Tue
Jan 29 2013 12:00pm

Fiction Into Reality: Why We Borrow From What We Love

Fiction Into Reality: Why Nerds Borrow From What We Love

Geeks of all stripes are in on a secret: being a fan is fun. And no matter where your obsessions lie, we share a whole lot in common; we read, we watch, we talk online, we theorize during downtime, we cosplay and meet at conventions. We can quote entire films back and forth, we read each other’s fanfics, we collect prop replicas... (Or is that last one just a me thing?)

And we also assimilate. Not in a creepy Borg kind of way, but it’s an interesting phenomenon all the same.

As a kid, I was burdened with a certain brand of weirdness. My obsession with Star Wars made me unlikely to interact with girls who were interested in gossiping, or playing house or sports. Luckily, I had a few friends who bolstered my obsession, and one afternoon we all made a pact—on certain days, we wore clothes that reminded us of the characters we were always pretending to be on the playground. So I was constantly donning cream-colored garments and tall boots to emulate Luke Skywalker, and another of my friends had a white pant and vest combo that looked like Leia on Hoth in Empire Strikes Back. I don’t know that anyone noticed our funny uniforms, but it made the sometimes-dull school days that much more exciting.

It was many years before I realized that I’d never been alone in this. And what I mean by that is—what fashion statements have you borrowed from favorite characters? There are some people with enough confidence to walk about in Tom Baker’s ten-foot long scarf, and while the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors did not create the trends of trainers with suits or cool bowties, they certainly spread them around. Watching the current Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey, Jr. has me constantly longing for trousers with suspenders attached by buttons rather than clips.

What about food and drink? Once when I was bartending, a man walked in and begged me to make him a Vesper martini, Bond’s cocktail of choice from Casino Royale. Being a fellow fan, I could recall the ingredients from memory and got right on it. (Interesting fact: if you want a version of the drink that tastes more like it would have in the 1950s, when Fleming invented it, you need some extra quinine and a higher proof vodka.) As I was mixing, I made sure to tell him that the drink might not go over well—combining gin with vodka? Shame on you, 007—but he simply had to try it. It was important to him. And while I’m not sure it suited his palate all that well, he was pleased as tropical punch to be drinking it. Myself, I’m partial to darjeeling tea because I saw Phileas Fogg order it on The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne. Most would say they prefer earl grey and lay the blame on Captain Picard.

What about words, or turns of phrases? Who uses “frak” when they don’t want to curse, or “frell” perhaps? How many of us say “shiny!” when we’re excited? Adopted colloquialisms from different times because we’ve read too much Dickens or Twain? Scientists have found in many cases that our ability to evolve has a lot to do with our ability to mimic behavior—these little adaptations might just be inevitable.

There’s so much more, up to and including characters who affect your entire life’s path. I went on an archaeological dig as a university student, and the man in charge of our little expedition wore a brown fedora. It seemed like quite the coincidence until his phone went off… and played the Indiana Jones theme. Safe to say that an entire generation of archaeologists exist primarily because Indy summoned them as children to his noble calling. I admit to going through a period where I considered it myself, only deterred by the fact that I’m not particularly talented with linguistics.

And then there’s body language… which opens up a whole different window on another floor of the house. I’m sure if some psychology major wanted to do a study to see how subjects altered their physical person (even their voices) to match a character they admired, the data on that would be fascinating. I find myself doing it unconsciously all the time, the same way I would around a good friend or family member who I’d spent too much time with.

But why do we do these things? Absorb these bobs and pieces and let them reconstruct parts of us? We can say it binds us to the geek community when we’re together, sure, but I’d wager it goes far beyond that personally. Maybe it’s a little bit about courage. About reinvention. About taking charge of yourself, and becoming the person you want to be. When you drink earl grey, maybe you feel as though you’ve gained some of Captain Picard’s enlightened perspective. When you take archaeology classes, maybe you’re certain that you could be the one to discover Tannis. When you wear a fantastic greatcoat, maybe feeling awkward at parties becomes an element of your working genius.

