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...And the geek shall inherit the earth; AFTER CENTURIES OF OPPRESSION, THE GEEK HAS FINALLY BECOME CHIC, SO SAYS A NEW BOOK. POST STYLE EDITOR CAROLINE FOULKES LOOKS AT HOW THE UNDERDOG BECAME AN UNLIKELY OVERLORD.

Byline: CAROLINE FOULKES

You all know him. The speccy kid. The scrawny kid. The spoddy kid. The kid who always has his homework in on time, ahead of time. The one who actually likes maths. The one who stays behind for maths club.

Or maybe you know her. Again, speccy, scrawny, spoddy. Ditto the homework. Ditto the maths. Agrades all the way.

Or maybe... maybe you are him or her. It's just, until now, you couldn't quite admit to yourself.

Everyone of us, at one time or another, has known a geek. Some of us have known one far better than we've dared let on - because we've been that soldier. Teased, tauntedtripped up in corridors. You've either done it or had it done to you. Well, no more. For now, at least according to a new book by Neil Feineman, the geeks are leading a silent rebellion to become cutting edge style icons. Geek is chic.

In his book, called, er, Geek Chic, Feineman (now come on, that's a geek surname if ever I heard one. I should know. I have one myself) describes this journey 'from loser to winner' as 'a cataclysmic shift in what society considers cool'.

But is it really?

Geeks, nerds, eggheads, call them what you will, have always been among us. Since pretty much the dawn of mankind, there's always been one who's been different fromthe herd, one who has, unintentionally, set himself apart by virtue of his interest in something other than what was concerning the majority. Actually, he was probably the ones who 'invented' fire or the wheel. And the others all picked on him and gave him the caveman equivalent of a wedgie because they thought he was just wussing out of going hunting and messing around with daft stuff that would never work, not in a million years.

Yet although there have always been geeks, it's only really in the past 50 or 60 years that they have become a notable social group.

The geek as we know him, or rather, as popular culture portrays him, first rose to prominence in the Fifties. You know him. He was the one with the glasses that had frames like those old 'teak effect' tvs and lenses as thick as jam jars The one with the side parting. The one with the square clothes.

Which reminds me - square. That was what geeks and nerds were known as in the Fifties. If you ever happen across an episode of Happy Days on satellite or cable, chances are you'll spot a group of them in the corner of Al's Diner, sipping on milkshakes before science club starts.

The most famous geek to spring from this period was, of course, Buddy Holly. Holly, says Feineman 'unleashed the Geek look on the world', and adds that 'As Keith Richards remembers (Keef? Remembers? Are you sure you were there, Keef?) 'by about 1958 it was either Elvis or Buddy Holly. It was split into two camps. The Elvis fans were the heavy leather boys and the Buddy Holly ones somehow all looked like Buddy Holly Obviously, all the hip kids joined the Elvis the Pelvis camp. But geeks like a certain John Lennon plumped for Holly.

Yet it was in the field of computer technology rather than the world of pop that the seeds of modern geek culture were sown.

Ironically, for a realm that has always seemed to be dominated by men, one of the first computer geeks was actually female. But then, girl geeks have always been a bit slower coming out of the woodwork.

Mathematician Ada Lovelace (even the name reeks geek) might have been the daughter of mad, bad Lord Byron, but like most kids with rebellious parents, she took the 'straight as a die' route to geekdom and became the world's first computer programmer back in the 1830s, thus laying the groundwork for the generations of geeks who followed her. Back in the early Sixties when computers were the size of small houses, it was the geeks that were getting involved - possibly because they were the only ones who'd paid enough attention at school/read enough books to care. They had the prescience to know that one day, these machines that, to your average Joe, looked just liked a bunch of boxes with flashing lights on them, would be an indispensable part of the way we work. Yup, while all the beautiful people were out partying and testing out that new-fangled Pill thing, the geeks were busy planning the technological revolution The New Hacker's Dictionary, according to Feineman, described computer geeks as 'people who ate (computer) bugs for a living.'

