Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Reluctant Geek - If you can read this, you're too close...

While I was at university I was still labouring under the misapprehension that I could resist the decline into geekery that has since rather overtaken me. But even then, there were some worrying signs. One of the most concerning was my Linux programming, Counter Strike playing, physicist boyfriend of the time, who insisted on saying bafflingly meaningless things like "leet skillz" and who apparently needed three different PCs to function as a well-rounded person. Crazy student experimentation was all very well and good, but surely sleeping with the enemy was taking things too far?

I knew I was almost beyond redemption when I woke up one morning and found that I had inadvertently fallen asleep wearing his Chix Dig Unix t-shirt. I have never referred to myself as a chick and I can assure you that I have no higher regard for Unix than any other operating system, but none-the-less, there it was on my t-shirt for the world (or at least the rest of our equally geeky student hovel) to see as I ate my cornflakes beneath a cloud of puzzled resignation.

As it turned out, this was merely the beginning of the end for my pretensions towards normality, since it is almost certainly the case that if geekdom has a uniform, then the t-shirt with a hilarious/technical/obscurely slogan is it. I suppose it even makes sense. The final step in cementing your allegiance to a community that is frequently reviled, is to wear your counter-culturalism proudly for the world to see. Geekery is rarely associated with high fashion, but that’s OK, because let’s be honest, the geeky T-shirt is fundamentally anti-fashion. It doesn’t need ruffles or cleavage or shiny, bright colours. The clothes themselves are simply an irritating practicality when it comes to communicating the message.

More than that though, there is something of the ‘in-joke’ to be found in geekery’s strange affection for the t-shirt. Frequently there are references to cult TV shows, mathematical equations, or comic book heroes. Things that the rest of the universe just Does Not Get. Strangers in the street can recognise each other as kindred spirits in the split second where a knowing smile replaces the confused dismissiveness of the masses. It’s a private, hidden language that denotes belonging to a group with a large degree of geographical and social diversity.

That’s the justification at least. As for the t-shirts themselves? Well, apparently "There’s no place like," and "Han shot first". "Home is where the hearthstone is" and "I see fragged people." "5 seconds until I respawn" and "Available for Beta testing." Understand any of this? Congratulations, in all likelihood you haven’t just wondered onto this comic shop blog by accident. You are in all probability kind of a geek. Utterly baffled? Yep, me too for the most part. As it turns out, some of us speak more fluent Geek than others.

Despite my somewhat traumatic initial exposure, I’m afraid to say I haven’t managed entirely to steer clear of this particular brand of ‘heart on your t-shirt’ geekery since. There may or may not be a "This is what a feminist looks like" t-shirt lurking in my wardrobe. And whilst at some point along the way I managed to ditch the physicist, I kept his ‘Chix Dig Unix’ top. I am frequently beaten by my friends when it comes to being truly out and proud though, one of whom who owns a shirt with an inbuilt Graphic Equaliser. A cynic might suggest he particularly enjoys the tactile response it seems to illicit from tipsy girls (and boys!) in clubs. Another sports a dazzling array of identically formed but uniquely embellished t-shirts and to be honest, he barely looks like himself without them.

I suppose it comes down to the fact that we all use our clothes to express ourselves. Even an absolute indifference to fashion communicates something about personality. Maybe it’s no surprise then that the geek community does this a little bit differently, because hey, it does lots of things differently. Geeky t-shirts resist the ease of mainstream conformity whilst building a sense of belonging amongst their adherents. And if some gentle programming jokes and Star Wars references are just not hardcore enough for you, there’s always t-shirt hell...

This week Kate is shunning her Chix Dig Unix t-shirt in favour of a corset and some boots.


  1. I have embraced this fashion statement whole-heartedly! But in the sub-genre of "Tshirts based on webcomics". The upside of this sub-genre is sometimes you don't need to get the reference to get the funny!

    Just check out, and I guarantee you'll find something funny in there. I've been eyeing up the Jeff Goldblum Ascended Angel shirt for a little while now...


  2. I rather like this one:
    I worry that's a bad sign!

  3. Todd,

    Very much loving the style of topatoco! Thanks for the heads up...


    I may be actually compelled by unseen forces to purchase that t-shirt in the very near future!