The writer John Niven was the guest on BBC Radio 6 Music’s lunchtime programme, providing listeners with a good reason never to attend reunions. He recalled how someone from schooldays who may have been regarded by themselves and by others, as “cock o’ the walk,” may have gone on to be a binman, but after a few drinks at a past pupils’ gathering they resume their former status. In contrast, the person who goes on to be the Bill Gates of the class is treated as a “geek,” treated as they were when they were in the classroom.
Not having attended a reunion since 1981, and being only twenty at that time, Niven’s experience offered an insight into the popularity of the nostalgia industry – it reorders relationships, the pecking order that has emerged in the succeeding years is set aside and lost statuses are recovered. Reunions seem not about a celebration of the present moment, but an exaltation of the reconstructed memories of the past.
Being someone who would have fallen into the category of geek (and remaining a geek for the forty ensuing years), the notion of meeting people not seen in decades seems odd. If there has not been contact in the intervening years, what purpose is there in going to see people just because they attended the same school or college two-thirds of a lifetime ago? There would be people you don’t remember, people you no longer recognise, people you never liked, and the people who were friends, but there would have been regular contact with them, anyway.
Perhaps being a geek provokes a scepticism toward the notion of reunions, the potential for which has been significantly enhanced by social media. Perhaps being a geek has created a jaundiced view of the past and that John Niven’s perspective is only one possible view of reunions. Perhaps being a geek has meant the retention of memories that most people would long ago have abandoned. A strong aversion to going back might say more about oneself than about the others gathered.
John Niven talks about the “cock o’ the walk” regaining status, but why is that a troubling thought to a geek? Shouldn’t it be a source of amusement? Shouldn’t it be possible to go to a gathering and laugh at the memories of things that were a very long time ago and are no longer of consequence? Perhaps one needs to be a geek who has become Bill Gates to really escape from the past, and how many geeks ever achieve such status?