Freaks and Geeks

Posted on December 31, 2011

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I’ve been on a marathon viewing of the 12-year-old series series “Freaks and Geeks” and I LOVE IT!

How could I have missed this the first time around?

The show, set in fictional Chippewa, Mich., only ran one season in 1999, and its biggest claim to fame is that it launched the careers of Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jason Segel and Judd Apatow. But its tag line, “It’s 1980 and this is what high school was like for the rest of us,” is so true: This show, like no other I have seen, brings us Gen Xers back to our way-too-familiar high school time warp, where we all wished we fit in and almost none of us did.

From cool-guy freak Daniel Desario (Franco) to bug-eyed, “Dallas”-loving geek Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr), to uber-geek Harris Trinsky (Stephen Lea Shepphard) with his feathery moustache and zen pronouncements about AV and Dungeons and Dragons, to chameleon Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini), who fits in with mathletes and stoners, and is beloved by freaks and geeks–we all knew these people, went to class with these people,  we laughed at these people, and they laughed at us.

And we all sought survival while struggling to believe that there was life beyond our oppressive bubbles of hormonal confusion and algebra.

I watched all 18 episodes in five days–thanks to dead time during plane travel–and the one that resonated most with me most was when Barry (David Krumholtz), the brother of geek Neil Schweiber (Samm Levine), comes home from college and tells Lindsay the best part of leaving high school behind was the ability to reinvent yourself, to be the person you always wished to be as opposed to the role bestowed upon us in that melting pot of educational opportunity.

How true.

I didn’t hate high school. I had friends to hang out with, sports to play, activities in which to participate. But I admit I couldn’t wait to get out and get to college, and when I got to college I couldn’t wait to get out to enter the real world. When I got to college, I no longer worried about fitting in there; I worried about fitting into the world.

One of the best parts of becoming a college professor is the chance to see college through different eyes, to truly know now what I wish I knew then. But I haven’t forgotten the student I once was, and I hope that somehow helps me better relate to my students and help them reinvent themselves as the people they wish to be.

As we get ready to start the last Winter Quarter ever at Ohio State, I hope my students take that reinvention to heart. It doesn’t matter what you were in high school–whether popular or alone (or both), a brain or a nerd, a jock or a cheerleader, now is the time to start becoming the person you wish to be in “real life,” where cliques are most often of your own choosing, a wide variety of friends with all different interests make life even more enriching, and your destiny becomes your own.

Be a freak.

Be a geek.

Be whatever you wish to be.

Happy New Year!

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