Part of the reason why we love fiction is the ways in which it inspires us, encourages us to be more and dream farther. And sometimes adopting the qualities, clothes, or patter of someone who feels like a friend—even if they aren’t real—can help us do the things we never imagined were possible. Others will call it escapist and make fun, but that doesn’t change a thing. There are so many people who contribute to our lives and define what we will become. Some of them are real. Some of them are made of words or pixels or gigabytes of film. All of them are important.

Image created by DeviantArt user NBetween.


Emily Asher-Perrin owns far too many waistcoats, and it is all fiction’s fault. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

24 comments
William Carter
1. wcarter
I have a fedora. I blame it on a combination of Indiana Jones and my later obsession with Linux. On a side note I often wore it under my helmet during my days as a white water raft guide.
Neither I nor any of my customers ever ever got seriously hurt while I was wearing that hat despite swimming some rough IV's a time or two. So in hind sight it is also apparently lucky (and yes there is such a thing as Linux geeks who are also into extreme sports).
Rancho Unicorno
2. Rancho Unicorno
The hard part for me is not feeling weird when I'm the only one.

I wear bow ties to work on a regular basis. I use any excuse for cool weather to justify wearing my scarf (and I have to work hard to find excuses...I live in Houston). When I carry my TARDIS lunch box, it feels a little crazy obsessive. So I bring my Batman lunchbox. As soon as my mother-in-law finished my cunning hat, I'm going to to wear it when it's not "surface of the sun" hot. But, inertia means I normally bring the TARDIS and I don't have the hat yet.

I'm lucky that the missus indulges me, but I can't remember the last time someone recognized my scarf, said "bow ties are cool," or otherwise made me feel like part of a bigger community. I wear and carry them because, and I think Emily captures this better than I can, it reminds me that I need to be proud of who I am and not hide myself. I just wish I could get that message back to my 10yo self.

No, I take that back. Someone asked me where I got my Batman lunchbox because she wanted to get one for her grandson.
Steven Lyle Jordan
3. Steven Lyle Jordan
This isn't too different from what more "mainstream" people do: I like to wear off-the-rack clothes and sportcoats because I admire Jim Rockford, I say "There ya go" because I grew up watching McCloud, etc. Such affectations are part of my personality, but they are low-key enough to go unnoticed by most.

It does take a special level of courage to take on an affectation that is obviously media-based, because all but the most ubiquitous can open you up to ridicule. (Least ridicule-prone: Sports jerseys.) Thank heaven we have Halloween and costume parties, where you can at least try on your affectation in good company, if you don't have the stones to do it alone.
Rancho Unicorno
4. Shamrock Jack
Fandom, at it's essence, is fun. You are enjoying something that you love, in whatever fun way comes to mind. For me, I wear the occasional costume or (much more often) licensed t-shirt. I have a 14 foot Doctor Who scarf I made during a particularly boring winter. I made a Star Trek uniform from a pattern I found at a thrift store. I don't do this because I want the attention or to be a part of something. More often than not, it's like a big joke on the world that only I'm aware of. When I get compliments on wearing a suit and sneakers, I don't point out that Doctor Who gave me the idea. I just smile. This Sunday I'm wearing a kilt to church because I thought it would be funny.

About three years ago my best friend got married and I was the best man. It was a traditional "suits and dresses wedding" (I had a Lord of the Rings theme wedding.) and I decided it would be fun to bring my Sonic Screwdriver in my jacket pocket. As fate would have it, the microphone broke. Without skipping a beat, I attempted to fix it with the aforementioned screwdriver. I failed, gloriously, but had fun.

