Geek Ink Thinks: Before it was cool – Geek Culture before it became popular

I was reading an interesting article today by Patton Oswalt on Wired entitled Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to die It touched upon several ideas that I’d like to discuss.

I’m not a nerd. I used to be one, back 30 years ago when nerd meant something.

I agree that as a nerdy guy growing up, I did feel that a lot of the hobbies I was into, were, day I say it, underground. This made me feel like they were special. This feeling was emphasised by the fact that I rarely met people who were as into video games or comic books as I was, at least until I hit high school. Being into nerdy hobbies also meant that you were going to take a lot of flack from other social groups, so really, only the most hardcore of us nerds stuck it out, with the weaker ones slipping into conformity. If you somehow survived this trial by social fire, you and the few others left standing felt like you were bound by something more than a mere common interest.

I can’t say that I ever abided nerd stereotypes: I was never alone or felt outcast. I had a circle of friends who were similarly drawn to the exotica of pop culture.

I’m going to have to agree and disagree with you here Patton. As a young boy growing up, I always had a few friends, but when I say a few, I mean a few. When I used to talk about comic books, people would just look at me like I was crazy. I got a similar reaction when I talked about the video  games I played because I didn’t have a Golden China. In junior school I generally would have one best friend who I would very sometimes hang out with after school. This was mostly due to the fact that I may as well have lived a million miles from everyone, and with my parents always busy, it was a problem getting around. I did make friends with some of the boarders at school, which was mostly due to my Mum’s long teaching hours. Still, my weekends were generally spent alone with my comic books and video games.

This did change drastically in high school, where I became part of a very nerdy group, whose friendship has stuck with me (for the most part) to this very day. However, being part of this nerdy group meant that we generally got looked down upon by pretty much every other social group at our school. We were the nerds who played videogames and sat outside the school chapel playing Magic the Gathering. We barely even registered on the social ladder, except when people walked past us and threw weird looks or insults our way. In a strange way this worked for us, since we managed to create a safe space for various outcasts from the grades below us, who came and took sanctuary within our group.

We needed it, too, because the essence of our culture—our “escape hatch” culture—would begin to change in 1987.

While the time of change may have been different for those of us living in South Africa, (and no, I’m not referring to 1994) it wasn’t until much later that our nerd culture would be assimilated into the mainstream. When I used to spend hours waiting for anime to download on my old 56K (, never did I imagine I would wake up one day and be able to have a random conversation with a rugby player about Berserk and Cowboy Bebop.

Boy, the times have changed.

Hobbies that I was once made to feel bad about taking part in, are now part of everyday life. Video games? I don’t know anyone these days who doesn’t play Xbox, Playstation, or at very least Farmville or Angry Birds. Anime? I’ve met jocks who are more into Bleach and Naruto that I ever was. Comic books? Thank you Hollywood, my last little sanctuary of geekdom has been commercialised and pushed into the mainstream.

What was once special to me and a few other people, is now loved and adored by fans all around the world. While a part of me is grateful that I can proudly wander the streets with the words Bazinga  across my chest, another part of me misses the days when I was part of something that no one else was.

My name is Rowan Govender, and I was a geek before it was cool.


4 thoughts on “Geek Ink Thinks: Before it was cool – Geek Culture before it became popular

  1. Perhaps the true geek, the genuine otaku, is the one who embraces more than the thin veneer of fascination general society places on any subject, be it anime, comics, video games or any of the other “nerds-only” activities once relegated to basements and hidden corners.

    An average person watches “The Walking Dead”; the geek embraces all that is zombilicious – the lore, the comics, the action figures, delving deeper and deeper into the sub-genres (nazi-zombies) and makes drooly noises in public. An average person watches the new “Star Trek” film; the trekkie/trekker nerd memorises the NCC numbers of every ship in Starfleet, learns Klingon and goes to work in their home-made uniform.

    Otakuness is about deep obsession – be it for cameras, steam trains or kung-fu movies. This for me is the essence of what it is to be a geek.

    To boldly geek where no one dares geek before!

    This probably isn’t very healthy…


    1. At least you’ll die with a smile on your face 🙂

      And I wonder if my geeky-ness is slipping, and then I remember how much I rage at noobs in video games.


  2. I used to be THE nerd girl at school- including the thick spectacles and unruly hair, then all of a sudden it became cool to watch anime and play videogames. I did not know what to do with all the fame, I still adore all of the anime we own..but we now do it in secret and that way it still feels special.

    Luckily there is one interest I still have that maintains its nerdliness…a obsessive almost compulsive love for animals. I own so many pets that my husband and I cannot cope with them anymore! Evil laugh…being an animal nut is never going to be popular…whoopie!


    1. Lol. Yeah. Many years after I had stopped playing Magic some of my sister’s students started playing. They were smart kids, but not nerds and were actually pretty popular. I was like “Wtf? When did this happen?”

      I’m also a big fan of animals since they’re easier to deal with than people (I think people secretly call me The Cat Man of Hampton Place) but didn’t really think of it as a nerdy past time myself.


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