Don M. Burrows
April 27, 2006 | Minnesota
Geek Prom hit the Science Museum
of Minnesota like a polyester invasion of plaid socks, black
plastic glasses and ill-fitting clothes.
Geeks showed the fifth annual
alternative prom no mercy, snapping their fingers to the tune
of “The Lone Ranger” in a talent contest, whispering
the secrets of passing AP calculus in secluded corners and
showing off the correct use of the slide rule to amazed onlookers.
It was a prom for those who
didn’t get a prom in their youth, or didn’t attend
the one their school had, many participants said — a
dance for the discomfited.
“You can be yourself
here,” said proud geek John Cavanaugh, the reigning
prom king until Saturday night. “Well, I can be myself
here,” he said. “There’s some real amateurs
The prom originally was in
Duluth, but organizers moved it to St. Paul this year at the
request of the Science Museum of Minnesota.
“Of course the marriage
of geek and science goes back through the ages,” said
Paul Lundgren, a co-founder of the prom and one of this year’s
Stations were set up in the
museum for handwriting analysis, the “chemistry of cocktails”
and cow-eye dissection. Many patrons were seen tipping back
the prom’s feature drink: the Dr. Spock: A sour-apple
martini with a cherry garnish.
“As you can see, there
are some pretty serious geeks here,” Lundgren added,
donning sunglasses reminiscent of a science-fiction film about
Just like every year, a king
and queen will be crowned tonight. Cavanaugh attributed his
win last year to implements he brought with him to the prom:
A briefcase with a 1989 weather review and an English-Klingon
dictionary. His queen, Crystal Pelkey, said she bribed the
judges with cards made from her New Kids on the Block comic
book collection, one of several crafts she lists as credentials,
another being the lampshade she has made out of love letters
from the third grade.
The Spaz Dance attracted some
takers a few hours into the evening, but two floors down a
larger crowd of the awkwardly dressed and “Star Trek”-obsessed
gathered to hear proclamations from the VIPs of the prom.
With such a plethora of geeky
expression on display, it’s hard not to wonder about
the common bond that brings them back every year.
Lundgren said that bond is
about a shared space for outcasts to mingle as one.
“Whether society has
labeled them a geek or they call themselves a geek, we’re
taking the word geek back.”
Jon Lee, one of the event's
masters of ceremony, undoubtedly would earn his geek credentials
even without the pinstripe suit coat he wore Saturday over
shorts. The holder of a bachelor’s degree in English,
he’s researched the etymology of the word geek and once
gave a PowerPoint presentation on the distinctions between
being a “nerd” and a “geek.”
Lundgren added that the definition
of geek has changed over time, and what was once “geek”
is now “chic,” a self-assuring mantra guests repeated
many times in the course of the evening.
Most of the crowd Saturday
night consisted of return geeks from previous years. Brian
Gioielli and Tracey Tennyson, two nonprofit workers, said
this was their first experience. Asked if he is a geek or
just here in disguise, Gioielli hesitated.
Tennyson answered for him in
“I for sure love ‘Star
Wars’,” Gioielli added, pointing to his Sith-worshipping
shirt hereby known as the clincher. “I guess I fit into
some of the stereotypes.”
And that’s what Geek
Prom seems to be about: The exaggeration of years of geek
stereotypes engrained in our culture through sitcoms and playground
ridicule. By overstating it themselves and reveling in the
eccentricities that separate these promgoers from so-called
“normal” people, we’re almost made to feel
sorry for those who spent high school fitting a mold and mocking
those that didn’t measure up.
As for the turnout, VIPs were
somewhat disappointed Saturday. More people came to this prom
than in previous years, but the sprawling corridors of the
Science Museum sometimes made the throngs of geeks look as
sparse as the electrons around a lithium atom.
But Lee is hopeful for next
“All we can say
for sure is that we will have it next year,” Lee said.
“But we’ve dreamed of having it here for five
years. For me, it’s a dream come true.”