One final anecdote, when I was eighteen I got a skull tattooed on my arm. In retrospect, it was a mistake and I have since learne to appreciate the word "permanent". When the third Pirates of the Carribbean movie came out, I was in line at a theatre. I wore a tanktop, jeans, and a bandana. I've got a beard and long hair. A kid, about six looked up at me and asked "are you a pirate?" to which I simply replied "arr."

There was a time in which I wanted to be like the crowd and fit in. I learned that it was much more fun for me to embrace my passions and oddities. I am a much happier person because of that. Cheers.
Alan Brown
5. AlanBrown
I wore bow ties before the Doctor did, but do admit that he gave me a line to say when my wife, who doesn't care for the look, suggested I take it off.
Other than that, I don't agree with your premise at all.
Allons y.
Rancho Unicorno
7. AlexKingstonIsMyAvatar
Palette, not palate. SHEESH!
Rancho Unicorno
9. Jetse
I'm normally quite forgiving of typos (or misspellings), but to write 'pallet' in a long paragraph about tasting drinks . . .

To recap:

Pallet is a flat structure to transport goods. In my mind's eye see a guy walking into a bar with a pallet full of drinks, needing a Vesper martini to complete his collection.


Palette is a wooden board used for mixing colours for a painting, also used in computer graphics.


Palate is the roof of the mouth. Together with the tongue, the esophagus and the epiglottis, it contains the taste buds we use to enjoy food and drinks.

So, in the context of the paragraph about the Vesper martini 'palate' is meant. If its homophones are confusing, one could say: "I'm not sure if this drink is to your taste".
Rancho Unicorno
10. Ryan Viergutz
I stomp around in a trenchcoat any time I get the chance because it makes me feel like a spy or a detective.

I used to say "frell" until I started to use recognizable profanity. :D

I keep emulating the mannerisms of metal rock stars in music videos. I figure I fail at it immensely but it's still entertaining.
Alan Brown
11. AlanBrown
This article kind of touched on something that I found very satisfying. That is the point you reach in life when you realize that it is more important to please yourself than it is to please other people. As an old sailor once said to me, "I yam what I yam, and that's all what I yam." And that liberating advice helped set me free. If I liked a movie or a book, I talked about it without worrying about what people would think. And I found that, when I did that, I found as many people who agreed with me as thought I was different, and found friends who shared my interests.
We are drawn to things that interest us and excite us. If we pick things up from those entertainments, it is like a 'chicken and egg' situation. After all, our own likes and dislikes drew us to those entertainments in the first place. Of course we will find things among them that we enjoy emulating. People are chameleons. When surrounded by others with a different accent, we tend to pick it up ourselves. One of the funnest things about the modern world is that, instead of promoting uniformity, the explosion of communications technology seems to be fostering a wild increase in diversity.
Rancho Unicorno
12. MWeaver
I started drinking 'tea, Earl Grey, hot' when I was a teenager.
Rancho Unicorno
13. Megs
I started college in a different part of the country from where I grew up just after Firefly aired and quickly began hanging with the geeky crowd. I didn't watch the show until a year or so later, at which point I suddently realized that a bunch of the slang I thought was regional was actually from the show. Whups.
Rancho Unicorno
14. Herbert George Wells
When I was 5 or 6 years old I pretended to be an android named Andrew, the Bicentential Man, after reading an Asimov anthology by the same name. This isolated me from other students and teachers alike. Later in primary school I became obsessed with Hari Seldon after reading the Foundation Trilogy, and Harry Harrison's inimicable Stainless Steel Rat.

A lot of my moral and ethical behaviour was modelled in childhood from Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and Le Guin resulting in a very liberal and inclusive world view.

