Posts Tagged ‘Lost’

ogre

It is impossible to deny that the current climate of pop culture has become more accepting of nerd and geek culture. There are those who might feel like that is bad and would contend that pop culture is being consumed wholesale by how mainstream  traditionally nerdy things from comic books to sci-fi and everything in between has become. There are some in the nerd community, if there is such a thing, that believe this to be a horrifying portent of the future and that their beloved properties and interests will be homogenized and their very lives turned into marketing. I think these people need to chill the fuck out.

This topic has been swirling around in my head for a while and I have wanted to write about this in the way that writer’s do when they are thinking whist fully about writing while doing something else they don’t want to do but then when the time comes to write about it they do anything else in the world to keep from ruining that perfect picture of how great it might be if you write it by actually writing it and fucking it all up. Then I read an article on Cracked, a site that I love, by John Cheese, a writer I love, that really bothered me. You can read it here. The article lists four reasons 2o13 officially marked the death of the nerd and postulates that the mainstreaming of nerds and nerd culture is destroying what it is to be a nerd by very definition and is robbing nerds of their identity. While I understand the sentiment and where it is coming from, I wholeheartedly disagree and I find some of the points to be somewhat insulting and definitely exclusionary…of course that last bit is kind of the point Cheese is getting at so there are no big reveals there.

Part of the disconnect that we are always going to have in any discussion about nerdy related topics is that the term is so broadly defined. This is an issue that the article addresses right up front with the assertion that it is over used and wrongfully applied to people who do not fall into the category properly. I both agree and disagree in equal measures to this point.

I agree insofar as when I was in middle school being beaten up I was called a nerd on a fairly regular basis. I was also called many other things but aside from ‘faggot'(a word I detest), nerd was the most common one. So it was clear then that my love of video games, Dungeons and Dragons, science fiction, fantasy and cartoons branded me a nerd and put me on the fair game list for douche bags to spit in my hair and read passages out of the Terry Brooks book I was reading in a mocking sing-song voice to amuse the girl I had been crushing on who found my torture delightful. What was confusing for me, however, is when I was on the chess team in high school I was mocked by some of those guys for not being smart enough or successful enough academically. It was pretty weird to be bullied by both popular jocks and nerds at the same time and the term inbetweener wasn’t really being used too much at the time. I settled into geek eventually because, for me, it implied fanaticism and enjoyment of traditionally nerdy things without the academic achievements or intelligence because by that time I had decided that I was obviously an idiot.

So, yeah, I agree that nerd isn’t necessarily a catch-all and definitely can be applied to people who do not want you to sully the niche they have carved out for themselves, even if a lot of that stems from a well-earned mistrust of outsiders. But I disagree in that I feel like nerdiness defines a brand of fanaticism about something that is deeply felt and obsessive such that if someone gets something wrong you just cannot bear to not say anything about it. Even if you know that correcting someone on some random bit of Star Wars lore will get you dealt a savage beating you just can’t help it. Kind of like how I can’t help writing this thing right now.

Part of the contention with the use of the term is that Nerd implies a lack of social skills that keeps a person out of the mainstream and that applying it to ‘normal’ people is a sacrilege of the highest order. I think that this is a misinterpretation of what is going on in pop culture right now and is being wrongheadedly exclusionary toward other people who have gone through a lot of similar experiences and pain. Obviously, there is exploitation of nerd culture right now and there are cynical executives who are doing their best to cash in on what is going on. That is true and it will always be true of anything that becomes popular but I don’t think that is the reason that nerdy things are so popular right now.

I think one of the main reasons that nerdy things are showing up in pop culture more is that a lot of nerds are creatives and a lot of creatives do creative things which leads to writing and injecting things that they love into the things that they write. When fans of comic books start to write popular TV shows and have their characters talk about whether or not Superman could beat the Flash in a foot race, that resonates with other people who are into comics and it becomes more acceptable to people who aren’t. That it happens on shows like Lost where the audience is likely to lean to the nerd spectrum anyway, it is not surprising for it to gain traction among them but also among other people who are watching the show. Likewise when you have legitimate directors taking comic book movies, science fiction and fantasy seriously then you get great films that showcase what the rest of us have known for years-this shit is fucking good.

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So the inmates are running the asylum as it were and more people are in the position to make things that nerds would like because the creators are nerds themselves. And that brings up the next big reason I think that nerd things have taken off which is that there are a lot of us out there. The secret that no one understands about the battle between the ‘popular’ people and everyone else is that the popularity is an illusion based on social norms stretching back 60 or 70 years and has no real bearing on anything anyway. And there were always way more of us than there were of them. Sure, as a nerd you are in a subset that has even less power but they weren’t the only group getting shit in high school. Lots of people get shit in high school and a lot of people are socially awkward in high school.

Aside from that, because nerds are so insular and untrusting of others, they often miss that the things they are into are shared by other people. Sure, no one will every LOVE it as deeply as they do and will ever really UNDERSTAND it but they didn’t have sole ownership over that  stuff then and they don’t now. It isn’t as if things like science fiction are just now becoming popular and Robocop didn’t become a blockbuster franchise because only nerds liked it. I recently posted something on Facebook about Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show I am obsessed with to an almost unhealthy degree, and a friend from drama in high school posted that she loved that show since it was on the Comedy Channel. I was kind of stunned because I had no idea and it made me realize that MST3K wasn’t something that only my friends and I knew about. That goes for a lot of things and it always has whether nerds noticed it or not.

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Another issue here is that nerdiness should not be judged or applied for how someone looks. There is the stereotypical white button up with the pocket protector and taped glasses paradigm that has consisted for years but we don’t all look like that. Sure, in some ways it was nice because in certain situations I could ‘pass’ but that didn’t help me when I was getting threatened in the locker room, literally having my lunch money stolen or straight up beaten up. So, just because I have good eyes and preferred t-shirts and jeans to button ups and slacks does not mean that I was not a nerd.

