Episode 110: 20 Sided Die in the Bathroom

The Overthinkers and special guest Randal Schwartz tackle geeks and geekiness.

Matthew Wrather hosts with Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, Josh McNeil, John Perich, and special guest Randal Schwartz (aka @merlyn) to overthink geekiness—its definition, etiology, gender dynamics, and portrayal in popular media.


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16 Comments on “Episode 110: 20 Sided Die in the Bathroom”

  1. Tulse #

    In a podcast about geeks in pop culture, not one mention of the most watched show on TV, namely Big Bang Theory? I’ve always found it to be pretty darn accurate as far as geek culture goes (granting that the characters are somewhat exaggerated in the sitcom-y way).

    I also disagree with Randal about WarGames, as I thought the portrayal of hacker culture of that era was pretty good. I learned to program on a mainframe accessed via an acoustic coupler modem, so that aspect certainly seemed authentic to me. I was also impressed with the portrayal of “wardialing”, where Broderick’s character sets up his computer to dial up random phone numbers as a way to find computers with a modem connection. Not only was that a common technique, it’s also interesting to me how uncinematic that process is, and how passive it makes the protagonist, yet the film makes this real world technique work in the film.


  2. Timothy J Swann #

    Okay, I know listeners are specifically this week disinvited from answering the question of the week, but I feel that this is an act of geekery worthy of mention regardless. I, along with four other friends, conducted a team geekwar, which was judged by an independent adjudicator as follows:

    Our categories, based on frequency of mention and my own concepts of geekery will be (and there’s an excel doc of this so you can see the transparency and not judge me for loving some of you more than others):
    Comic Cons
    Anime/Manga/Graphic Novels
    Fandom obsession/loyalty
    Fandom-related possessions
    Geekery in RL
    D&D/Trek/Wars/LOTR/Misc Other Traditional Geekery
    Computer literacy
    Good-deed Geekery
    Influential Geekery (aka spreading the love)

    I will assign points from 1 to (most likely) 5 for each of you in each of these categories based on the information you have provided. You may drop me one (and only ONE) more message to fill out your profiles if you can think of something particularly relevant that you forgot but then the judging will commence.

    I will then tally individual geek points and then team points and we’ll see where we end up.

    May the best geeks win.’

    That means a total potential score of 110. I got a quite passable 88, but my team was shot down by a stunning and unexpected 103 for the other team, meaning they edged us by 1.8333333. Something I went out of my way to prove was not statistically significant.


  3. Randal L. Schwartz #

    I wasn’t disagreeing about the presence of the acoustic coupled modem, or the use of wardialing. What was odd was the *combination*! It simply would not work. An acoustic coupler needs a human being to dial the phone and hang it up between calls. Instead, we see the lead character simply set the phone once into the coupler, and then many phone numbers appear on the screen. Wrong.


  4. Wade #

    We weren’t invited to share our geekiest moment? Did I hear/listen to the podcast wrong? Well, if I did, so be it. I’m answering it anyway because I have a particularly unique answer.

    My geekiest moment occurred a few years ago, when I attended a local sci-fi convention and wound up sitting in on a discussion panel about the State of the Union of the Firefly fan community.

    Way back when (in 2007), I was a member of my state’s chapter of Browncoats and had agreed to help out with the group’s booth at a local sci-fi convention. Come Saturday, the guests for the group’s panel bailed, forcing us to find replacements to go up and flap their traps about Firefly for an hour. It was decided that, because I actually had a degree in film, I was best suited to lead the discussion. The panel wound up being a standing room only event for some reason and I fumbled my way through trying to explain the broader appeal of the franchise, but for a brief, fleeting moment in time I was the face of the Firefly fan community.

    @Tulse – I found it odd that The Big Bang Theory was missing from the discussion, as well, though it was made up for by the discussion of The IT Crowd, which is a far superior show. Watching Big Bang, I always get the impression that the show constantly views its main characters from a point of derision, whereas IT Crowd also puts Roy and Moss into situation where they’ll act exceedingly awkward, but it’s far more evenhanded in letting them simply exist as people. Did that make any sense?


    • Timothy J Swann #

      I was half-joking – Wrather asks the question as if he’s asking the listener to do it through time and space right there and then, (for whenever a geek confesses geekery, he is listening) then corrects himself to make it clear that it’s the question of the week for the panel.

      TBBT may be laughing at the geeks, but you can be sure it’s laughing harder at those who aren’t geeks. Leonard is admittedly the most sympathised-with character from the writer’s point of view, mostly thanks to his combination of a bit of normality, a bit of geekery, and a sense of decent humanity… i.e. he’s the best of both worlds, likely where the writer’s themselves are or believe themselves to be.


