say the World of Warcarft servers fell silent for whole minutes after it won, and no doubt attributed to all the half-orcs and dwarves that got born about nine months later.

The problem, of course, is once there are enough geeks out there, the mere act of being a geek means less and less. And there is always a segment of the population that strives to not be like everyone else, and many folks become quite conflicted when a once-obscure space opera only dozens of people obsessed over becomes a major motion picture and years of devoted fandom become useless when every bonehead and their brother can just look it up on the Internet Movie Database’s trivia section. Most of these poor kids don’t have any other avenues of interest to go to, and simply become geeks without all the awesome geek parts. Also See: Emo.

I’m lucky. I’ve been a geek for quite some time. If you were to go back in a time machine and ask me what my life goal was, here would be the results:

Age 4: I want to be a pirate.
Age 6: I want to be a stage magician.
Age 10: I want to build my own computer from random bits I bought at Radio Shack.
Age 12: I want to beat Sid Meier’s Civilization on Deity.
Age 16: I want to work for the National Security Agency.
Age 18: I want to be the world’s foremost expert on the Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
Age 21: I want to write and star in my own steampunk version of Dune.
Age 32: I want to beat Sid Meier’s Civilization on Deity.

However, I didn’t embrace geekiness whole-heartedly. I never got into anime–I mean, the Japanese are just…weird. And I never really got into role-playing beyond the most basic level. And I didn’t own any console games between the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Wii, so I apparently missed out on such wonderful products as the Nintendo 64 version of Goldeneye as one of the greatest cultural milestones of the century.

Now, I’m not going to say anything about my lovely wife about his, though I would like to point out that our first date involved a book store and at one point in our marriage I’m pretty sure she once played Super Smash Brothers Brawl for 36 hours straight. I’m just sayin’.

While we are celebrating the cerebral, it might be prudent to point out what is NOT within the realm of the geek:
1. Just because you are a female, you cannot become a “sexy geek girl” just by putting on a pair of glasses. Tina Fey and Olivia Munn can pull it off because they are real-world capital-N Nerds. Some random hottie on the internet looking for attention and thinks she classifies as a nerd because she has an iPod, glasses, and an unbuttoned white men’s dress shirt and nothing else are not.
2. Number of Call of Duty units sold: 55 Million. Number of American soldiers in the actual World War II: 16.1 million.
3. Just because you picked up the Foundation series at the used book store or once watched forty-five minutes of magna at two in the morning in your dorm room via dial-up doesn’t mean you get a free punch on your geek card. It involves a more drastic change in your lifestyle to be a geek, such as pissing in empty Mountain Dew bottles so you don’t miss a minute of that EverQuest campaign you’re playing, or actually reading any of those Harry Turtledove books your odd aunt gave you one Christmas when you were eight.

Even with all of this information, there isn’t any particular well-defined determination of whether one is a geek or not. However, if you are already in the process of writing me a scathing e-mail about how the gestation period of a half-orc is not, in fact, nine months, then we may have a pretty good idea of where to start.

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Kiss Toyota Good Morning

March 14, 2010

The recent troubles that Toyota has been having seems to be a harbinger for the auto industry as a whole. Cars that careen out of control when you’re at a full stop at a four-way intersection tends to be a bit of a hard sell. But give the history of the auto industry, it may turn out to be in Toyota’s benefit.

It’s quite unfortunate about Toyota, because the Japanese model of creating automobiles was seen as the future of the industry, rather than the past. The past, of course, is exemplified by pretty much everything Detroit has done in the last four decades or so. The Big Three automakers spent years and years basically ignoring the fact that the future was, beyond all expectations, rapidly approaching. They failed to see changes in the market. They ignored changes in consumer taste.

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, having huge, yacht-sized vehicles barreling down the highways was seen as a God-given American right; large cars was necessary from a safety standpoint, not only to protect its passengers from an untimely death in the unlikely event of a crash, but also to give those Ruskies the what-for. Possibly, your average Ivan and Sventlana would see the absolute size of the roadboats we used to pick up the kids from K Mart and my goodness are they putting fins on those things? Do those cars go seaborne? Maybe those Yanks know a thing or two about economics. Little did those commies know that those fins and chrome and eight spare tires in the Anaheim-sized truck were there simply because we could. U.S.A! U.S.A!

They also pretended that tomorrow would never come in other ways, as well. When dealing with the auto worker’s union, negotiations tended to go like this:

Management: What are your terms?
Union: We don’t really want to work more than about six hours a week. Also, free health care and eight months off the year. And we want pensions paid at age 35 at 100%.
Management: Done.
Union: And please get us out of Detroit.
Management: If we have to stay here, so do you.
Union: Strike!

While it worked out great for the auto workers, it didn’t go over so well for auto workers who hadn’t been born yet, which, at last count, is what they are using now.

But then times changed. Carting around an extra 200 tons of steel and democracy looks awesome but it also made the cars get about four miles a gallon. Granted, back in the day when the top sheik of the moment could hardly go get a copy of the Mecca Times without getting overthrown by the CIA, KGB, Mossad, or Islamic fundamentalists, oil flowed like water from a faucet and people drank the stuff straight from the tap, and no one really cared how much we were using. But then the Arabs and assorted factions wised up and started checking the receipts Israel had with all those plans and missiles, and decided maybe it was time to start applying a bit of tough love.

All of a sudden, those little rice-burners that hippies and professors were zipping around in didn’t look like a farcical stop-motion newsreel anymore. Sure, they looked like something those crazy Asians would kick up in a board room. It was all function. It didn’t even have spoiler bars or a trunk that required its own zip code! What self-respecting American would ever buy such a ludicrous machine?

Well, it turns out, plenty of Americans who were sick of forking over a mortgage payment every time they went to pick up groceries would. This was an upset for Detroit, who reacted just the way that the free market system we have in America works: they kept doing the exact same thing they had been doing for three decades, then wailed to the government for a bailout. Which, of course, worked about as well as you could imagine.

At the very least, companies such as Toyota and Honda eventually forced the American car makers to adopt some changes, such as not building cars to the same specifications as an Abrams Tank. But they still held on to the solid money-making core of their business, such as offering auto loan rates only slightly less usurious than Nicky the Shinbreaker and charging for frivolous extras such as floor mats and carburetors. But foreign automakers made the industry as a whole better. So the fact that Toyota is having such problems doesn’t bode well for the auto industry as a whole.

Remember–all of these problems for the American car companies happened in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For those keeping score at home, this of course means that the exact same thing happened thirty years later. Which goes to show that in America, hard work, self-sacrifice, and innovation will make you successful, but nothing spells real success unless you sell yourself as an American Institution that is too big to fail, in which you can basically make whatever boneheaded decisions you want and let everyone else clean up afterwards. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!