21 August 2013

ID project: Third Generation Geekery with Jed Blue

Some geeks are born, not made.

I am not one of them- I came to my hobbies through fantasy novels, Saturday morning cartoons, and a love of ancient history. But some members of the community are brought in by parents with the same interests these now-proud geeks possess, and find their passions nurtured by a family dynamic that allows them to thrive. For some of these native-born geeks, fandom and the associated pursuits are the norm, everything else lies outside it. 

Jed A Blue, the founder and ruminator behind My Little Po-Mo, is one of these "native geeks." In this week's ID project, he recounts how he is a product of a geeky upbringing, and how it has shaped who he is. I've known Jed since roughly 2009, when we crossed paths at Anime USA, through a shared love of both anime and analysis. Since then, I've watched him present on a variety of topics, and wax (both poetically and philosophically) about what he loves. 
One of the few memories I retain of my childhood, no doubt because it was repeated so many times, was sitting in my grandparents’ den—actually the smaller of two bedrooms in their condo—on long sleepy weekend afternoons. Pop-pop would sleep in his recliner in front of an ancient black-and-white TV, while I played with toy soldiers and a barrel of plastic monkeys (which, while not as fun as the old saying suggested, still gave me a handy bioengineered alien menace for the soldiers to fight). 

In addition to the toys, Pop-pop stocked two forms of reading material for any young person who might find themselves in his study: a hardbound comic collection entitled Picture Stories from the Old Testament and a stack of old issues of Omni.

For anyone unfamiliar, Omni was a short-lived magazine that combined over-credulous “science” articles (Agent Mulder would have found much interest in it) with top-notch science fiction stories from the likes of William Gibson, George R.R. Martin, and Stephen King. As I devoured them, it never occurred to me as remotely odd that Pop-pop would have such things; I took it for granted that everyone’s grandfathers read science fiction.

I am, you see, a third-generation geek.

My maternal grandfather, whom I never met, was a high school music teacher, professional pianist, and early enthusiast of electronic music. In the 1960s, according to family lore, he “predicted” both that there would be entire genres of music built entirely out of electronic sounds, and that electronic reproduction of music would eventually exceed the sound quality of records and replace them; both predictions earned him scorn from his peers. Had he lived only a decade or two later, he would doubtless have been a massive audiophile. 

My maternal grandmother, who died when I was two, was an English teacher and by all accounts hard as nails, but she nonetheless inculcated in my mother a love of reading, including the classic Victorian novels of Wells, Verne, and Nesbitt that so influenced modern fantasy and science fiction.

My parents, in turn, between them created a household where it was impossible not to be a geek. I had an early love for reading, and an appetite for books well beyond my age group. From my father, an electronics engineer turned system analyst, I received science books and Larry Niven stories; from my mother, piano teacher and librarian, came Tolkien and Lewis. Both gave me Asimov. 

Alien Nation and Star Trek: The Next Generation were regular evening viewing in our household, and when I was too young (or too sick) to be at school during the day, I watched original-flavor Star Trek and PBS reruns of Doctor Who.

Video games and computers came courtesy of my school peers and (much) older brother. Because my friends talked endlessly about Mario and Mega Man, I saved up my dollar-a-week (!) allowance for two years to buy an NES ($104 including tax, I still remember). A few weeks later, my brother went bargain-bin diving at the local video store and brought home a half-dozen games, of which only Hogan’s Alley and Tennis got any real playtime.

And of course there were cartoons, like any American kid with a TV. My timing was good; I was exactly the right age to question whether I was too old for cartoons just as Ducktales came out and proved I wasn’t. After it came Pinky and the Brain and Earthworm Jim and the DC Animated Universe, and by that time I was starting high school and friends were able to introduce me to this thing called anime…

There was never a question that I would be anything other than a geek. It never occurred to me that I could be anything else. Science fiction and fantasy were constants in my home, to the point that it wasn’t until my twenties that I was able to develop an appreciation for anything “mundane,” the term I used for things that didn’t have some sort of fantastic element.

It’s difficult for me to talk about my identity as a geek or a fan or whatever word you want to use for it, because I’ve never been anything else or had to define myself as a geek in opposition to anything else. Being a geek and a fan for many different things is as ingrained in me as my language or mores; from the moment I was born, my whole family has been encouraging it with loans and gifts and shared experiences.

Jed A Blue's favorite pony
I was raised to be a fan of pop science books, science fiction, and fantasy. I grew up with Star Trek and Doctor Who the way some kids grow up with Monday Night Football or the evening news. To my knowledge, my parents never once worried that I was still watching cartoons at twelve, fifteen, twenty; I was reading voraciously and clearly understanding what I was learning in school (even when my grades were less than stellar due to laziness), so why should there be a problem with cartoons? Anime fandom was never something I had to hide or thought to be ashamed of. 

Even when other kids picked on me, as they did relentlessly for most of my childhood, it never occurred to me that I should stop being a geek, that I should play sports instead of Magic the Gathering, watch football or sitcoms instead of Star Trek and anime. Being a geek was normal, it couldn’t possibly be the reason they picked on me.

I don’t think my parents ever set out to have a kid who would grow up to blog about My Little Pony. I don’t think they exactly meant for me to be the sort of person who gives a convention panel about the love-hate relationship between the geek community and postmodernism. But at the same time, they opened every door into geekery they could; who else could I have been? This was the easiest thing to grow up to be.

And of course I’m passing it on. My nephew received hand-me-down Legos, Pokemon games and kids’ manga, plus annual presents of kids’ science fiction and fantasy book series. My niece is still too young for such things, but for her there’s bonding over Doctor Who and My Little Pony. To them, I’m the cool uncle, cool because I’m a geek and I encourage them to pursue their geeky interests.

As a geek, I get to have hobbies I love, more entertainment tailored to my tastes than I have time to consume, and a vast community of like-minded people to interact with. Plus, twenty-five years later, kids finally think I’m cool.
Why would anyone ever want to be anything else?

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