Once upon a time, an awkward, nerdy producer at CNN.com convinced her bosses it was time to jump on the geek bandwagon – but do it differently.
Instead of producing stories that included little context for the passion people have about comic books, sci-fi, cosplay and all things geeky, we would examine the “why” of nerd culture. We would report on the people and the creative obsessions that drew them together. And, so a blog was born.
Now on CNN.com, you can regularly read stories surrounding nerdy pursuits and geeky events, from webcomics to Dragon*Con. Starting in the new year, we’ll be integrating the geek beat into the Living section at large and archiving Geek Out!
Thank you for reading the blog, posting your comments and sharing your views. We will continue to explore the many sides of nerdy culture on the site. We invite you to be a part of our ongoing conversation.
My greatest appreciation,
While the mock Civil War troops camped outside the grand porch of a large house in Mentor, Ohio, on a chilly February day, a bearded man captured their attention.
"The president's here!" said the captain, as the figure of James A. Garfield made an impromptu check of the soldiers. The next day the story of the chance inspection was in the paper, and the dignified gentleman's telephone was ringing off the hook.
Thus began Ed Haney’s journey as a presidential re-enactor. It was quite fortuitous he grew that beard.
Haney has been portraying President Garfield for 25 years now. He is a living historian, and began his presidential journey as a favor to the curator of the James A. Garfield National Historic Site, the museum housed in the preserved home of the 20th US president. He studied up on the president, grew a beard, rented a costume and portrayed the assassinated leader for a fundraiser organized to help fix up the house Garfield lived in from 1876-1881.
Living historians are "dedicated to the preservation of history through correct presentations of life and the preservation of our country's landmarks, cemeteries, and battlefields," according to the National Society of Living Historians. They often participate in Revolutionary and Civil War reenactments or work in living museums such as Old Fort Niagara in New York or Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia.
Haney's fateful turn as Garfield developed into an interest he couldn't shake. "The more I started reading about him, the more I was fascinated by him," he said. Newly retired, Haney joined the museum in a more substantial way as a tour guide (in the guise of Garfield) and began collecting Garfield memorabilia. (His spare room is filled with Garfield mementos, including a 38-star US flag, the type that flew while Garfield was in office.)
Haney's enthusiasm for Garfield ultimately led him away from the museum to organize a troupe of like-minded re-enactors that call themselves We Made History.
Being a living historian can be a hobby or a career: Haney and his friends work as independent contractors, scheduling educational appearances at museums, schools and civic clubs. They earn money for their portrayals, but don't depend on their fees to make a living. While some living historians choose to recreate a persona based on their own personal family history or invent a character from the past, Haney's group chose very specific and recognizable figures from American history to bring to life.
Puns make a lot of people groan. But not me, I love them.
And when I dress up for Halloween at the office, I pun it up.
Halloween is a day which makes adopting a different character or persona completely socially acceptable. With that kind of freedom, wouldn't you want to be someone or something devilishly clever, at the very least?
That's my plan.
On October 31, as I cross Centennial Park Boulevard in Atlanta, Georgia, and head into the CNN headquarters, I'll have the same excited grin on my face as I always have on Halloween. I'll be exceedingly pleased and proud of the punny costume I dreamed up and put together - this year I'll go as Hell-o Kitty - and I'll barely hold back my enthusiasm when people ask what I am.
Simultaneously, I'll temper my squee with the understanding of what lies ahead: The inevitable "huh?" and "I don't get it."
One year I was particularly happy with how I'd executed the pun of a small Orange Julius. I created a Roman soldier's tunic and lappets and wore a laurel wreath crown, all in shades of orange. And I'm short, so I loved that effectively I was a mini-sized Julius Caesar. The perfect rendition of a small Orange Julius! But the majority of my coworkers guessed I was Pocahontas.
Last year I went as pumpkin pi. I created a poofy orange dress and wore a green fez (which functioned as a stem) that were covered in mathematical equations which solved pi. I even put a joke one on there: ∏≠r2 Get it? Pie are round, not square. Once again, I stumped the journalists of CNN.com. I didn't think it was that subtle.
