Be a Geek and a Jock

A friend of mine in college once contrasted Russell Crowe and Vin Diesel.  One, she said, was great actor but a horrible human being; the other was a great human being but a horrible actor.  The point was that the ideal actor would be some combination of Crowe and Diesel, perhaps “Russell Diesel” or “Vin Crowe” (actually, I like that one!).  “Vin Crowe” would be the best of both worlds.  But what surprised me is her mention that Vin Diesel plays Dungeons and Dragons.

Yes, the star of the Fast and the Furious series rolls a D20.

And Diesel’s no casual fan, either.  Playing for 20 years, he’s been a DM for many campaigns, written material for D & D manuals, and had his favorite PC tattooed on him.  It’s such a surprise because a high-profile action star isn’t what one has come to expect from the typical role-playing geek.  Well, there shouldn’t be such a thing.

What disarms me the most is how fit he is.

I’m ashamed for still keeping this mental image of what a geek should look like.  We’re not cast from the same pimple-faced, chubby, pale mold.  Many of us are attractive.  Some work in show business.  It’s the false dichotomy of geeks vs. jocks, of brain vs. brawn.  It seems as though you can’t be both smart and fit, or even smart and healthy.  We have this notion of min-maxing some supposed fixed reservoir of talent, and that spreading it on both ends of the scale might make us unremarkable.  It should be obvious that this isn’t the case at all.

A further rebuttal to the geeks vs. jocks dichotomy is someone no longer appreciated in fandom: Keanu Reeves.  He’s known for playing, well, simple characters, but Reeves is actually well-read (especially in philosphy), and apparently as big a fanboy as many of us.  Yet Reeves played hockey in high school (earning a MVP nod) and trained in various martial arts disciplines for his roles in the Matrix series.  You might say, well, he started as a jock, but he didn’t stay in that pigeon hole, did he?

I’m not the only one who still clings to this false dichotomy — the stereotype of the fat geek is so rampant in our culture that it might never leave.  It’s no new development, either.  Intellectuals have always been perceived as effeminate in Western culture; intellectual pursuits were the calling of weaker men, it was thought, whereas the strongest were called to war.  The geek stereotype is simply an extension of centuries of anti-intellectual bias.  We’re Athens fighting Sparta millenia later.  Ever since the notion of the division between body and mind, we geeks have always chosen the mind.

And we’re suffering for it.  The US has an obesity problem, but those who live sedentary lifestyles — those in intellectual careers, such as myself — suffer greater risk of diabetes, heart problems and other health issues later in life.  Our jobs and our livelihoods depend on keeping our minds sharp, yet our bodies go dull.  I have friends who are paying the consequences of ignoring their physical needs, and such dire consequences they are.

In fact, I came close to contracting Type 2 Diabetes myself.  Less than two years ago I weighed 255 pounds.  I weigh 190 now, and I struggle daily to keep my weight under control.  It takes a great amount of mental discipline to keep my bad habits in check.  I still want to guzzle sugary, caffeinated soda, and I submit to temptation when one of my skinnier co-workers brings a box of cookies to the office.

What we geeks should remember is that the Platonic idealism, like the jock/geek dichotomy, is false.  Your brain is part of your body, and if you don’t take care of your body, your brain will suffer for it.  Even if you keep your brain in the best of health, it’ll do no good if your heart can’t pump blood to it after an infarction.  There are other benefits to exercise and good diet besides keeping your brain alive: your intellectual capacity often improves as well.

Instead of the stereotype that much of society still pins us under, we should take up another image: that of the Jedi.  George Lucas drew inspiration from Taoism and Zen Buddhism when he developed Star Wars, and the Jedi Knights are perfect exemplars of the Eastern ideal of the “scholar warrior”: physically agile and disciplined, but with a sharp mind and keen insight.  It’s an image that we could embrace, one already at home with our sensibilities.  In fact, some intrepid entrepreneur would make a pretty penny making real-life Jedi Academies (and in fact, some non-profit programs have begun for young children).  I would join if there were one near me.  Until that happens, I’ll continue to run.

The likes of Vin Diesel, Keanu Reeves and others shouldn’t surprise us like it did me.  We geeks are everyone, the football quarterback hero as well as the computer club president.  We should take better care of ourselves.  After all, the brain’s just another organ.