Had I grown up on a diet of Power Rangers, Ben 10 and whatever other drivel kids get these days I don't know what sort of person I may have become.
Rancho Unicorno
15. cmccrzy
I say frack (at least that's how I thought it was spelled before, well...) all the time, and I've said it for a long time, because we couldn't say fuck at school. Even frack was frowned upon. I don't know where I learned it, but I never heard of "Battlestar Galactica" until high school, and I've never actually seen any of the original series. I only started watching it about a year ago. I probably just copied my Dad or one of my teachers because, well... it's a "safer" word and it sounds neat. I also use "slag it" ("Batman Beyond") because I like the way it sounds over the sound of "fuck it", so I've actually intentionally remembered to say it at certain times, rather than several alternatives. It also sounds more dramatic. Unfortunately, whenever I'm writing, I find my characters using this instead of more "natural" terminology in their own universe... hmm...

Beyond that, I'll say lines from movies or TV shows or books because I just think they're funny or I like the way they sound. I actually said "I'm cone sold stober" ("Howl's Moving Castle" - Dianna Wynne Jones) when it was entirely appropriate a few days ago when some friends and I were goofing off and so tired we couldn't talk straight, and everyone laughed. Just spreading the love.
Rancho Unicorno
16. SueQ
I have the fedora & the long 'Dr. Who' scarf (knitted it myself). When you swear with a 'frak' or othe SF obscenity, you make new friends who smile and agree ('cause they know what you mean).
Bow ties are very, very cool: Bogey, Indiana Jones, John Denver, and James Bond all wore them at one time or another (especially with a Tuxedo).
Rancho Unicorno
17. Arel
I usually wear a large ring, set with an onyx, on my index finger, and was doing so long before Johnny Depp or Ben Cross...
Rancho Unicorno
18. Scarlett
That was so eloquently put! I really liked how you linked it to evolution and learning and how you differentiated between escapism (as the non-believers would put it) and learning from friends (as though who have experienced it know). This truly makes me smile and even more proud to be a geek!
Chelsea Rash
19. Crashwriter
This is the point where I admit I have a silver pentagram-inscribed-in-a-circle necklace. However, I don't have a custom-cut ruby to add to its center. Curse you, Jim Butcher!
Rancho Unicorno
20. 222Ravens
I am a girl who wears bowties because they had always seemed interesting, but the Doctor told me they were cool. I have a feminine version of the Doctor's tweed coat, and a beige trenchcoat like Castiel's. I have red leather shoes, a short red skirt, orange turtleneck and glasses that make me look like Velma from Scooby Doo (the short red hair helps), and I keep the time with a Gallifreyan fob watch.

I may also eat Jammy Dodgers on occasion, and wear Victorian inspired attire like that of my favourite steampunk heroes.

When I wear a fedora, I flip it over and onto my head like Neal Caffrey of White Collar.

I have a vest and velvet blazer combo that is extremely Hobbit-like, and when I write in my Tolkien inspired moleskine, it's usually with my sonic screwdriver pen.

And Supernatural has recently gotten me more into classic rock.

We all borrow from others in our habits and fashions. When one borrows from real people, they are fashionable and following trends. When it is from the fictional, it's considered odd or nerdy.

But both are equally valid, and I know which one I find to be more fun.
Rancho Unicorno
21. Steve Shea
I wasn't really following until near the end, with the behavior and voice mimicry, and it all came home. I grew up with a terrible, shy, tittering laugh that always got me mocked. In high school, I was pretty large, so this was slightly more awkward.

The awful (oh, but I loved them) "Beverly Hills Cop" movies came out then, and Eddie Murphy's laugh (like a donkey's, even compared to his voice acting decades later in the "Shrek" films) somehow impressed itself on my adolescent mind as an improvement.

It did rid me of the tittering laugh, but I had to relax out of the Eddie Murphy laugh too, later.

