Miss USA was crowned Sunday night. Alyssa Campanella has raised a lot of eyebrows, not because of how beautiful she is (and she is – duh, she won Miss USA) or because she messed up some of the Q & A like pageant contestants have in the past (she didn’t, as far as I know), but because she said she was a huge science and history geek. The internet exploded with vitriol. “Everyone can’t claim they’re a geek!” “Not fair!” “Poseur!” “She’s too pretty to be a geek!”
June 21, 2011
Human Sacrifice, Dogs and Cats Living Together…Mass Hysteria!
Flashback to 1987. Walking down the hall, wearing my pants too high and my glasses falling down my nose, my backpack so full it was causing curvature of the spine, one of the jock kids yelled “Geek!” at me as I passed. This was a new one. I’d had nerd, dork, and everything else under the sun. Geek, though. Hadn’t heard that one. I went home and looked it up (which, of course, proved their point, but I digress.) In 1987’s dictionary (no internet yet – we used to use books, can you imagine?), a geek was defined as “a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.” That was the only definition. Geeks hadn’t come into the mainstream yet. “Ha,” young geek-me thought. “They’re using the word wrong. Carnival performer? Good one, guys. Do your research.” (Further proving their point, but again, digressing.)
I spent the next five years getting geek-shouted in the halls. (Among other things, but the harassment I suffered in school is fare for another post. Or for my therapist. Or both.) Geek wasn’t something you aspired to, not then. It was something I tried desperately to shed, with the right clothes, contact lenses, makeup, boyfriends. Problem was, I was smart. I always had been. I was one of those “Ooh, pick me, pick me” kids from first grade on when the teacher asked a question. I got all A’s without studying. I knew a little bit about everything. I was taking classes above my grade level and was bored out of my mind in them. I was reading a dozen books a week for fun. I had trouble with social interaction because I didn’t understand why my peer group didn’t want to discuss the latest Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry or what was happening on Broadway or the science behind Quantum Leap. Was I annoying? Yeah, sure, I was annoying. I wasn’t especially trying to be, but I was. To lose the geek stigma, I was willing to change how I looked, but too geeky to understand (and good for me!) that it wasn’t what just what I looked like they took umbrage with, it was who I was – and I couldn’t change that, and I wouldn’t have been willing to change that, even if I had understood it.
As I grew older, and got out of the small town where I grew up, I met others who shared my interests, and being a geek went from a shameful secret to something to be proud of. I can geek out about theater or television or graphic novels or books or movies and it’s fine, now – because that’s who I am. Now, when people say, “You’re such a geek,” I nod and smile. I have a shirt that says “A little geeky” and I wear it with pride. I went back to glasses from contacts. I bury my nose in a book (or my cell phone) in public and don’t care what people think. And if someone were to yell geek, I’d probably laugh and say, “Yes. Thank you for noticing.”
What bothers me is this, going back to my original point: have we come so full-circle in the geek culture that we are shunning people who claim their geek-dom? So Miss USA says she is a science and history geek. There are all kinds of geeks. There is room here for all of them. Yes, she’s stunningly beautiful – but listen, geeks aren’t all unattractive. It’s the inside, not the outside, as proven by my experience in school. Some people are saying she said that to get geek cred. Really? In the Miss USA pageant? I can’t think that won her any more votes. Going down on a judge, maybe, but saying you geek out over Game of Thrones is going to get you the crown and sash? Seems like an odd, ill-thought-out ploy. Is it that since she’s beautiful, she can’t also be intelligent? Because that touches on a whole other issue, fodder for yet another post sometime down the road, women competing with/sabotaging other women when we should be supporting one another, and is just idiotic.
Shouldn’t we just be pleased that a fellow geek was just chosen as Miss USA? Yes, it’s kind of (at least in my opinion) a silly title, but good for her! Good for her to be chosen, good for her to have the self-esteem necessary to let her geek flag fly.
Geek girls (and geek guys) – we have all, at one point in our lives, been marginalized. The “popular” or “cool” kids have, at one point or another, looked down on us, harassed us, insulted us, and otherwise made us feel like being a geek will never be something to be aspired to, just something to be ashamed of. Our culture has, in recent years, embraced us (I suspect because we’re intelligent, well-spoken, influential, have disposable income, and spend it on high-ticket items.) There is no reason to do the same thing to anyone who claims their geekdom. Just because we are, to some extent, the “cool” kids now, we don’t have to treat others like the “cool” kids treated us. We’re better than that. We’re more intelligent than that. There are geek girls and boys growing up now looking to us for guidance – let’s not let them down by showing them we don’t think they meet the strict criteria to join our club.
Alyssa, welcome. I, for one, am pleased to have you in the club.