“To me, [being a geek] means delving wholeheartedly and unabashedly into the things that you love … and exploring them on their own terms, unbound by the restrictions of the outside world, then integrating the best parts into your daily life. Ive always worn the banner proudly. My geekdoms have provided respite from the dregs of everyday life, a new perspective from which to view it, and the drive to make an attempt to change it for the better.”
Growing up, Shellina Blevins knew she wasn't supposed to be doing it, and so did her dad, but they agreed not to openly acknowledge their mischief.
They watched "Star Trek" together.
"I was raised very religious, so my mom didn't want us to watch it with him, but we would sneak in," says Blevins of the 1960s version of the space-faring TV series, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in September.
"He always knew I was in there. He just pretended he didn't see me but I was sitting a little bit behind his chair," adds Blevins, who is now 37 and a self-described geek.
On Wednesday, she and other geeks the world over will have the opportunity to tout their passion for hobbies and pursuits of all kinds during Geek Pride Day.
The semi-official celebration of all things geeky was founded in 2006 by Germán Martínez, a Spanish blogger who goes by the nickname "Señor Buebo." It's the kind of holiday, like International Talk Like A Pirate Day (Sept. 19) or National Superhero Day (April 28), that is entirely made up, but is a faction that the Internet's citizenry have latched onto and somewhat legitimized.
Despite its whole-cloth origins, the date of Geek Pride Day is no coincidence. It coincides with the theatrical premiere of "Star Wars" in 1977 and annual celebrations of the Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" science fiction series.
Wednesday is the 10th Geek Pride Day, but many local geeks say they were unaware it existed. Then again, they say, they've never needed to set aside a single day to celebrate passions they have held their whole lives and frequently when they were considered uncool for doing so.
"I think society thinks of [geeks] like we're adult children," Blevins says. "The things you like when you're a kid, you just keep liking."
For many geeks, one passion isn't enough to satisfy them. Blevins' early exposure to science fiction served as a launchpad into other areas of fandom, including B-movies, comics, horror novels and video games. She also is a long-time member — and past-president — of local pop culture costuming troupe Chattooine.
Blevins says her mother still doesn't fully approve of some of her geekiness, but she's loosened up a little over the years.
"She thinks my Lantern Corps tattoo [from the Green Lantern comics] is pretty," she laughs. "She didn't want me to get it, but she thinks it's pretty."
Society as a whole has begun to change its attitudes towards all things geeky. Historically, "geek" was used primarily as a derogatory term, and the first definition in most dictionaries still lists a geek as "a person who is socially awkward and unpopular." Most geeks, however, say they embrace the term wholeheartedly, although they prefer the second accepted definition of "a knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast."
"Geeks have authentic passion for whatever it is they're geeky about," says Galen Riley, a 32-year-old systems analyst at TVA. " Geeks don't experience 'guilty pleasures.' I'm unabashedly a geek."
Riley says his geekiness first took root as a child when his parents bought him a Nintendo Entertainment System and a copy of the game "Super Mario Bros. 3." He's held fast to a love of all things Nintendo, but he says his current geeky interest is his love for the city of Chattanooga and support for the Chattanooga Football Club.
"I spend much of my free time now working with The Chattahooligans, a large community of Chattanooga Football Club fans," he says. "Considering my geeky background, I never would have imagined myself becoming a sports guy, much less a soccer guy. But it's not about the soccer, it's about the community and the city. Soccer is just a vessel."
A feast for geeks
Although geekiness has been redefined to broadly encompass many kinds of pursuits, the areas of fandom with which it typically is asssociated — such as video gaming, comic books, fantasy and science fiction properties — are in the midst of what many critics have dubbed a "golden age" of popularity.
Many of the biggest entertainment launches in recent years have been pop culture properties that once were considered the sole province of geeks.
Video gaming used to be a quintessentially geek pursuit, but it has long since entered the mainstream. According to a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of 18- to 29-year-olds and 58 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds play video games. In the U.S., the video game industry raked in $23.5 billion in 2015, according to statistics from the Entertainment Software Association, and new entries in popular series such as "Call of Duty" and "Grand Theft Auto" routinely exceed $1 billion in sales, often within days of release.
Hollywood has been similarly smitten with geek culture. According to statistics from BoxOfficeMojo.com, 17 of the 24 movies that have passed $1 billion in global ticket sales were based on some kind of genre fiction, whether science fiction, fantasy or comic books.
The current popularity of media based on genre fiction can be traced back to the late '90s and early 2000s. During this period, the books of Harry Potter debuted, and movie theaters were packed with audiences clamoring for the "Star Wars" prequels, the "Matrix" and "Lord of the Rings" trilogies and movies based on comic-book properties such as "X-Men" and "Spider-Man." Of the genre fiction films to gross more than $1 billion, 89 percent were released after 2000, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.
The Doctor is in
Love for geekiness isn't exclusive to the big screen either, with TV series such as the geek-centric sitcom "The Big Bang Theory" and HBO's adaptation of the fantasy-novel series "Game of Thrones" dominating network and cable TV, respectively.
Growing up, Ashley Raburn's geeky TV obsession was for "Doctor Who," a long-running British sci-fi series, which he watched reruns of on the Public Broadcasting Service every Saturday.
At the time, he says, "Doctor Who" episodes — let alone merchandise — were hard to come by in the U.S. Thanks to the Internet and a popular reboot of the series in 2005, the show is easier to watch outside the United Kingdom, dramatically increasing its fan base.
"When I was younger, I always wished there was someone I could share my passion with and, oftentimes, there wasn't anyone, especially when it came to 'Doctor Who,'" the 34-year-old Raburn says. "I was always longing for the day when people would understand that. Of course, I thought that day would never come, at least not to the extent that it has."
