“You should really thank The Big Bang Theory for making geeks like you cool.”
I stammered in response and finally offered up a fairly well thought out, “uh huh” right after I did a quick age check to confirm what I already suspected, that I really was too old to care about whether I’m cool. The fact is that I’ve never, at any age, been particularly driven to be “cool”. (All of my friends and family just nodded in agreement with that statement.) Call it what you will – a character flaw – a love of Lee when no one could get between Brooke and her Calvin Klein’s – the ability to quote Monty Python or the willingness to argue that yes, Han did shoot first. I’m simply not cool. And I’m ok with not being cool. Cool isn’t my thing. (Guys, you can stop agreeing. Sheesh. I can feel it.)
You see, there’s this implied idea that “cool” is “fitting in.” If you’re “cool,” then “fitting in” is clearly something every person who has been labeled a geek is surely hoping to achieve, but hasn’t quite figured it out yet. I’m here to tell you “cool” has never been my personal goal (and I’m really quite well-accomplished at not being cool). On the other hand what is popular shouldn’t be how we define cool in my opinion. Look at any past trend – old photos from any generation. (You know the ones that show you wearing that bejeweled glove with the neon top and those parachute pants. Are you going to tell me you still feel cool?) To me cool is being comfortable enough to be yourself. A TV show won’t give you that.
I would love this to be a piece about “how to be comfortable with yourself;” however, I’d be misleading you completely if I said there weren’t time that I’ve wanted to be something different, something more, something better than…
I remember the first time I really thought about labels and contemplated the big “who am I?” question. “Am I cool?” It was around 1980. It was the summer before I entered 7th grade and The Dallas Morning News ran an article about teen groups. There were little summaries about preppies, ropers (which when I moved back to Austin were known as “kickers”), freaks, and I’m sure there were a slew of additional labels like “geek” that I can’t quite remember because I’m old (and kind of cranky).
I also don’t remember much about the actual definitions. I do remember preppies were “cool,” but “freaks” sounded closer to the group that best fit me. They were described as wearing jeans, sneakers and concert t-shirts. I mean, I did wear both jeans and sneakers all the time and I did own that one “Wings” t-shirt from a show I never attended. How could that not be me? Preppie certainly wasn’t me. My reality didn’t include anything bearing the name of Izod, Polo, Gloria Vanderbilt or Swatch, so that was out of the picture. Later I did own some Jordache and OP things. I stand by those clothes. We will discuss this no further. I couldn’t name a single country group other than Alabama at the time, so “Roper” was out. “Future president of the orchestra/bookworm nerd” wasn’t a listed choice. That left me with being a “Freak” if I had to choose a category (and the newspaper seemed to think that this had to happen – all teenagers identified themselves by one of these, a journalist wrote it!). Also, at that time I was really working on being a proper delinquent (which the “Freak” title seemed to embrace), but unfortunately my natural prissiness and penchant for a good rule ultimately got in the way. I did briefly join an all girl gang in name only, but was always “busy” come fight days. “Sorry, I would love to, but I have to go out of town for the rest of my life and during all of my free time. Maybe next fight?.” Keep in mind this was a Dallas middle-class girl’s gang. We’re not exactly talking east L.A. and yay, they did go about intimidating my bullies, which made hallway walking much more pleasant.
Still I didn’t truly embrace any label – freak, geek or otherwise. I was me. A me who liked math, science, orchestra, German club and reading books. When a person would suggest I change who I was (fall under a different label) like my grandmother (the former president of her college sorority, president of various ladies clubs, a socialite – you get the idea) when she pulled me aside and declared, “you need to change how you act or no boy will date you.” (She wanted me to play dumb in this case.) My response was, “if someone doesn’t like me for who I am, then I guess I won’t date,” which was a lot like sassing and sassing was a big no-no and earned my grandmother’s immediate disapproval. Her message of “be different than who you are in order to be more accepted” was never me. Of course, I didn’t really date until I was a senior in high school, so she clearly read the omens and was onto something there.
During this time one of my fundamental characteristics became apparent – I really wouldn’t change who I was to gain other people’s approval – to be cool – from how I presented myself, to whom I chose as my closest friends, to what my interests were (and continue to be).
Ok, I lied a bit there. I did drop out of the math club (don’t tell Dad – it was something I was drafted into and didn’t go to willingly) . Though I loved math (and still love it, it’s really quite beautiful). I already had the stigma of being an academic nerd. The idea of competing with the math club was just too much.
If I were to “thank” a TV show, it wouldn’t be The Big Bang Theory though I suppose kudos to them if it helps people be ok with someone else’s love of Star Trek. Just be warned you’ll lose a finger or three if you come at me with your “rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock” (may Leonard Nimoy rest in peace) or if another person says, “you’re a lot like Sheldon.” I may not watch the show, but I do know what you’re saying. The show I would actually thank is Freaks and Geeks, if I were the thank-y sort. It’s the one show that got my 80’s right. In fact, Lindsay is the closest I’ve come to truly identifying with a character (if you threw in a lot more orchestra).
What makes me feel cool? It’s not a TV show saying I’m ok. It’s being me – doing the things I love and enjoying the things that I do. Sometimes that’s standing on a stage with a puppet. Sometimes it’s taking improv or sketch classes. It’s watching a Battlestar Galactica marathon, playing spoons while waiting for the opening of The Wrath of Khan, and sometimes it’s just singing “Bad Romance” in a karaoke room with all of my friends.
What makes my friends cool? The ones you would label “geeks”? It’s that they do what they love without worrying about what you think.
We never needed a TV show to say it’s ok to be who we are.