The Novelty of Geek Rock

Geek rock has frequently been conflated with novelty rock and artists like They Might Be Giants and Weird Al Yankovic have both appeared on Dr. Demento. The question of geek vs. novelty, however, is not a simple one. For me, the conflation of “geek” and “novelty” is largely due to the conflation of “geek” with “smart” with “trivial and exclusive knowledge.” Smartness is magic. Ask any geek the square root of 467,982 and they can answer, magically, off the top of their heads. Ask any geek about your computer, and they will answer in a language that the common person cannot understand. Knowledge, and especially geek knowledge, is esoteric, effortless (to the geek), and  exclusive. Geek knowledge does not appear to be easily accessible, even though anyone can learn math, or computers, or programming, or technology, or literature, or what have you. And it’s knowledge that is trivial in that it is not immediately relevant to a “normal” day. Who needs to know pi? Or phi? Or the date of the first Mercury mission? Or the author of “A Sweet Nosegay?”

Much like magic, geekness became associated with novelty. Or perhaps it always was inherently novel–after all, a “geek” was the dude biting heads of chickens at the carnival. (Which means, of course, that Ozzy? Total geek. Right?) A geek was a sideshow, a freak attraction, a ten-cent spectacle. An amusement. A novelty, like a pulp novel or a comic book or a sci-fi movie or sci-fi tv show.

In other words, like Star Trek.

Not Star Trek now, of course, because Star Trek, with the reboot movies, and TNG, and George Takei’s winning of the Internet is different from the original airing of Star Trek and the decades of marginalization and parody when cosplay was freakish and replica phasers were best kept at home. Now, in the heyday of geekdom, Star Trek is no longer a sideshow, but a mainstream blockbuster phenomenon. Much like the novelty band/song who has been geek rock all along.

You know where I’m going, don’t you?

“Star Trekkin’” is the perfect example of the dynamics between novelty and geek rock. Yes, it’s a parody. A loving parody, to my ears. A silly, joking, homage to the original series. Yes, it’s a novelty; at least, it’s classified as such. But it’s all in the ears of the audience, too. And this audience member hears it as a tongue in cheek homage to a groundbreaking show that, while breaking ground, also forayed into over-acting, Edens and Earth like planets, and stunningly literal rocky terrain. All flaws, perhaps, and worthy of parody, but all lovable flaws nonetheless. So maybe it’s time to reclassify “Star Trekkin’” from a side show, chicken-beheading novelty act to a clever early foray into geek rock (which is, of course, the final frontier).

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