'A geek, the dictionary continued, is 'one who fulfills all the dreariest negative stereotypes about hackers: an antisocial, malodorous. pasty-faced monomaniac with all the personality of a cheese grater. Cannot be used by outsiders without implied insult to all hackers; compare black-on-black vs. whiteon-black usage of 'nigger'.

'This emerging sense of pride and identification was directly proportional to the increasing influence of computers,' continues Feineman.

'Mike Mc Connell in The High Tech Dictionary... admits that geek began - and persists - as a pejorative term implying the person had considerable computer skills but was a social disaster. But he adds 'as computers became more important in the average person's life, this term becomes more often a compliment than an insult.' By the time journalist John Katz wrote his book Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet Out of Idaho in 2000, pretty much every-one was using a computer for some element of their working life, andthe advent of the Internet meant that pretty much every field, from science to showbiz, shopping to sex, was now part of the technological revolution headed up by the geeks. So it was with complete confidence that Katz could define a geek as 'a member of the new cultural elite, a pop-culture loving, techno-centred Community of Social Discontents,' going on to describe how such people rose up out of an unimaginative educational system where they were surrounded by hostile peers 'to build the freest and most inventive culture on the planet: the Internet and the World Wide Web... now running the systems that run the planet.'

Interestingly, he also gave the geeks a life beyond their computers by describing them as having a 'tendency towards braininess and individuality' and 'a singular obsessiveness about the things they love', as well as 'a wellhoned sense of bitter, even savage outsider humour.'

This idea of a geek as being something other than a computer obsessive fed into the rest of geek society, giving those geeks that weren't technologically inclined a new lease of life, too. And suddenly, they were everywhere, from Bill Gates, Master of Microsoft to Jarvis Cocker of Pulp. Yet it wasn't just that geeks were chic, accepted by the majority as style arbiters. No, being smart, the geeks decided it was better to celebrate their differences rather than become part of the mainstream. Why else, at the peak of Pulp's fame, would Cocker be moved to pen a song called Misfits? So, the rise of geek chic. A cataclysmic shift? Not really. The rise of the geek in modern society is probably about as predictable as their rise in the high school movie genre. Sure, it's the jocks and cheerleaders who triumph when it comes to grabbing the titles of homecoming king and queen, they're the ones everyone wants to be, but once the nasty cliqueyness of high school is left behind, it's the geeks who get to the top, through sheer brain power and inventiveness. You need only look at Heathers and Carrie for evidence of the geek's revenge. Those are extreme examples, though. For as most geeks know, revenge is a dish best served cold. And once it's all dished up, then, truly, the geek shall inherit the earth

1. MORRISSEY

2. MULDER AND SCULLY 3. ALBERT EINSTEIN 4. ADA LOVELACE 5. BUDDY HOLLY 6. CHRIS MARTIN & GWYNETH PALTROW 7. SETH COHEN FROM THE OC 8. JARVIS COCKER 9. QUENTIN TARANTINO 10. GWEN STEFANI

1. BIRKENSTOCKS 2. HUSH PUPPIES 3. CORDS 4. GLASSES (ESPECIALLY NATIONAL HEALTH STYLE) 5. CLARKS DESERT BOOTS

1. HEATHERS (WINONA RYDER' S VERONICA AND CHRISTIAN SLATER' S JD) 2. CARRIE 3. STAR WARS (LUKE SKYWALKER) 4. DONNIE DARKO 5. FERRIS BUELLER' S DAY OFF

1. STAR WARS 2. BLADE RUNNER 3. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY 4. THE CONVERSATION 5. THE MATRIXGEEK CHIC BY NEIL FEINEMAN, THAMES & HUDSON, pounds 12.95

CAPTION(S):

ADA LOVELACE: THE FIRST COMPUTER GEEK; GWEN STEFANI: "I THINK I'VE BEEN ABLE TO FOOL A LOT OF PEOPLE BECAUSE I KNOW I'M A DORK. I'M A GEEK; ADAM BRODY - THE OC GEEK SETH COHEN
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 20, 2005
Words:1453
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