Why Geek Is the New Cool

(Video courtesy Will C. Greenway)

San Diego Comic-Con wanted to know “Why Geek is the New Cool,” and Mensa gladly helped provide the answer. American Mensa hosted a Comic-Con panel to explore the recent surge in popularity of quirky, intelligent — yet relatable — protagonists in pop culture.

The July 22 panel was the culmination of eight years of work for LaRae Bakerink, avid Comic-Con attendee and Chair of American Mensa. “It was important for that audience to hear that it’s OK to be smart,” said Bakerink.

Early in the discussion, moderator Steven L. Sears, a television writer and producer for such shows as Xena: Warrior Princess, noted the evolution of geek culture within the entertainment and pop culture environments. “It’s that passion for intelligence and also the acceptance of it,” Sears said, “as opposed to something that is marginalized and considered to be a plot point or some sort of contrivance.”

Bakerink was joined on the panel by Executive Director Trevor Mitchell and Mensans Christopher Lastrapes, Vice President of Content Strategy at Theorem Media, and Leif Gantvoort, an actor and director whose credits include The Amazing Spider-Man.

The fun conversation also frankly explored the ups and downs of embracing one’s smartness. “Finding my tribe was a big part of getting to a really happy place in my life,” said panelist Lee Parkhurst, Manager of Digital Brand Marketing for Educational Insights.

“I come from a small, rural community just up the coast,” said Gantvoort. “A lot of my friends growing up, their existence is vastly different from mine. So I see it as my responsibility to introduce them to my existence in a positive way. But it’s still a responsibility because they are less likely to try to do that for me.”

Several on the panel linked their experiences and today’s embrace of the nerd directly back to their parents. “When my parents were growing up, everyone read comic books,” said Lastrapes. “My dad would read them. My mom would read them.”

Added Parkhurst: “Nowadays, I feel like it’s in a lot of ways it’s the geeky person in the character lineup that shows all of this multifaceted stuff within them — of kindness and, yeah, really smart but also like super into this really cool thing over here. And showing that people have so many layers within them. And I actually really love that that started with the geek of the group.”

And what would a Comic-Con panel be without talk of superheroes. “From the beginning, my mom always encouraged me to pursue intelligence and anything I wanted,” said panelist Brandon Davis, Special Assignments Producer for Comicbook.com, who said his mom “was totally my idol.”

“Looking back, she did everything for me,” he said.