  5. Gab #

    Geekiest moment? Oh, gods… Getting into an argument with a friend over which of us was meant to be killed by the Borg at the original _Star Trek Experience_- the plot was that they followed the Enterprise back in time to kill one of Picard’s ancestors as they were touring the ship. I claimed it was impossible for her because she was 100% Japanese, while she claimed I couldn’t be the target because I’m of Native American ancestry. It escalated to the point where Security approached us and “offered” to escort us out.

    I felt compelled to find this:


    … and I also came across this:


    … and this:


    I think another reason why IT Crowd works so well is it incorporates somewhat traditional gags into the geekiness and nerdery. The example Randal gave of the boss pretending to be on the phone is perfect: a different comedy would do the same sort of joke with the new boss. Or, another example, also from pretty early in the series, that same boss forces her feet into shoes much too small, csusing them to swell and ache to a comedic level. “Getting” the humor in jokes like that is pretty effortless for anyone, techie or not, yet the writers often manage to give it a slight techie twist or edge (like how the lack of actual phone line was revealed because the other main characters arrived to hook it up, as opposed to say the daughter coming in and saying the phone guy was scheduled to come by some time that afternoon). Also, it makes a techie job like an IT expert at a generic company as relateable as any other monotonous desk job (I can’t stand it, but think Office Space, for example, or The Drew Carry Show). They have pre-recorded responses to the service calls they may get- a comical, yet rather poignant representation of their day-to-day life; and it parallels a number of other shows where the main characters are going through the motions of a job they don’t always dig that much. But then seeing them light up when they do get the chance to be innovative is always fun to watch, just like the random times when a character in another show may get asked to work on this fancy project or whatever.


  6. Pasteur #

    This one time, I kept checking the comments page for a podcast I listened to.

    Really though I wonder as it seems to me the more our lives take place on the internet, the harder it sometimes seems to differentiate what is geeky from what is commonplace.


  7. Timothy J Swann #

    Oh, and Perich and Fenzel, I’ve been talking a lot with my brother recently about being gay as a metaphor for being a geek – as I am am an ‘out and proud’ geek whereas he is a ‘closeted’ geek, sharing the occasional subtle reference to Exar Kun… I think it is strangely apposite as an analogy.


  8. Maddy #

    You guys might be interested in this feminist takedown of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.


    (I’ve seen the film and had no interest in reading the book afterwards. As for why, that essay puts it best.)

    Better examples than Lisbeth: Willow on Buffy, Mac on Veronica Mars (not to mention Veronica herself, the cheerleader-turned-Daria with wits and smarts to boot, albeit not computer smarts), … that’s just off the top of my head. It’s not easy to think of examples of female geeks in media that aren’t problematic for some reason or other.

    “Do chicks dig it? If chicks dig it, it’s mainstream. … Geekdom is mainstream the moment chicks dig it.” Gosh, that’s almost as hilarious as the “get back in the kitchen” jokes I keep hearing on XBox Live.

    Revenge of the Nerds is a classic example of the stereotypical white male heterosexual cisgendered geek — oh, god, he is so oppressed by society, how does he ever bear it? The only women that matter, that EXIST as far as that film is concerned, are the “popular” women. Because all women are always popular and socially capable. Both the jocks and the geeks fight over women as an abstract concept; women don’t get to be a part of any community besides womanhood.

    Everybody’s a geek about something (unless you’re intolerably boring and have no interests, which I suppose I shouldn’t rule out). The idea is to find other people who are as obsessed with that thing as you, and finally feel like you’re a part of something and not just a weirdo.

    Sure, some people are more obsessed than others. So I guess they’ve got better “geek cred.” Which I think is a way of trying to make yourself feel better about the fact that you’re unusual for being more obsessed with something than your friends are. So you tell yourself you’re not a loser, you’re actually better than everyone else. You truly appreciate this thing, you understand it like no one else does. (And anyone who makes fun of it on the internet or suggests it might have some flaw, oh god, that fucker’s going down — because this is PERSONAL now [even though it really isn’t personal at all, now is it]).

    In gamer culture, there’s a lot of elitist language that’s not dissimilar from what you imagine jocks saying about each others’ sports abilities. Stupid rivalries like PC gamers vs. console gamers, the idea that you’re not “hardcore” if the only console you own is a Wii, or you’re a lamer if you don’t mod your console/build your own computer, and so on.

    It goes beyond that, too. Games journalist Leigh Alexander caused quite a fuss on the Giant Bombcast a while ago by claiming that ONLY SHE truly understood the underlying themes of the Metal Gear Solid games. She had to apologize publicly for this statement later because gamers were in an uproar. (Does she still secretly believe it, though? Who knows.)

    Gaming culture is the culture I’m most familiar with, but I see this type of thing happen elsewhere. (For example, in the turf wars between Rocky Horror and Repo! The Genetic Opera fans.) It’s a way for geeks to bully each other the way that they have been bullied for being “weird” and feel like they own their fandom and no one else can touch it. That’s all fine up to a point, but I don’t like the idea of getting to decide who gets to be in the club and who doesn’t (especially if that devolves into misogynist bullshit about how women don’t understand what it’s like to be socially minimized — riiiiiight).