The other great effect it had was proving who my real friends were.
Rancho Unicorno
22. Dormouse
I love bowties, though I think that has a lot to do with Doctor Who. I have a little steampunk top hat that is supposed to be attached to a headband to stay on ( granted my headband broke so I've got to get a new one), and I also have a gear ring ( also currently broken and waiting to be fixed) and have been working on getting some other streampunk outfit pieces, though I'm not entirely sure where that obsession came from. I am currently working on a Sebastian Michaelis cosplay from Black Butler , it's a work in progress, which is partially because I've been watching anime for as long as I can remember. I have an Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist) cosplay in the works, when I can find the jacket again( kinda temporarily misplaced it). I have an Abby Sciuto (NCIS character) "cosplay" in the works along with attempting to figure out a cosplay of Wrath or maybe Envy possibly even Lust (both Fullmetal Alchemist homunculi ). I even tried ( hair color is wrong though) to cosplay Misa Amane from Death Note. I attempt to say frak instead of cursing, 'cause of school. I love Star Trek ( mostly watched Next Generation) but alas do not like Earl Grey tea. Like 222Ravens I too have been inspired by my love of Supernatural, I have a neklace that is like their anti-possession charms, and started wearing a silver band ring on my right hand like Dean, though my ring is more feminine, and have been looking for a replica of Dean's necklace he wore.
Jill Blank
24. blankties
Fun article. Bow Ties are definitely cool in our household! For Jr Prom my son chose a bowtie (very few options). The next year (thanks to DW?) tuxedo companies had several more available and promoted in their pictures.

My husband's work desk has a TARDIS USB hub and a red Dalek. When other employees (strangers) consult with him, every so often, someone blurts out: "You have a TARDIS on your desk!!!" Instant ice-breaker!

We acquire things and adopt mannerisms/phrases, simply because we like it; it's an expression of our fandom. But, it also marks us as part of an unofficial club, an unspoken signal to strangers and acquaintances about a shared love/knowledge of an entirely different universe!

When my regular delivery man noticed the "Exploding TARDIS" print, he told me all about his brother's DW obsession (wink, wink) -- and told me about all the Doctors in Dr Seuss' "Whoville" setting. (He'd also seen episodes I'm *still* waiting for, so I got some "spoiler-worthy" dish!)

The interstate driver whose "Other Car is a TARDIS" will never know the excitement she caused the occupants of our car. It was a little thing that totally brightened our day! (It's probably just as well we didn't catch up to her again; I doubt our excited gestures would've translated accurately....)

At my daughter' college, someone stomped out, "HELLO, SWEETIE" followed by numbers on the pristine snow of the football field. She sent a photo to her Who-vian friends, starting a fun series of text messages about the potential meaning of the mysterious message. Snow-Stomper might not even be a DW fan! -- but what fun to be part of the group that sees The Doctor (and friends) at work in our own world!

Fans-Connecting-with-Fans: Sometimes it's nothing more than a "Nice Shirt" (or bowtie, hat, coat, shoes, etc.) comment and a knowing smile shared with a total stranger in passing. At other times, a whole conversation is started and a new friend is gained. Always, we're left with a positive feeling because because we recognize a fellow Fan.

Sometimes we become the door that opens a whole world to a brand new fan! My children shared DW with several of their peers, and created their own unofficial fan club. Now *other* classmates who've discovered DW-fan/friends at their respective colleges come back to my children for understanding. We're the G0-To place for borrowing DVDs and/or hosting marathon viewings over breaks.

Bottom Line: everyone interprets things through their own lenses; Fans just have more fun!
Jill Blank
25. blankties
Other favorite phrasesused with our in-the-know social group:

"Pockets!" -- Donna Noble's repeated exclamation/lament of the Runaway Bride, Doctor Who episode --used by us females pleasantly surprised to *find* pockets in our dresses and/or formal gowns!

"P-P-P-Pizza!: -- Mickey (the Auton), in Rose episode, Doctor Who

"Moisture-ize Me!" -- Cassandra, the bitchy-trampoline, DW

"Spoilers!" and "Hello, Sweetie" -- River Song, DW (the latter is my general ring tone; my husband likes it so much, he set it as my personal ringtone on his phone -- the Phineas & Ferb theme is our children...)

"SMEG!" and "Smeghead" etc. -- Red Dwarf!

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