I confess that the topic of “how to define a nerd” is more than a little overplayed. Heck, at this point, an effort to define “nerd” would likely get someone slapped with the less-appealing descriptor, “gatekeeper.”
Rest assured it’s not my intent to define or limit anything. This is about asking questions as I try to figure out whether I still belong to the “tribe of nerd.” I’m just “wondering aloud,” which I hope is still permitted within the lanes of the Information Superhighway.
Why wonder about it in blog form, and not just in my head? The simple, direct answer is, “Because I want to.”
As I was growing up, “nerds” were easy to recognize by their outward obsessions and social idiosyncrasies. It was a put-down, I suppose, though I never saw anyone get bent out of shape about it.
People love to muse about how “nerds” have taken over the world through Silicon Valley businesses and cultural infiltration.
We live in a world now where comic book movies are a guaranteed cash cow for a major production company that owns nearly every other studio. You can’t walk down the street without seeing a T-Shirt that has Iron Man, Captain America, Darth Vader, or some other sign of brand loyalty emblazoned across it.
As I thought about this, my first conclusion was to think there’s no such a thing as a “nerd” anymore. After all, if all of these things are popular to mainstream audiences, it doesn’t mean that those people are becoming “nerds.”
I wanted to say it’s just an easy shorthand word, appropriated by people who want to own it. It felt like an easy, logical conclusion to reach.
That’s not true, though. I know this because I’ve been to DragonCon*, and other conventions, and there were certainly “nerds” there. There were people whose obsession levels outstripped mine by a fathom and a half. For what it’s worth, I consider it crazy and beautiful in its own way.
I think it’s just possible that what some consider “nerdy” is just normal idiosyncratic behavior. I riff on the odd topics, and I enjoy discussing Star Wars so much that some people avoid conversations about it. Some embrace it. But I’m not talking about what character said what, or insisting people adhere to the expanded “canon.”
I enjoy talking about a lot of things. I enjoy analyzing literature and film; that’s not nerdy, is it?
* I say this with love in my heart: I consider it odd that DragonCon doesn’t have a secure site. Considering it’s a convention by and for self-described nerds, you’d think an SSL certificate would be on their list.
Nerd That Never Was?
I never thought of myself as a nerd.
I know that may seem odd coming from someone who participates in a podcasting network called “The Nerd Party.” The network is focused on what we consider to be “nerdy” things. There are shows discussing a lot of nerdy topics, focused on franchises typically considered “nerdy.”
I’m on another comedy show that has “Nerds” in the title, but I don’t know if we really are “nerdy” on that show. I guess there have been “nerdy” topics, but mostly it’s not. Does that disqualify me from being a “nerd?” Am I just like the people I tried to construct in my head earlier in this post, who fancy themselves nerds but really just like popular culture that was born out of a “nerdy” IP bought by a giant conglomerate?
I navigated a weird channel defined by two strong shores; an obsessive love of the music of The Doors, and an obsessive love of Star Wars. I was a friendly kid, but socially awkward at times. A large part of that had to do with environmental factors, though. Does that disqualify me from being a “nerd?”
I wasn’t one to wear an “I Grok Spock” shirt, though I did love Star Trek on the whole. I read the technical manuals and grew to love pointing out when things were patently malarkey. Does that make me a nerd, or someone who just likes Star Trek?
Most of the television I watched was mainstream stuff. I was a big fan of The Simpsons, but for awhile everyone was. I played Dungeons & Dragons for a hot minute, but most of the time I wasn’t even concerned about rolling the dice. That part was stultifying. I enjoyed the creation of the character, and the opportunity to think up a back story.
Just because I can recall old Simpsons episodes at whim, or other trivia from entertainment I watched, simply means I spent far, far too long watching reruns of old episodes instead of trying to be productive. Is someone a “nerd” just for having a good memory of popular entertainment?
I didn’t even read The Lord of the Rings until college, when I was snowed in during a blizzard and the Wi-Fi wasn’t a thing yet. I saw the movies like everyone else, but I never spoke Elvish. Where do I stand after that?
Nerd No Longer?
I used to see the Marvel®™© movies at the earliest possible showing, and even bought Mondo glasses or special booklets when I saw them at an Alamo Drafthouse. I did the same for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Marketing Words That Indicate a Franchise in the Making.
The fire isn’t there anymore, though. I’m not even all that excited for #AvengersEndgame. I’m seeing it after opening night.
So I guess the question becomes, is it possible to be a “nerd,” and then stop being one? Even though I love the same things, is my lack of overt enthusiasm the telltale sign that they’re now just things I like, as opposed to things I’m “nerdy” about?
Do I have to stop using “nerd?”
At the end of all this musing, I realized that I am still a “nerd.” If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I’m sure a lot of people have tapped out before this point. Some have even been outraged by my characterizations of “nerddom.”
How did I realize this?
I looked back at the topics I’ve written about on this blog. “Nerd” seems like the only word that fits for someone who would write this nonsense.
So…false alarm. I’m still a nerd.
In many ways, this post was a thought experiment. It was more a thought experiment for me than anything else, because I have no way of polling people to see if they had specific reactions to things I said along the way to the conclusion.
I think it’s paired with this idea of complexity that gets downplayed, or outright ignored, in today’s culture. Everything is a conclusion, and people presume that those conclusions were quickly reached. They never care about the reasoning, just whether people reached the “right conclusion” about things.
But even so simple a sentiment as “I’m a nerd” carries with it a burst of introspection. I may have been through these thoughts a million times before. I may have come to the same conclusion more than once.
Unlike a machine, people don’t just accept the outcome as resolved and move on from there. They consider, and reconsider, and only the most intractable think that their first conclusion is their best. They may get to the best possible conclusion, but it’s because they’ll get there repeatedly.
I’m sure I’ll return to the theme, if not this specific thread, a number of times in the coming days and years. It’s unavoidable. Here’s hoping I, and others, can consider another thing along the way.
I’ll let you figure out where I was going with that.