Saturday, April 6, 2013

Ken Jennings and the Triumph of Geek-ness

Ken Jennings represents the ultimate ascendence of "geeks" into American popular culture.  In a great feature for Yahoo News, Kevin Lincoln profiles the legendary Jeopardy! champion who has since parlayed his trivia prowess into a one-man industry of knowledge.  Jennings is simply that know-it-all type of person who was fascinated by knowledge.  He's probably the kid who was not necessarily "nerdy" but always seemed to be reading something - whether it was a cereal box or sections of the text book that hadn't been assigned.

The identity of a "geek" was an interesting point of discussion in AP Language and Composition classes a couple years ago when students were asked on the exam to consider Leonid Fridman's essay which developed the argument "America Needs Its Nerds."  Fridman was making a case against the pervasive anti-intellectualism in America.  He noted:

There is something very wrong with the system of values in a society that has only derogatory terms like nerd and geek for the intellectually curious and academically serious. A geek, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, is a street performer who shocks the public by biting off heads of live chickens. It is a telling fact about our language and our culture that someone dedicated to pursuit of knowledge is compared to a freak biting the head off a live chicken 

The true dominance of geeks and nerds became a moot point of discussion years ago with the success of people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.  It was clear at that point that geeks had won.  However, Gates and Zuckerberg were all about business, and Ken Jennings is basically all about fun.  He finds knowledge fun, and he's crafted a nice little "business" out of that hobby.

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