    Sorry for being somewhat off-topic to the podcast. I realize that a lot of what I said isn’t necessarily what you guys were even getting at.


  9. Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

    To be fair to Randal, I think the idea that “it’s mainstream if chicks did it” was meant to be satirical.

    For what it’s worth, though, I’ve been thinking about this lately and want to offer what I hope is a slightly more robust and seriously meant definition — one that we didn’t get into in the podcast.

    It’s this: Things become mainstream and lose their geek credibility proportionally to the size of the economic interest in them.

    Gaming is a great example of this — a formerly niche activity that has gained a mainstream audience and a mainstream economic profile.

    Yes, there are still internecine battles for status among any subset of gamers — and some of these people are jerks. But the size of these battles is vanishingly small compared with the size of the whole industry — which is why it’s now a mainstream pursuit.

    Thoughts? Revisions? The economic argument has a chicken-or-egg causal problem and I think setting “geeky” against “mainstream” may be a mistake for more political or identity-based visions of “geeky.”


    • Randal L. Schwartz #

      Yes, I was going for the joke when I said “mainstream… if chicks dig it”. I was hoping that using the tongue-in-cheek term “chicks” would have been enough of a clue. And by tongue-in-cheek, I mean… nevermind. :)


  10. Maddy #

    Yet, plenty of mainstream things are still considered to be geeky. Star Wars is one of the highest-grossing films of all time, and yet it’s considered geeky. Star Trek has similar acclaim and a similar reputation. Video games in general, as well. There are plenty of extremely popular franchises and pursuits that are still, for whatever reason, “geeky.”

    I justify this by saying that you can be a geek about anything. I think the word’s insulting aspect comes from the implication that you are TOO fond of something — even if it’s something that other people like, they don’t like it as much as you do, ya weirdo.

    It’s socially acceptable to have seen Star Wars. It’s even all right to have seen it a couple times. But once you’re cosplaying as Darth Vader at local conventions, have you gone “too far”? For some, sure. For others, it’s not far enough. That’s where the hierarchy comes in … and being close to the top can be a source of pride, or shame, or what have you.

    I don’t think that the thing that interests the geek in question even matters. It doesn’t matter how popular that thing is in a vacuum. It matters how important it is to the geek, in relation to how important it is to others. But even in that case I don’t feel like putting a number on it is possible or necessary. If you’re a geek about something, you know. You know yourself well enough to say, “I’m obsessed with this. I’m a fanatic about this. I’m a GEEK about this.”

    I think the reason why geeking out about, say, the Red Sox isn’t seen as “true” geeking out is because so MANY people do it — but that doesn’t even seem fair. To me, as an “outsider”, I look at Fenway fanatics and see it as scarcely different from Anime Boston.

    We don’t call it being a geek if someone’s obsessed with a sports team, but I don’t see why not. I mean, StarCraft is considered a professional sport in Korea. So, are the pro SC players still geeks, or are they no longer geeks because within their culture, they’re as mainstream as any sports pro? (They even do commercial spots. For non-videogame-related items.)


  11. Timothy J Swann #

    No, I can’t agree with the economic side. The Star Wars Expanded Universe books are regular NYT Bestsellers, but they are definitively geeky. And under-valued and under-appreciated therefore.

    It has to be about attitude, or about character. Maybe something to do with marketing – a show that fits the modern men and women as defined by the conventions of marketing and advertising, which drives a substantial section of popular culture and representations in it… but geekery isn’t exactly counter-culture. It’s an approach to culture that is absolutely concerned with detail – where things like canon, hints about plot and Joss Whedon are serious business.


  12. Maddy #

    Yes, I agree that concern with detail is a big part of geekdom. I’m not sure I agree with the point asserted on the podcast that esoterica is a necessity, but concern with detail makes sense to me — especially to the point of obsession, as well as the ability to notice if something is “wrong” according to canon, or actual science or tech (see: argument above about WarGames).

    This conflicts with the fact that some geeks get extremely angry if you question something too much, though. With gamers, there’s the distance between people who overthink a game, and people who say “it’s just a game, stop taking it too seriously” — when EVERYONE has still logged in many hours playing said game and clearly takes it seriously, at least on the most basic level.

    I also see a lot of geeks get very angry if anyone accuses the object of their fandom of being sexist, racist, ablist, etc — OR, alternately, accused of being technically or scientifically inaccurate. This is usually when the “oh, calm down, it’s just a TV show” or “it’s supposed to be fun” or “it’s just a game” type of nonsense starts appearing. It’s people trying to distance themselves from the thing they love because someone else has pointed out that it’s flawed or that there are problems. It also simultaneously humiliates the person “overthinking” the object of geekery. It’s a way of saying, “you took this too far, now we’re all going to turn on you for being TOO geeky about this.”

    That’s why this site is awesome. Becuase no one can ever pull that here.


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