Passion. That’s what lies at the heart of the geek experience. Spaceships, wizards and monsters may be its signifiers, but what really drives geek culture is passion. Crazy, all-consuming, unbridled passion, the kind that drives people to reread dozens of thousand-page tomes, argue minor plot points endlessly in online forums, dress up as favorite characters and write their own meticulously detailed fan fics about them. It’s the kind of passion that takes over years of peoples’ lives, leaving friends and families who “just don't get it” baffled and bemused.
I’ve long believed that this overwhelming passion is what lies at the heart of geek culture, but every once in a while something happens that really drives it home. Last week I spoke to Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala, who spent seven years of their adolescence making a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders of the Lost Ark (you can see that remake, and a doc made about it, this weekend). Seven. Years. Spanning the time from childhood to adulthood. That’s passion. Hell, I'd call it obsession, if that wasn’t such a pejorative term. But as impressive and unique as that accomplishment is, it’s also familiar to me, both from personal experience and from the experiences of people I’ve known.
My own life can largely be divided into periods based on what all-consuming passion I was dedicated to at the time. My early adolescence was pen-and-paper role-playing games and comics. From the onset of puberty until I started high school, those two activities defined me and ate up something like 60 percent of my free time (the rest of the time was mostly spent reading science fiction and fantasy novels and watching the same kinds of movies, all of which got translated into role-playing settings and characters, so maybe it’s closer to like 90 percent of my time). After that, it was music, which may not be a geeky thing, but certainly is a thing you can be geeky about. And, holy shit, was I ever.
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It wasn’t enough to buy and listen to records. Oh, no. I was the guy who spent hours in the library looking up ten- and twelve-year-old interviews with my favorite bands, consuming record-buying guides and music biographies like I’d once read fantasy novels (okay, I was still reading quite a few fantasy novels, too). I was the guy with the exhaustive knowledge of pretty much everything related to any band I had more than a passing interest in — all the records, all the singles, the lineup changes, all of it. And this in an era when the Internet didn’t exist and finding all this stuff out took real effort.
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Those obsessions have changed every three to five years, all through my life, spanning everything from Magic: The Gathering to dance music and rave culture, all pursued with the same vigor and rigor. Whether what I was doing was “geeky” or not, I definitely geeked out on all of it. I’ve seen the same from my geeky friends, from weekly role-playing games that have been going on for decades to detailed knowledge and rankings of every third-string running back in the NFL (yeah, fantasy football is pretty goddamn geeky).
I’ve gotten a lot of strange looks and outright disdain for this. I’ve had people tell me to my face that I was wasting my life on this shit, that I should spend that energy on something important. And you know what? They were wrong. I’ve turned most of these obsessions into solid moneymakers at one point or another. Geeking out on PC games back in the early days taught me enough about computers to land me several jobs in the ’90s and early ’00s. I wrote about music professionally for about three years to start my writing career. And, well, I’ve written about 150 of these columns for Westword, and maybe two or three times as many other articles of varying length, about all those role-playing games, Magic cards and other assorted nerd pursuits. And it’s all made me happy.
I could have spent that time reading Pulitzer Prize winners, and maybe I’d have loved it just as much as reading every word that Philip K. Dick ever wrote — but I didn’t want to. I could have turned my mind to learning differential equations or actuarial tables instead of memorizing the AD&D Monster Manual, but bleah. I followed my passions, no matter what weird avenue they led me down, and I’ve never regretted it. To me, that is what being a geek is all about, and if I had a single wish for everyone else, it would be that they do the same. Don't worry if what you love is cool or impressive to your preferred gender or acceptable to your friends and family. Just do what you love, and do it as intensely as you want to, as long as you want to. Maybe you’ll make a shot-for-shot remake of a famous movie. Maybe you’ll make a decent career as a writer. Maybe you’ll just really, really enjoy yourself and learn an unreal amount about whatever esoteric nonsense captures your heart — but what could be better than that?
See the Raiders double feature at 7:45 p.m. Friday, July 1, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. After the films, Strompolos and Zala will stick around for a Q&A. For tickets, $11.25, and more info, visit the Alamo website. The documentary about the filmmakers, Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made, opens July 1 at the Sie FilmCenter; Strompolos and Zala will be there Saturday, July 2, for a Q&A after the 7 p.m. showing of the documentary, with a screening of their fan adaptation at 9:30 p.m. The Sie will show the original Raiders at 2 p.m Sunday, July 3.; for information and tickets, go to the Denver Film Society website. Learn more about the films at the Raiders Guys website.