As an adult, Raburn's geeky passion has broadened to encompass classic toys. In 2015, he co-founded the Cleveland [Tennessee] Geekster, an annual toy collecting convention. "Doctor Who" has remained special to him, however, and he co-directs programming for fans of the show at TimeGate, a "Doctor Who & British Culture Convention" taking place May 27-29 in Atlanta.
Raburn says he occasionally shakes his head at "Doctor Who" fans who only appreciate the series' most recent seasons and who have no interest in seeing episodes from the classic era when the show lacked frills and employed glaringly low-fi special effects. Even if he doesn't understand their lack of nostalgia, however, he says he celebrates these new fans, if only because they're helping to make his favorite show — and geek culture, in general — more mainstream.
"I'm excited that [geekiness] is to a place where everyone can kind of grow up with it," he says. "My son will be able to grow up in a world where he doesn't know the discrimination of being a geek."
Contact Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
Other days with geeky significance
› Jan. 2 — National Science Fiction Day, in honor of the birth date in 1920 of author Isaac Asimov.
› March 14 — Pi Day, so named because when written numerically, 3/14 matches the first three digits of pi, the mathematical constant representing the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.
› April 28 — National Superhero Day, the creation of a group of Marvel Comics employees to celebrate all stripes of heroes, both real-world ones and spandex-clad, superpower-touting mutants
› May 4 — Star Wars Day, an excuse for fans everywhere to wish those around them a hearty, “May the Fourth be with you,” to really drive the point home
› July 4 — Independence Day, a celebration of the combined efforts of Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman to defend Earth from extraterrestrial invasion
› July 31 — Harry Potter’s birth date (in 1980) as well as that of his creator, J.K. Rowling (in 1965)
› Aug. 29 — Judgement Day, the fictional date in 1997, according to the events of “Terminator 2,” when machines will become self-aware and initiate a campaign of global genocide against all humanity.
› Sept. 19 — International Talk Like a Pirate Day, a day when you’re encouraged to do pretty much what the name suggests.
› Oct. 4-10 — World Space Week is a United Nations-sanctioned celebration of “the contributions of space science and technology to the betterment of the human condition.” Coincides with the launch of Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, on Oct. 4, 1959, and the signing of the Outer Space Treaty on Oct. 10, 1967.
› Oct. 21 — The chronological destination, circa 2015, to which Marty McFly travels in “Back to the Future: Part II”
A gift for every geek
Is there a geek in your life to whom you’d like to offer up a gift in honor of Geek Pride Day? Here are a few wish list items from area geeks at different price points:
› A one-time delivery from a geek-themed subscription box service such as Loot Crate or Marvel Collector Corps starts at about $20, including shipping, with longer subscriptions offering boxes at a reduced rate. Each box is guaranteed to include items worth more than the asking cost, usually a grab bag of swag ranging from collectible figurines and clothing to snacks and comics.
› For those times when the glow of a monitor isn’t enough illumination, there are plenty of geeky lighting solutions. Paladone offers lamps shaped like the ghosts from “Pac-Man” ($32) and blocks from “Tetris” ($49), and ThinkGeek’s catalog includes light-up diamond ore from “Minecraft” ($20) and a desk lamp shaped like the BB-8 droid from “Star Wars -Episode VII: The Force Awakens” ($50).
› Change the channel with a simple swish-and-flick using a remote shaped like Harry Potter’s wand ($50). For fans of different pop culture universes, there also are clickers shaped like an original series Star Trek phaser ($150) or the sonic screwdriver from “Doctor Who” ($100).
* Chattanooga-based Valyrian Steel is officially licensed to create replicas of the arms and armor seen on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Gift your geek with full-metal recreations of famed swords such as Ice ($300), Longclaw ($250) or Oathkeeper ($270) or latex-foam replicas of the same arms for $90-$95. Pieces of armor such as the Hound’s Helm ($300) and King Joffrey’s crown ($280) also are available.
* If your geek is a fan of the video games of yesteryear, the Hyperkin RetroN 5 ($140) supports game carts from 10 different systems, including NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, Game Boy and Game Boy Advance. The system also updates the hardware by offering Bluetooth wireless controllers and HDMI audio/video output. For those who don’t need such broad game support, the Retron 2 ($45) can play NES and SNES titles, while the Retron 3 ($70) covers those systems as well as the Genesis.
* Locally operated Choo Choo Arcades, formerly Chattanooga Pinball Company, has hundreds of pinball tables and refurbished arcade cabinets for sale. Depending on popularity and rarity, arcade cabinets range from $700 to $4,200, while pinball tables cost $1,600 to $9,000.
* Does your geek long to be one of the metal men? Robot Costumes USA sells articulated, full-body robot costumes, including 14 stock designs ranging from $3,400 to $9,500, not including extras such as light packages and voice modulators. Custom designs also are available, including those based on pop-culture characters such as Iron Man, Optimus Prime and Robocop. Production estimates range from 10 to 20 days for stock suits
* For fans of tabletop gaming, consider a set of dice by Crystal Caste made from materials such as goldstone ($40) or snowflake obsidian ($80). Feel like a splurge? Geek Chic offers hand-crafted, hardwood furniture with flip-down “player stations” and recessed “game vaults,” which can be fitted with inserts such as velvet playing areas, grid-line overlays for mapping out dungeons or clear acrylic for protecting puzzles-in-process. Several models are available, ranging from the Hoplite coffee table ($2,000-$3,600) to the Sultan dedicated gaming table ($15,000-$21,000).