Your Binaries, Your Whovian

Personal interests are an expression of character as long as they’re considered normal. If they are unpopular, they become bad life choices. This fallacy greatly contributes to the stigmatisation of geeks, whose interests are generally unpopular. I attempted to dispel this misconception in my old blog, by describing my being a fan as a disposition of my mind. Hacker Dimitri builds a very similar argument in his article ‘The Hacker Perspective’, published in this year’s autumn edition of 2600 Magazine: The Hacker Quarterly, where he declares that he hacks because “it’s the way (his) brain is wired”. Comparing his experience as a hacker to mine as a fan, I would like to demonstrate that geek interests, however unpopular, are as much an expression of personality as any other interests: they appear unconsciously, persist in the face of disapproval and manifest themselves in several aspects of one’s life.

Geek interests, as expressions of personality, have always been part of the geeks’ lives. They have no start date or conscious reason for existing. As Dimitri says in ‘The Hacker Perspective’:

The question shouldn’t be when did I become a hacker, but when did I notice I was a hacker?

His first memory of hacking was being able to bypass a restriction on an Internet page at age eleven. In other words, he had already been practising his interest when he realised having it. It had developed seemingly of its own volition, and without an apparent reason. The same holds true for fans. They may be able to pinpoint the beginning of particular fan interests, or to provide a reason for singular fan attachments[1], but they cannot explain their propensity for this form of attachment in the first place. Neither can they determine a clear beginning to their fannish tendencies. In a nutshell, as both hackers and fans begin their activities unconsciously, it is safe to assume that these interests are not a choice, but a manifestation of their personality.

Secondly, geeks cannot renounce their unpopular interests even in the midst of strong criticism. At best, hacking is considered unethical; at worst, it is illegal. Dimitri never gave up on his activities however, even after being repeatedly interrogated by the police. He describes his hacking experience as being “in autopilot”, meaning that rejecting this interest would mean going against his nature. Similarly, fans continue their activities in spite of popular disapproval. Although often judged to be obsessed and out of touch with reality, they persist in their attachments. One look at Tumblr is enough to see that they even add them up. If hacker and fan activities were purely a choice, the stigma associated to them would dissuade people from practicing them, at least in the long run; however, fans and hackers persist, therefore proving that these interests are indeed part of who they are.

One last proof that geek interests are indeed an expression of character is that they require a set of skills that geeks manifest in their other activities, especially their professions. Dimitri concedes:

(Hacking) was never a mainline thing for me, although I now work as a network engineer, so it’s a little more mainline than it was.

By comparing hacking to network engineering, Dimitri implies that they have the same characteristics; in turn, if Dimitri practices them both, it means that he has an affinity with these characteristics. Hacking, then, defines him as much as network engineering, his “normal” occupation. Fans are also drawn to professions requiring fan traits. Many create or critique content of the kind that arouses their fan interest, or go into a career in community management. The passion, desire to appropriate content and socials skills characteristic of fandom come to define them in other areas of their life, therefore confirming that their fannish behaviour is just another manifestation of their personality. Simply put, since geek activities require skills that individuals practice in other, normalised aspects of their lives, they necessarily are an expression of personality.

To sum up, geek activities are like all others: a manifestation of their practitioner’s personality. They develop seemingly of their own volition, persist in the face of disapproval, and manifest themselves in all aspects of a geek’s life. This argument contributes to the normalisation of geeks by proving that they do not purposefully make themselves unpopular; it even legitimates their activities by showing their resemblance to “normal” interests.

[1] Fan Studies scholar Matt Hills argues that fans can’t even explain singular fan attachments. They rely on the rhetoric around their fan interest for temporary reasons (“This show is so feminist”; “This artist is so innovative”, and so on), but are eventually unable to account for their attachment to it.

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