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All photos by Glenn McDonald from GenCon (2008)
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It’s Batman. I blame Batman.


Or I should say, Batman. The first movie, in 1989, with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Actually, I blame all the comic book movies for this widespread and disheartening mainstreaming of geek culture. But it all began, I’d estimate, around 1989 with Tim Burton’s original franchise reboot, which made it hip and profitable to be identified as a comic book fan.


Around about this time, personal computers and videogames began their relentless assault on mainstream culture, as well. Throughout the ‘90s, with the explosion of the Web, signifiers once solely associated with the nerd crept into every aspect of mass media.


And so it became cool to be a computer nerd, as well. At first, media figures like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made it cool to be a geek insofar as is was cool to be insanely wealthy. But nerdiness still wasn’t quite hip—geek not yet chic.


But now it’s really out of hand. Comic books, videogames and other geek staples have infiltrated every corner of the pop culture landscape. TV shows like Heroes and Battlestar Galactica aren’t just critically acclaimed, they’re fashionable. Of course, megahits like Lord of the Rings and The Matrix opened the movie floodgates, and the geek properties just keep coming. One of the most hotly anticipated movies on the docket is The Watchmen, a graphic novel that was long obscure even among comic book fans.


The result is that everybody claims to be a geek now, or to have been a geek in high school. Suddenly everyone was into sci-fi and fantasy, everyone owned a Commodore 64, everyone was president of the A/V Club and played Dungeons and Dragons after school.


Well, I propose we establish some basic qualifications—some minimum requirements for those who would claim the esteemed title of geek, nerd, or spaz. Thus: The TrueGeek(TM) Qualifying Exam. Remember, this is not designed to test your geekiness as it is now, which is all too easy to pretend to, but to gauge your geekiness then, when it might have been real – this is a pedigree that cannot be faked.


Take the quiz, track your points, then apply the Janssen Loop Binary algorithm to determine your final score. (If you don’t what this is, you’re immediately disqualified.)



The TrueGeek(TM) Qualifying Exam


Did you own any of the following Rush albums growing up?


  • Moving Pictures (1 point)
  • Permanent Waves (2 points)
  • 2112 (3 points)
  • Caress of Steel (10 points)

Bonus: Did you ever spin Rush’s The Necromancer as ambient music while playing Dungeons and Dragons? (10 points)


Bonus: Did you endeavor to perfect the air drum routine for YYZ? (10 points)


Did you own a personal computer prior to 1985?


  • Yes, the 1982 Atari 800 with 64k expanded RAM and APE (Advanced Player Enhancer) and acoustic coupler modem. (5 points)
  • Yes, a 1980 Interact TV console with 8K RAM and cassette drive. (10 points)
  • Yes, a 1979 Bell and Howell kit programmed in hexadecimal with a 0-9 numerical keypad. (15 points)

Bonus: Did you ever mail-order a Votrax serial-connected phenome-based speech synthesizer? (20 points)


In high school, you thought Tolkein was a…


  • wide receiver for the Steelers (-5 points)
  • brand of wine cooler (-5 points)
  • heavy metal band (2 points)
  • genius (10 points)

Bonus: Could you sign your name in dwarven runes? (10 points)


Bonus: In Old Entish? (20 points)


Super Bonus: Did you do so regularly on school papers and exams? (25 points)


Can you name all primary and auxiliary members of the X-Men circa 1984?


  • 1 to 3 members (1 point)
  • 4 to 7 members (3 points)
  • 8 or more members (5 points)

Bonus: Can you name five New Mutants? (10 points)


Bonus: Did you ever have erotic dreams about Rogue, Storm or Polaris? (10 points)


Bonus: At the same time? (10 points)


Did you ever play Dungeons & Dragons?


  • Once, with my brother’s spazzy friends (0 points)
  • A few times (1 point)
  • Regularly (5 points)
  • 3+ times/week, starting with the original “red box” first edition set (10 points)

Bonus: Does the phrase “Temple of Elemental Evil” mean anything to you? (10 points)


Bonus: Did you ever play Gamma World, Top Secret or Shadowrun? (5 points each)


Bonus: Did you ever paint a three-quarter inch die-cast model of a half-elf? (10 points)


Did your Star Wars action figure collection include any of the following?


  • Han Solo (1 point)
  • Han Solo (Bespin Limited Edition) (5 points)
  • C3P0 (1 point)
  • C3P0 with Removable Limbs (5 points)
  • Hammerhead (5 points)
  • Hoth Rebel Commander (5 points)
  • Prune Face (5 points)
  • Rancor Keeper (5 points)
  • Full size AT-AT walker (5 points)
  • Original Death Star set with foam garbage compactor pieces (10 points)

Bonus: Later in high school, did you ever hide your weed in the AT-AT? (5 points)


Did you, at any point during your adolescence, have the following set up in your bedroom?


  • a chemistry set (5 points)
  • a strategic wargame battle mat (5 points)
  • a modeling table for stop-action Super 8 films of your Star Wars action figures? (5 points)
  • an Atari 800 with 64k expanded RAM, APE (Advanced Player Enhancer) and acoustic coupler modem (5 points)
  • all of the above (50 points)

Did you regularly watch any of the following TV shows growing up?


  • Star Trek (original series) (5 points)
  • Battlestar Galactica (original series) (5 points)
  • Max Headroom (5 points)
  • Dr. Who (10 points)
  • The Prisoner (10 points)
  • Monty Python’s Flying Circus (10 points)
  • Blackadder (15 points)
  • Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon (15 points)
  • NOVA (15 points)

Super Bonus Extra Credit: If asked, in 1988, could you have explained why the number 42 is funny?


  • Yes  (10 points)



How Did You Score?


Less than 100 points: Sorry, but you’re posing, and it’s tragically clear to those of us with actual pedigrees. You are not allowed to feel any sense of entitlement or privilege when engaging in geek chic culture.


100-200 points: You’ve got a few bonafides, but still not enough to assimilate into the geek hivemind. You may be able to pass at mainstream affairs, but be careful when attending annual geek gatherings like GenCon or ComicCon. Your ruse will soon be uncovered.


200-300 points: Admirable, young Jedi. You may participate in geek chic culture with a minimum of self-consciousness, and enjoy the sense of vindication.


400 points or more: You are fully one of us. Salutations, brother. Go forth and prosper.

Glenn McDonald writes about popular culture from his home in lovely Chapel Hill, NC. His humor essays have been described as "grammatically consistent" and "remarkably frequent". He is editor of the Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me daily news quiz at NPR.org, and a film critic at the Raleigh News & Observer. He lives virtually at www.glenn-mcdonald.com.


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