Thursday, March 07, 2013

Culture Shock 03.07.13: Obama's geek cred disappears at warp speed

Election Day has come and gone. The inauguration has passed. Too late, the truth about President Barack Obama has revealed itself.

The president is a fake geek.

Ever since his arms akimbo photo op with the iconic statue of Superman in Metropolis, Ill., the president's adopted home state, Obama has enjoyed an image as the most geek-friendly chief executive in the nation's history. He invited comparisons to the logical Mr. Spock, and his White House responded gamely to a petition asking the administration to build a Death Star. (The White House said no, for once deciding a program was just too expensive.)

The geek community returned the love. Obama appeared in Image Comics' "Savage Dragon" and in a heavily promoted issue of Marvel Comics' "The Amazing Spider-Man."

But with one slip of the tongue, it all vanished faster than Marty McFly's siblings in a snapshot.

During a press conference last week, President Obama said he couldn't force Republican leaders to come to an agreement with him by performing a "Jedi mind meld" on them.

At the speed of Twitter (roughly 0.999 the speed of light), word of the president's fall to the Dark Side spread. He had confused "Star Trek" and its "Vulcan mind meld" with "Star Wars" and its "Jedi mind trick."

What followed was a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and wouldn't shut up about it. Within minutes, #ObamaSciFiQuotes was trending: "Beam me up, Chewy," "Set lightsabers to stun," and, combining Obama's faux pas with the news of the day, "These are not the drones you are looking for." Talk about an un-Forced error.

Some fans claim Obama's gaffe wasn't really a gaffe, because in some "Star Wars" spinoff novels, the Jedi are shown performing a "Force meld." I'm not buying this explanation for a second. First, I doubt the president reads "Star Wars" spinoff novels. Second, the novels don't count, and Boba Fett died in the sarlacc pit.

Saying "Jedi mind meld" is like your mom referring to that show you used to watch in reruns when you were a kid as "Star Track." It's a signpost that tells you your next stop is the Clueless Zone, warp factor 9.

So, the president isn't as much of a geek as he let us believe. Perhaps his handlers encouraged the geeky facade to help his image among young people. President Obama isn't the first president to tell a core constituency what it wanted to hear, and his online image certainly benefited from his seeming geekiness.

Yet the more important takeaway is this confirms what has appeared to be true for the past decade: Geeky is the new cool. It's worth faking. Once geeks pretended not to be geeks, but now it's sometimes in the interest of non-geeks to pretend to be geeks.

The idea of fake geeks smashed headlong into gender politics last year when a debate raged online about "fake geek girls." These supposedly are attractive women who pretend to be geeks for nefarious purposes. By early this year, the discussion had made it to mainstream websites like Slate and The Atlantic. A consensus formed that fake geek girls exist only in the insecure minds of male geeks who feel threatened by attractive, geeky women intruding in their He-Man Woman Haters Club.

I've met a lot of attractive female geeks, so I know they're real. But the feminist response about insecure males reeks of its own kind of sexist overgeneralization. There are fake geeks — "poseurs" is a better term — of both sexes. How do I know? Because I've met them, too.

Male or female, don't tell me you're an anime geek if you don't know who Leiji Matsumoto is.

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