When I wrote my little tirade about Geek Love last week, some people (rightfully so) pointed out the lapse in judgement of reviewing a show that had not aired yet. Of course, that piece was meant to be a larger attack on TLC and their exploitation of certain hyper obsessive subcultures (such as beauty pageant mothers or people who like to have lots of kids), but it got me thinking that perhaps I was too hard on Geek Love. Sure, the trailer didn’t paint the best picture, but isn’t it only fair to give such a show the benefit of the doubt, especially considering the good it could do for people’s views and acceptance of Geeks and the Geek lifestyle?
I’m the first person to re-evaluate his claims and admit he was wrong and while Geek Love is not a complete waste, it does feel insincere. Ostensibly, the show is about Geeks finding love at the Sci-Fi Speed Dating that took place at this year’s New York Comic-Con, masterminded by Ryan Glitch, a self described Geek and proponent of speed dating in general. Glitch claims he met his girlfriend, Tracy, at his first speed dating event. The service he offers the convention goers is sincere, but TLC is only passingly interested with sincerity.
The very definition of what a Geek is has mutated in recent years. With a popular superhero film at least once a year, Avatar’s record breaking gross and pop culture’s hostile takeover of such former Geek sanctuaries as Comic-Con, the line between average Joe and enthusiast has blurred somewhat, but there’s still a dependable definition that everyone can agree on: there is a considerable difference between a person who enjoys The Dark Knight and a person who dresses up as Batman.
It’s almost as if, with the broadened definition of what a Geek is, people need to re-establish a firm “us vs. them” mentality. People spend more time on computers than ever before, play more video games and plenty of other things once considered to be in the realm of the Geek. An overweight man howling like Chewbacca is the perfect person to put on stage so we can all say, “oh THAT’S a Geek. I’m not a bad as HE is.”
The show seems to depend on this rather extreme view of Geekdom. I understand that these people are out there and should be represented, but that’s not what TLC has in store for them. They’re not there for us to get a deeper look inside of fandom; they’re there to get belittled by viewers. You might be able to pick up some details of the club hopping lifestyle by watching Jersey Shore, but the reason you’re watching is to see Snooki do stupid things. Snooki, at least, is getting paid. She’s in on the joke and if she’s fine with being viewed by the world as a walking punch line, so be it. But these poor Geeks aren’t getting paid; they’re not being groomed for reality show stardom. I’m sure when they signed up, nobody told them they would end up being a joke. But then again, maybe they were fully aware of this. Maybe they knew exactly how things would turn out but didn’t care. It’s possible, but unlikely, I think. Some people are so obsessed with exposure that they don’t care how they’re portrayed so long as they end up on the air. (For examples of this, please refer to every single reality show, ever.)
In the first of the two episodes that aired, we followed three self-described Geeks (a formula the show repeated for the following episode). Sal is a 23 year old Game Stop employee from upstate New York. He sleeps on a couch with Justice League bed sheets and purchased a $200 Iron Man costume for the convention. Kelly, also 23, feels closer to the “normal” side of the scale, apart from an unhealthy obsession with Harry Potter. Gerald is the oldest at 32 and notable for being the “wookie guy” from the commercials.
After a brief introduction, we follow the three as they participate in the speed dating. Each date lasts for 30 minutes and they experience 30 dates each. Glitch paces back and forth throughout the whole process. His interview segments contain commentary on the dates that are generally unnecessary. The show feels confused as to whether it’s about Glitch or the participants.
The dating footage can be somewhat painful to watch at times. The show wisely lets the more awkward individuals appear unfiltered, making fun of themselves expertly without any editorial interference. Some of the girls seem too good to be true, as if TLC felt the need to stack the deck a bit to make sure there was usable footage.
A questionable aspect of the speed dating experience comes at the end; they participate in a public spectacle in which people write the numbers of the ones they’re interested in on charts. At the end, they find those who said they were interested. As a result, Gerald and several others are forced to sit alone while others around them pair up. Gerald inspires pity and he was portrayed sympathetically, but it only makes you feel that much worse for him since the whole thing has just aired on television.
