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The Essential Geek #22: High Fidelity

The Essential Geek #22: High Fidelity

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There's a lot of popular culture out there for geeks. The googolplex up the street is raking in much of its dough this summer on the basis of its geek flicks, from "Spider-Man 2" to "The Village." Flip on the TV and you're likely to bump into a "Star Trek" rerun, one of last season's "Smallville" episodes, or maybe a video game news show on G4. There's row after row of sci-fi and fantasy books at your local Borders. We geeks have plenty to keep us busy for a good long time.

But there's precious little pop culture ABOUT geeks. We pop up every once in a while in a mainstream film and someday we'll get the girl on "Average Joe," I'm sure of it. Other than that, we're not exactly represented in the media, and when we are, it's typically as an object of derision. You can get a lot of comedy mileage out of a heavyset anti-social loser in a giant T-shirt; witness Comic Book Guy on "The Simpsons." Hell, I am a geek, and even I can't help but laugh.

There is one great geek tract, though, our Holy Gospel of Geekdom. It's Nick Hornby's novel "High Fidelity." It's a tremendous piece of modern fiction, and it just happens to explore the dark, funny, obsessive corners of geekdom better than any work before or since.

You may be confused because you probably saw the movie, and you don't remember John Cusack sporting any Spock ears or attending any conventions. That's because Rob Gordon, the protagonist of the novel, isn't a GEEK geek; he's a music geek. And music geeks may not camp out in front of movie theaters and gather in dingy hotel ballrooms to purchase Chewbacca bookmarks, but we still have a lot in common.

We live for our obsessions, that's one thing. Rob is as twisted up about his record collection and his endless lists of "Top Five" everything as any geek is about their own passions. He's opened up his heart and let countless songs and albums into it, where they've taken up residence and started to take over. There's a passage where he talks about the impact music has had on his life, and any nerd could just as easily be speaking about the impact of geek culture:

"Which came first--the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music?...The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don't know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they've been listening to the sad songs longer than they've been living the unhappy lives."

Rob loves his music so much that, without even realizing it, he escapes into it. He runs from a mature relationship with his ex-girlfriend Laura, struggling so fiercely out of an unrealized fear of growing up. He doesn't know it, but he's given more than just his mind and his heart over to pop music; before he knows it, he's given up his life.

Ask any geek who loves this stuff passionately has felt the cold, clammy sensation of choosing geekdom over life--of going to the convention over hanging out with your friends, of being there opening night for the next big movie over seeing your girlfriend. It may not last long, and it may seem silly when it's over, or it may last your whole life and make you completely happy. But it happens to all of us; we all stand at the crossroads between living life for geekdom and living life WITH geekdom.

In essence, this is the choice Rob faces--to make his passions a part of his life, or to make his life around his passions. He realizes he can have both, and that redeems him, awakens him to the true joy of a full life. It's a beautiful thing to behold, because Hornby's prose is so spot-on and perfect--funny in spots, tragic in others. His characters spring off the page, especially the hilarious music geek sidekicks *** and Barry, who provide a comic mirror of Rob's own life if he can't face his future with an adult vision.

You can pick up "High Fidelity" at any good bookstore. While you're at it, grab any of Hornby's other novels--he's one of the most fun, easy and compelling voices of our age.

Just don't get too obsessed with him. Or with anything, for that matter. That way lies madness. I should know. I'm a geek. Just like Rob.

Matt Springer has been writing professionally about genre entertainment for the past five years and has worked full-time for such publications as the Official Buffy the Vampire Slayer Magazine, Cinescape, and Total Movie. He co-edits the genre criticism website Entertainment Geekly (http://www.entertainment-geekly.com). His first novel, Unconventional, is the tale of three geeks who spend a life-altering weekend at a convention; buy it online at South Side Press (http://www.southsidepress.net). He's currently working to become a sitcom writer.

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