I caught a few folks on Facebook recently who posted something to the effect of: “Tell me things that would get your geek card revoked. Here are some of mine…” They would then proceed to rattle off some bullet points about how they don’t like The Lord of the Rings and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or how they think certain popular creators are criminally over-rated, or whatever opinions they have that would be generally considered unpopular to the point of heretical in “typical” geek circles.

I put “typical” in quotes because there of course is no typical geek. The type of person who is drawn to the work of, say, Joss Whedon is not the same type of person who is drawn to the X-Files. There’s probably some overlap between them, but we’re still talking about two different and fairly distinct groups. So lumping them all together, as often happens at comic cons, is a bit misleading as it suggests their fandoms are the same.

To be fair, in many respects, these fandoms are all the same. Their most devoted members express the same passion, and the primary difference is in where and how it’s directed. But because fans are drawn to different things for different reasons, the traits that tend to surface most frequently in a fandom vary based on what the fans are responding to. The sense of hope and eternal optimism in the face of overwhelming odds might be more prevalent among Star Wars fans doesn’t necessarily translate very well to the quirky irreverence in Doctor Who. That’s not to say you can’t be a fan of both, but in the company of other Doctor Who fans, the traits more closely associated with the Doctor will be more prominent, where in the company of other Star Wars fans, the traits more often found in those movies will be on greater display.

Based on the ideals and mores shown in the source material, fans will often take those concepts and hold them up as ideals of the fan group. Then it becomes an unwritten rule that being a fan in the group “requires” one to strive for that ideal. In psychological terms, it’s called a prototype: an idealized form of what a “true” fan should be within that group. The closer an individual comes to embodying that prototype, the “greater” of a fan they’re often seen as.

Being in different fandoms, though, means that you’d be striving to match multiple prototypes simultaneously, even if some of those ideals are in contrast with one another. Hence, emphasizing different traits among different groups. It’s essentially a variation on code-switching, which you may have heard about in some news reports in recent years. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s perfectly natural; we are all individuals and come at everything with our own individual preferences, baggage, and biases.

What that means, though, is that even within a single fandom, there really is no one who perfectly embodies the prototype’s features. And bringing together the collection of all geeks, I doubt it’s even possible to reconcile all of the different prototypes to form a single “geek” prototype. And with no geek prototype to try to mold yourself after, who’s to say whether you’re geek enough for the rest of the crowd? No one issues geek cards. So like what you like, and don’t worry about conforming to some standard that doesn’t even exist!