DeFlip Side #28: The Gorno Factor


Welcome everyone. This is DeFlip Side.

Well, as Yogi Berra once said, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. And it sure is over for the New York Yankees, whose loss to the Florida Marlins in game five of the World Series spelled the end of this year’s baseball season. Or so you’d think. But the guys I work with must of somehow missed the news. Because though it might be over, for them, it’s never over.

Every day I go to work, and every day it’s nothing but baseball. Batting stats, R.B.I.s, M.V.P.s, E.R.A.s, starting lineups, who’s trading who, who’s going free agent, relentless trivia about guys long dead and how they would do against today’s players. Heated arguments, grudging concessions, tacit agreements, all playing out against the backdrop of Mike and the Mad Dog blathering away on the YES Network somewhere in the background. Baseball, baseball, baseball, until your brains start running out of your ears.

One day the argument get so banal that I just couldn’t take it any longer and started screaming at the top of my lungs, “Who cares about this crap!? Think of all the books you could be reading!” A beat of merciful silence followed, accompanied by funny looks all around, and then the vengeful baseball gods flicked me aside with their giant bats and the debate resumed, as pointed and pointless as ever.

It does end, eventually. After all, there is football season, hockey season, basketball season, intramural lawn dart season and countless other meaningless seasons to get worked up about.

And it struck me: I work with a bunch of geeks. Of course many of them think that about me. After all, I’m the guy who knows a lot about Star Trek and talks about time travel, and I’m just about the only one in the room who knew about The Lord of the Rings before the movies came out. I go to those dumb conventions and turn off Sports Center to see what’s on Sci-Fi. I even wrote a Quantum Leap book for Pete’s sake!

But after the gazillionth stat quoted from memory about some temporary relief pitcher whose career spanned five games in 1908, what else can you call them but geeks? How is that any different from some Trek fan remembering the combination to Kirk’s safe, or the shield frequency of the Enterprise D? It’s worse, if you ask me, because there seems to be no end to their meaningless stream of names and numbers.

And it doesn’t stop at baseball. I once shared an office with a movie buff. Every time she and another co-worker got together, they would inevitably start quoting scenes from The Godfather. Now, while The Godfather might have been groundbreaking in its day, I can’t understand the cult of devotees that still venerate this overblown, melodramatic, cliché of a mob movie. One day I finally had enough of their bad Don Corleone impressions and called them a couple of Godfather geeks. I couldn’t believe how taken aback they were at being called geeks. But how is what they were doing any different from me quoting scenes from The Wrath of Khan, probably the most quotable movie of all time? Of course, they didn’t see it that way. To them, The Godfather is probably the all-time greatest thing ever committed to film, and since they’re not alone in that assertion, they can quote it with impunity.

And I guess that’s what it comes down to. Geeks come in all stripes, but if there are enough of them, they cease being geeks. Sports, films, music—if you have the world’s largest collection of Beatle’s crap, you become known as a Beatles authority. But if you have every Star Wars prop you can get your hands on, you’re a hopeless nerd. Spend $666,000 on Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers and you’re a serious film buff; spend three days attending panels and listening to authors whose words have enriched your life immeasurably, and you’re a dork.

All right, you say. But we’re Science Fiction fans. We’re used to being misunderstood and stigmatized. What’s the big deal? Well, it’s not a big deal when it comes from a room full of dopes who’ve seemingly never cracked a book unless it had the words “Giant Sports Almanac” somewhere in the title.

But it is a big deal when that stigma is manifest in scholarly circles. I once took a Shakespeare class where the professor raised the question of whether or not platonic love could arise between two male characters without carrying homosexual overtones. I think we were talking about Hamlet and Horatio. I don’t really remember. But I do remember answering that the love could of course be platonic, and cited as an example Sam’s blatant expression of love for Frodo in Lord of the Rings, which was clearly platonic. The professor looked at me confusedly and brushed the example aside as unworthy of consideration, since I was quoting from a work clearly meant for children and one that he had never deigned to read. Never mind that Tolkien was a distinguished linguist and scholar, and that his books are based primarily on ancient myth cycles that largely form the basis of every story ever told. His books had wizards and elves in them and clearly couldn’t be raised in any serious literary discussion.

This small-mindedness is also evident in many bookstores. From the small independent bookshop in my town to The Strand Bookstore in New York City, which touts eight miles of books; the Science Fiction section in each is shoved almost embarrassedly into a corner, and has a lousy selection to boot.

So why does Science Fiction and Fantasy continue to get such a bum rap? Why does this prejudice persist? I’ll tell you why. Because, questions of intelligence aside, the Science Fiction fandom community is largely made up of socially stunted misfits who somehow persist in the notion that it is okay to go around speaking Klingon dressed like a fourteenth level mage. Or how about the latest abomination to hit the convention circuit, furries? I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but they finally managed to come up with something even more annoying than filk and twice as lame.

I can hear the whining fans now, “But that’s what makes us special, our willingness to immerse ourselves completely in the thing we love, despite what others may think.”

Well, defend it how you will, but it’s stupid and juvenile and embarrassing and it’s the main reason why everyone else laughs at us. Fandom is a persistent black eye on the face of Science Fiction and as long as it remains, we’ll never be taken seriously. And quite frankly I resent the idiots that perpetuate these stereotypes.

Tonight’s episode of Destinies features a panel discussion about the 35th anniversary of Stony Brook University’s Science Fiction Forum, which includes many anecdotes about the history of the club. Well, I have my own forum anecdote. When I first came to Stony Brook as a freshman in 1988, I was thrilled to learn about the forum. I couldn’t wait to meet other Science Fiction buffs who could maybe recommend good books, or hold intelligent conversations about Star Trek.

Unfortunately, I never got the chance. The night of my first meeting, I hadn’t even gotten into the door when this huge guy comes up to me, grunts and says, “Me Gorno!” He started to grunt something else, but by that time I was gone, fleeing as if from a burning building. And that was the last thing I had to do with the forum. Lest I be accused of the same thing I’m railing against here, I’m sure that Gorno wasn’t representative of all forum members. But he was enough to sour my experience.

I love Science Fiction. But I refuse to be associated with smelly, hairy losers like Gorno. Call me elitist or a snob or a self-hating fan, but Gorno is the reason why normal people like me get labeled geek. Gorno is the reason why Science Fiction is marginalized by the scholarly community and languishes in the literary ghetto. Gorno is the reason why even the people who write today’s best Science Fiction and Fantasy won’t own up it, calling it Weird Fiction or Magic Realism instead. They’ll do anything they can to be taken seriously, to separate themselves from the Gorno factor. And who can blame them.

If Gorno is the price of Science Fiction fandom, then I’m going to start brushing up on the batting averages of second-string relief pitchers from 1908.