I’ve been a self-professed geek for many, many years. I was a nerd back when playing Dungeons and Dragons was thought to lead directly to acts of mass murder. I was a geek back in the heyday of the video arcade. My first computer was a Commodore 64. I read comics before Batman was known as the Dark Knight.
I was a teenage geek in the 1980s and I have the shirts to prove it.
The Gold Age of Geek T-Shirts
Not that I had the T-shirts then —geeky T-shirts weren’t easy to find in an era where everyone was wearing pastels and Miami Vice shirts. Few companies printed shirts based on geek properties because fantasy, superheroes and role-playing games weren’t cool. The few shirts available (mostly on display in comic book stores) were priced out of my meager, burger-flipping price range.
I had to wait until the millennium changed to finally wear my geek pride across my chest. Want a Doctor Who-themed shirt? I’ve got six. Like the Avengers? Allow me to show you my collection of t-shirts subdivided by Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and Shawarma. Reminiscent for the first video game consoles? Behold my Intellivision logo shirt.
If I had worn any of these shirts to high school in the eighties, my underwear would have flown from the school flagpole —probably with me still in them. Today, however, geek has become cool, a situation which we older nerds find confusing —and even a little insulting.
You see, there’s an age divide when it comes to geeky properties. Older geeks tend to look askance at teens wearing shirts proclaiming their love of 1980s properties. It’s like wearing a concert shirt for a concert you never attended.
Claiming to wear the shirt “ironically” doesn’t help and is likely to get you smacked upside the head with a twenty-sided dice. Ironical appreciation for the classic Spider-man cartoon? I watched that show religiously every Saturday morning, you young pup! Inevitably, the term “hipster” escapes someone’s lips, signaling the end of polite discussion.
Passing the Torch
Geeks can be an abrasive, tribal bunch, but really, we’re talking about T-shirts here. It’s not like we’re discussing anything serious, like long term drug rehab or whether Han shot first. While I understand the urge to defend a beloved show or video game, if younger geeks want to enjoy the same properties, we should encourage them, not belittle them.
If a kid’s wearing a Doctor Who shirt and only started watching with the reboot, I don’t demand he remove the clothing immediately. I ask if he’s seen the early stuff, and chat about the glory that was Tom Baker. If a girl’s wearing a Batman shirt, I don’t assume she’s only wearing it because the Nolan films are popular right now (sexism in geekdom is an entirely different can of sarlacc).
When it comes right down to it, I’ve got the X-men tee I always wanted. If some kid who can’t name the original X-men wears the same shirt, it’s my duty as an Elder Geek to educate, not eradicate.