The Sunday Magazine: 40 Years a Geek

I was doing some spring cleaning and I ran across an old memory box from my high school days. Inside I found a ticket to a Star Trek and comic convention in the Miami Springs holiday Inn dated March 15, 1975. As far as I can remember this was my first convention. I came to the realization that it is probably that date which was my coming out party as a geek and I was thinking how much things have changed over the past 40 years.

I was attracted to that convention because George Takei, who played Mr. Sulu, was the special guest. I would say there were maybe 250 people there all crammed into a hotel ballroom watching Star Trek episodes on an old reel-to-reel projector. For me just to know that there were 249 other people who felt the same as me was very powerful. In those days if you liked something that was a bit outside of the mainstream you were pretty much going it on your own. I remember walking away from that experience knowing I was not on my own. Also from that very first convention I became part of the South Florida geek community. That is something that has been very strong for people who consider themselves geeks. Forty years ago it was a necessity. Now there are specialized groups within the umbrella designation of geek. Just as back then there is nothing as important as not feeling alone.

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What the Internet looked like in 1990

Certainly the Internet has been a big help for this for the last twenty-five years. Even from my early days of joining this online service called Prodigy I sought out others. It was so very cool to have special forums where I could chat with others who were just as invested in whatever subject I was interested in. As the Internet developed so did the community. It went from knowing there were 250 in your local area to knowing there were 250,000 all over the world. I not only didn’t feel alone, I felt like part of a vast worldwide community.

The growth of that community has no better barometer than the attendance at the biggest geek convention on the planet San Diego Comic-Con. In 1975 attendance was approximately 2, 500. Last year’s attendance was estimated at over 130,000. One other major thing that has changed is the demographics. Back in 1975 I am pretty sure there were only four or five women in the ballroom at the Holiday Inn. I remember standing on the mezzanine of this year’s New York Comic-Con and seeing so many women of all ages it made me smile.

Over forty years, geek has gone from being a sort of pejorative to now just being a mostly benign noun. What makes me happiest is to see how inclusive it has become. Even though we may never stop debating which is better, Star Trek or Star Wars, I love that there are more in the discussion.

Mark Behnke

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