Sal and Kelly end up with dates that occur for five minutes or so each at the end of the episode. (One has to wonder if perhaps their dates were more interested in being on camera than actually finding love, but that feels unnecessarily cynical.) Portions of one date happen as the credits roll, almost like an afterthought. There’s no memo at the end in which we find out if the couples stayed together or not. It’s almost as if that single date is meant to be an indication that Geek speed dating works.
In the second episode, also taking place at NYCC, there is initially some trouble rounding up girls and Glitch and Tracy scurry around the show floor corralling them. It feels kind of shameless, as if the low number of women is akin to a shortage of chairs. This time we follow a new set of three. Allison from New Jersey, 22, admits to never having gone on a date and dresses in “Mandalorian Armor,” which looks just like a color swap of Boba Fett’s armor. Anna, also 22, is concerned that there will be serial killers involved with the speed dating (amusingly, when the dating actually begins, she’s conveniently seated across from someone dressed as Jason from Friday the 13th), she dresses as Robin and attends the convention with her mother. J.C. rounds out the group. He’s a 30 year old with Star Wars toys around his house who wears an actual Boba Fett costume to the event.
Anna clicks with a man named David, who appears old enough to be her father. Her mother embarrassingly asks his age, which turns out to be 28. She hovers around them while they traverse the show floor. The interaction between the three is cringe worthy.
J.C. ends up going on a date with Allison, which is hardly surprising, since they bonded over their similar costumes and fandom. They shared a mutual interest and as a result were compatible. This is not because they are both Geeks, but because they are both interested in Star Wars. The flaw with the show’s position is that Geeks won’t necessarily find love at Sci-Fi speed dating anymore than regular people will at regular speed dating. If you’re not the type of person who can adapt socially or present an appealing version of yourself within three minutes, this type of dating won’t work, whether you’re with like minded individuals or not. Two people who love Star Wars can just as easily meet outside of a convention. Of course, the odds they’ll meet increase at Comic-Con, but that still doesn’t mean it’s a guarantee.
In my response to the trailer, I touched on the idea that reality TV provides people with an opportunity to feel better about themselves without actually putting any effort into improving their own situation. People don’t want to be better, they just want to be better THAN and this show plays right into it. Regular people can be comforted by the thought that they’re in the norm. More reasonable Geeks can shake their heads at the crazies, “I may love Star Wars, but I would never imitate a Wookie in front of a hot girl.” It’s the cosplayers who get the short end of the stick. Geek Love’s viewpoint seems to be that cosplay is just short of a mental illness. They’re depicted as overgrown children who refuse to step up to the plate of adulthood. Nobody really talks about the passion involved in making a set of Boba Fett armor from scratch or the fact that the strength of the Geek dollar is one of Hollywood’s few safe bets at this point. There is a point where Star Wars vs. Star Trek is treated as important as a religious difference, but it’s played for laughs rather than exploring the differences among the various subcultures and how Geekdom is as varied and unique as mainstream culture is. I mean, hardcore sports fans are just as insane as Geeks are, but since sports fandom is associated with manliness and adulthood, we would never see a show like this. G4 may be a ridiculous channel, but is it anymore ridiculous than ESPN Classic, a station that only shows sporting events that have occurred years ago?
Shows like Intervention and Hoarders also exploit their subjects, but the difference is tone. Those shows are serious and empathetic. They’re shown in a way that makes us want to root for the people and we hope that when the show is over, their success continues. Geek Love can waste no time on getting us to care about these people since there’s so much mocking that needs to be squeezed in.
I recognize the value of what Mr. Glitch has accomplished here, but the spirit behind it all still feels vaguely insulting. Many people are just plain shy, plenty just lack any skill with the opposite sex, others can’t be bothered with the dating scene at all. Does that mean it’s all due to their interests? Are we to expect that carpenters only want to talk about wood or architects will bore any potential lover with discussions of blueprints and buildings? This show says that a Geek is a Geek is a Geek and must be viewed through that lens in all aspects of life. I’m sorry, but I have to disagree with that premise.