Even my simplest costume - a witch hat, lab coat and prescription pad - left a few coworkers scratching their head. And how obvious is that one? FULL POST
Spoiler alert: You watched Saturday night's "Doctor Who" mid-season finale, right? If you missed it, or are intending, one day, to Netflix the series and DON'T want any inkling of what happened in the episode, stop reading now. We don't divulge information that hasn't been already well-publicized. But we know even the faintest of spoilers can get you riled up like a Dalek on the trail of a sonic screwdriver. Read at your own risk.
Amy and Rory couldn't travel with The Doctor forever. Not that fans suspected they could - the Doctor's past includes many companions. But now we have to wait until the special Christmas episode, possibly beyond that, to see the next stop on the epic TARDIS hitchhike.
In Saturday’s “Doctor Who” mid-season finale, “change” and “endings” were as thick as the fog that attends the sneaky, predatory weeping angels. For a show about an alien who travels through time saving Earth and thwarting evil across the universe, the message got a bit heavy-handed at times. It was almost as if executive producer Steven Moffat was trying to prepare himself, the Doctor and the audience for the inevitable.
Even Matt Smith (the eleventh man to play the Doctor) was emphasizing that theme in an interview before last month's New York City season premiere screening.
“The show is about change,” he said. “Like Steven likes to say, it can never be predictable, it can never be cozy – It’s got to feel like it’s sort of marking new territory, I think, every season.”
But why belabor the point? This is a television show that for nearly 50 years has established the fact that the characters on the show are always coming and going - including the titular main character, the Doctor (who?) Even relatively new fans (and certainly, American fans fit that bill) of the show have gleaned that time travel is a limited engagement.
That started in 1966, when the show’s original Doctor, William Hartnell, needed to retire due to health issues. The show's producers devised a clever plan to transition to a new actor, Patrick Troughton, in the main character role.
The alien nature of the Doctor provided the fix: As a species known as a Time Lord, the Doctor can regenerate instead of dying in the traditional sense. Once regenerated, the Doctor is essentially a new person: he retains memories from his previous life but has a fresh personality.
This prevents a classic Dick York/Dick Sargent quandary where a new actor is installed and no one is supposed to notice the change. Even better, when an actor takes over the Doctor’s role, they aren’t trying to mimic their predecessor’s performance, which allows them to put a unique spin on the character all while adhering to the show’s canon.
"Doctor Who" fans, or “Whovians,” are unique among television show fandoms in that each fan can point to a favorite version of the Doctor without also having overwhelming disdain for any particular actor in the role. A popular T-shirt cheekily states, “You never forget your first Doctor,” and it’s spot-on; a Whovian’s fan identity is typically established with the first incarnation of the Time Lord (or his companion) they fall in love with. FULL POST
Editor's note: Here's an oldie but a goodie that we published back in 2010. If you're wondering how to quickly broaden your pirate vocabulary, read on, scurvy dogs. But beware: you might want to venture further into this rum-fueled community.
Want to party with a guy who looks like Johnny Depp? How about carouse with "rock stars" from the 18th century who wear heavy eyeliner, speak the King's English and keep flasks of rum on them at all times?
If the rum runs out, one could always order a beer thusly: "Alesman, me cup be dry as an old woman's slipper!"
Why pirates? While pirate characters are charming rapscallions (like "Jack Sparrow" from "The Pirates of the Caribbean" movies), villainous but not too scary (like "Captain Hook" from "Peter Pan"), intelligent and even acrobatic (as Errol Flynn was in 1935's "Captain Blood"), the persona of a pirate offers fans even more.
"With pirates you have the carefreeness [sic] of the sea," said Wade Finch, a network administrator for Georgia Tech who cosplays as "Captain Jack Sparrow."
"Of course you have the killing and the pillaging and all that, but we don't celebrate that side of things. We celebrate the happy-go-lucky nature of things being free and the camaraderie of your fellow man like the crew aboard a ship," he said.
A thriving community of pirate fans has turned foul-mouthed, rum-fueled revelry into a lifestyle. FULL POST