Thursday, June 08, 2006

Who Were the Geeks in Olden Times?

It just occurred to me, as I am doing some contract work for a web design company - over 100 years ago, what would a true Geek look like, sound like, be obsessed with? What was the Star Wars equivalent of the day? Would it have been Jules Verne, and if so, did people build their own faux time machines? Did they dress up like Morlocks?

I also wonder who were the Geeks 200 years ago - we're talking 1806, and despite my fascination with historical popular culture, I have no idea. I do know that "The Da Vinci Code" of the late 18th century was a French romance novel called Paul and Virginia which was all about Rousseauean ideals of letting the wonders of nature teach us how to truly live, and the inequities of an outdated class structure... plus had 2 young hotties on a South Sea island with remarkably lax mothers who let them wander about a la Blue Lagoon.

It was wildly popular in its day, and I actually dug up a copy and read it many years ago - I say Dug, because I had to get it through InterLibrary Loan from another state, and there are practically no copies left - it's long since out-of-print, and for good reason... it's really, really bad, except for a few vaguely naughty bits. (Naughty, in the context of late 18 century, so Not Very.) Long, loooooooooooong passages about the flora and fauna of the island that do nothing to progress the story.

Apparently this was one of those books that shook up the women of the day - readers of Madame Bovary may recollect a reference to Emma having read it when young, and apparently it was part of the formation of her flawed character.

It may seem that I have Strayed from my initial question, but I promise, it ties in. A Geek is, in one part of the Wikipedia definition, "A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream. This could be due to the intensity, depth, or subject of their interest." Geeks are not necessarily Nerds, whom I associate more with social ineptitude. A Geek is very passionate about something, and the most obvious ones are passionate about Stories.

So, if today's Geeks are fond of Star Wars/Trek, LOTR and Joss Whedon, then what were they fond of 100, 200 years past? It would have to be something that wasn't within the cultural norms of the day, but eventually became commonplace. "Paul and Virginia," with its rebellion against class structure and regimented society, might well have been one of the Points of Fixation for Geeks of the Day. I know that Ann Radcliffe's gothic novels were probably Geeked over, but primarily by women. But what would have regained the Geek fascination of men?

Obviously, I need to do a bit of research, Geek that I am.

Friday the 9th: Ooh, Paul and Virginia is available on Project Gutenberg!

1 comment:

Mike Howell said...

...any excuse to use "Rousseauean" ... (rolls eyes)

I suppose mechanical invention was probably the closest thing to geek that 200 years ago could offer. Eccentric introverts, locked away in a workshop toiling over clockworks and such. Or math geeks... I suppose. Maybe sometime between the execution of Greek mathematicians and the invention of the sliderule math made people cool. I doubt it.