Like a Geek God #6 by Mark Pursell
These Childish Things
Geeks have it over Muggles in one very important area: we are highly susceptible to wonder.
Wonder is something I think we all, geek or not, can remember from moments in our childhood, particularly as they pertain to the pop culture we were being exposed to. For example, my generation is permanently marked by Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Many pop culture artifacts of our childhood didn’t leave a long-lasting impression on us; memories of them now are characterized by a tinge of nostalgia mixed with shame. But many of my peers can recall the first time they saw Beauty and the Beast with breathless clarity: the music, the characters, the beautiful animation. Beast—along with a score of other movies, books, and even video games—stood out from the rest; they seemed to open us up and inhabit us. On leaving the theater, the world looked different. You were left with the indefinable but undeniable feeling that something magical had happened to you.
Many people lose that capacity for wonder as they grow older; the ability to be thrilled by something, to be not only entertained but transported by it, falls by the wayside on the long road to adulthood, independence, and a cohesive sense of self, knocked out of us by disillusionment or exhaustion or resentment or a host of other devils. Geeks, though, retain it. Riding psychic shotgun to a panoply of knights, aliens, outlaws, wizards, and gods, we take flight to realms and eras that exist as distant (but instructive) echoes of our own. This is looked on, in some ways, as being immature. Childlike. Childish, even. Outsiders look at geek culture with its spaceships and dragons and time-traveling doctors and see a population of people stuck at an emotional age of ten, substituting a love of Batman and Lord of the Rings and Star Wars for more “grown up” preoccupations. By this measure, we geeks have never “put away [our] childish things.”
There are many arguments to refute this, not the least of which is that so much of the content in geek culture is as complex, rigorous, and investigative of our humanity as pop culture for adults. (Whatever that means; pop culture for adults these days seems to be comprised of reality housewives and boring “literary” novels about emotionally-stunted people who spend hundreds of pages wringing their hands about their emotional stuntedness). The most compelling argument, however, has to do with that sense of wonder itself. Since when is that ability, so common in childhood—to lose yourself in something, to be, indeed, transported by it, whisked out of yourself to another place entirely, and to be awed (and terrified) by what you find there—a bad thing? Wonder isn’t just desirable for the feeling itself, either; that kind of immersion opens up your imagination and, thereby, your empathy. When the experience is over and that out-of-body feeling jars you—walking out of a dark theater and, blinking, back into sunlight—and, in many ways, recalibrates you. Is this not the goal of all art?
The Wizard of Oz opens with a title card that reads: “For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion.” That quote is always hovering somewhere in my consciousness; not because of the movie, necessarily (though the movie is another example of a formative childhood memory of wonder), but because it genuflects towards us, the geeks. We are the young-in-heart, the receivers of wonder. And maybe being vulnerable to wonder is childlike, a vestigial mode that really is meant to be cast off as we take up the mantle of adulthood and begin our long slide to the grave. But the fact that so many of us don’t cast it off—that the wonder we experience in our chosen corner of pop culture enables a perspective and a frame of mind that is more connected and more attuned to the moment, to mindfulness, to compassion, and to self—makes me think that, once again, it’s the grown ups who’ve got it wrong.
Mark Pursell is a lifelong geek and lover of words. His publishing credits include Nimrod International Journal, The New Orleans Review, and The Florida Review, where he also served as poetry editor. His work can most recently be seen in the first volume of the 15 Views of Orlando anthology from Burrow Press. He currently teaches storytelling and narrative design for video games at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.