Further, to the above point, people don’t always stay that way either. I don’t care for having my ass kicked so I took martial arts. A lot. I have three black belts and many years worth of intensive experience which, in addition to changing the way my body looks by way of a more muscular (but now desperately overweight) structure, it also made me the sort of person you don’t want to touch without permission. I also have a fierce desire to turn all of that bullshit into something and do the things I want to do. I have still never picked up a girl in a bar or social setting and I am desperately awkward to talk to with a host of insecurities longer than the census of some countries, but it is very important to me to do the things that I want to do. With the exception of the non-ironic graphic t-shirts I wear pretty much everywhere, I don’t necessarily look the part. I’ve been called a stealth nerd and a *shudder* hipster nerd. What I happen to look like does not change what I am nor has it taken away the former social stigma I endured. There are a lot of people like this out there who don’t look the part and are now forced to take an extra helping of shit for it from people claiming that we are not what and who we are because we don’t fit in their narrow perception of what a nerd is or should be.

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It must be mentioned that ‘nerd’ as a term is not inherently one of admiration or affection. It is a derogatory term used to make people feel bad about themselves and is still used from time to time as an insult. This is a term that has been re-appropriated in an effort to take the sting out of it and turn it into a positive. There are people for whom the word will never be a positive thing because the memories attached are much too painful. I understand this. But when I self-apply at this point it is in effort to take pride in who I am and what I am about with a word that I want to take the teeth out of as opposed to remember hearing it as I was being punched in the solar plexus.

There is much more to say on the points above but steering it back to the original topic, I am glad that nerd culture has become popular to whatever degree. I am glad that when I wear a Transformers t-shirt in public I am not met with ridicule (well not THAT much anyway. Thanks a bunch Michael Bay). I am glad that I can talk about comic books or Star Wars with people out in the open without fear that some asshole forward from the Basketball team is going to come and attack me for it. I am glad that these things that I love are popular enough that they are important and we will get more of it.

I am also fairly glad about the commercialization for the most part. It is a long-standing tradition of people buying their childhood back when they have enough money and right now you can get so much cool nostalgia as well as current cool shit that I don’t even know what to do with myself. Hell Ript Apparel and Tee Fury alone have kept me in t-shirts for a couple of years now, dresser and closet space be damned. Now is a pretty badass time to collect things and get cool stuff from things you like. Much more than it ever was in high school when you were pretty much fucked outside of a comic book store or Star Trek convention.

It isn’t all peaches and cream and occasionally things are going to go wrong with exploitation and just plain bad work will seep out but in the last 15 years or so we have seen a profound shift in quality toward the good in nerd properties. There will always be people who bitch about that because that is what nerds tend to do a lot but it is a good thing that we can actually be who we are out in the open without much fear of reprisal.

Despite my quirks and issues, I am proud of who I am and I am happy that a climate exists where the things that I am into and that I feel define me are acceptable topics of discussion and thriving areas of business with the importance attached to it that I have always thought they deserved. I don’t want to be the sort of fan of things who covets that thing with jealousy such that no more of it can be made because there is no market for it. One of my favorite bands was Stabbing Westward and I was very active in their fan community. I got in numerous arguments with other fans who were angry any time the band was on a soundtrack that gave it a lot of attention or someone who didn’t fit their prescription of who should be a Stabbing Westward fan started liking them. This was insane to me because they didn’t seem to understand that the band wasn’t just handed a sustainable pile of money for all time because they had a small devoted following. If the thing you love isn’t making money and has a prohibitively small following then it will go away. And that is what happened to Stabbing Westward. Eventually, they went away (check out the Dreaming though, they are amazing). The way the climate is now, I am willing to bet that if Firefly started tomorrow it would have six seasons and another movie.

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This is a bubble that will likely burst at some point as trends aren’t sustainable but for the time being I am enjoying the fact that I can like what I like and be who I am without negative stigma attached to it from the mainstream. I find it annoying that the stigma I do get comes from people who I have the most in common with but that isn’t really anything terribly new. I think it would be in the best interest of my fellow nerds to embrace this for what it is and try to just enjoy it while it lasts. I understand the barriers to this for some people but sometimes happiness takes a bit of effort. It is fairly ridiculous to say that you just want to be understood and accepted and then cry foul when you are accepted if not totally understood.

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There will likely always be a dividing line between the socially awkward and ‘the normal people’ but that line is very blurry at this point  and it is largely drawn by people who have always felt like they are on the wrong side of it. It is time to step out as far as you can and try to enjoy the climate right now. It is pretty nice and it is filled with a bunch of stuff that you like. It is scary to do but it is really, really worth it.  It might sound like I am someone without social anxiety to try to just get over social anxiety but I am not. I still have a ranging case of it, I just make a lot of effort not to be hamstrung by it. Sometimes it goes well and sometimes it goes poorly but it is worth it to try.

I don’t think that nerds or nerd culture is dead or dying. Debate between true nerds and fake nerds should die but also probably won’t and that is too bad because it is what we always said we wanted. Sure, I haven’t talked to every nerd everywhere and I cannot speak for all of nerd culture but for me, I always dreamed of a day when the things I was into wouldn’t get me beaten up or made fun of and that day is here. I am going to enjoy it as much as possible and while I will occasionally prickle over people who ‘don’t know’ getting into something I am into I try to remember that everyone starts somewhere and every fan of everything there is had a moment when it began and who am I to judge that or them for it? I would rather just embrace them into the fold and show them all the cool shit we have here. It makes for a much more pleasant time there.

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