And what I don’t like about it.
I’m mentally preparing myself for all the shit I’m going to take for this so try to remember these are thoughts not judgements, I’m not casting myself as objectively superior to nerds anymore than I usually cast myself as objectively superior to any demographic, including ones that I’m objectively a part of.
If you don’t like it, that probably means you need to read it. Here we go:
1. The capitalist exploitation and accumulation of crap.
No other sub culture generates as much clutter. Look around your computer, are there dozens of functionless plastic lumps colorized to resemble fictional people you identify with? Did you work and earn money and turn that money into functionless plastic lumps or worse did someone who “cares” about you buy them because it suits their idea of your identity too?
Once the action figure became the collectable the capitalists saw they had been working too hard to make toys interesting. They just had to make toys that exist in order to buy them. So you have 3 or more figurative representations of Harley Quinn in your home, one cute and cartoony, one sexy, and one is soft. And they all serve the single function giving you an insignificant pleasant feeling sometimes.
Get a plant.
Plastic crap that makes you feel like a kid shouldn’t be a billion dollar market. And further down curmudgeon road, we all know that the accumulation of material objects is a meaningless distraction in modern life. So nerds try to get around that meaninglessness by embracing it and amassing a life time of identity objects with humorous detachment.
Brian went to law school and now dotes on his BMW, you mock. You have firefly bobble heads, a 2 ft tall tardis, and a couple old lightsabers around, and feel a quiet pride you mask with giddy nihilism. Hurray for you. Until you move and realize you don’t actually give a crap about all this crap and you’ve diligently built a meaningless shiny plastic life.
2. Faux literature.
This is going to sound arrogant because I’m arrogant but here goes, you do not love books – you are not a reader – if you’ve just reread Harry Potter a bunch of times. You have turned books into television, merely comfort food distractotainment and nothing more. In art and entertainment there’s a time to explore and there’s time to really re-enjoy, and re-explore, classics. You are doing neither. You are scared to seriously read anything else because your identity as a reader is based solely on enjoying Harry Potter and maybe Lord Of The Rings, which are delightful digestible children’s stories.
And no I don’t care how grim and serous they feel because good children’s stories always feel a bit more grim than we imagine they should. It’s not grim and serious that makes a book for grown ups. It’s intellectual and emotional complexity. I’d argue that the DaVinci Code is a children’s story because it wholly rests on a daring good guy defeating the machinations of some daring bad guys.
Listen, I intone sympathetically, I know you had to read some classics in school and you think you hate literature. But could it be that maybe we were all just taught badly by uninspired teachers at the behest of a totally indifferent bureaucracy? They were able to ruin history and we all discover history is actually fascinating so why not give literature a fresh start?
Now your counterpoint is certainly that nerd books are great literature and there’s more to the stories than I’m granting. Which is wrong. If it were right and I knew enough to know you think it then I wouldn’t already be saying this. Think about that.
The seemingly big emotional moments in nerd culture stories are actually insulting small.
We think romantic comedy aimed at women is incredibly stupid, we use them as the definition of insultingly dumb delusional fiction, but let’s take Fry & Leela. What’s the entire romantic arc of their 12 year story? Leela should allow Fry to be with her because we like him, we think he’s sweet. I could have drenched that sentence in sarcastic quotes but I honestly hate doing that.
Emotionally nerd fiction just reinforces the unrealized dreams of its viewers like every other genre that treats it’s audience like children. In this case the fantasy that you deserve your ideal romantic partner based on a specialness in you no one else sees.
And nerds think that’s ethically superior to, and less ridiculous than, stories about not marrying for money.
Whereas Gatsby and Daisy and their quietly torturous romance actually tell us something about ourselves. Rather than being set up to manipulate the feelings of an audience they’re exploring their own flawed feelings as if they were real, unobserved people. The story tells us things we wish weren’t true and it doesn’t tell us how to feel, it doesn’t leave us with a pleasant feeling and it causes more distraction than it alleviates. Rather than being uncomfortable in an introspective moment and picking up Harry Potter good literature will cause you to have quiet introspective moments and you will learn to be comfortable with them and you will grow. Like an adult.
3. It’s a social performance.
I see a lot of comparisons from nerds to sports fans. In nerd culture it’s the norm to act like disregarded under dogs and say that sports fandom is just as weird but accepted and encouraged by society. A viewpoint that was most recently true in 1986. Sports fandom is a substitute for tribal warfare, something humans are extremely susceptible to and might as well have an outlet for, while nerd culture is closer to a care free no consequence religion. And religion is the grandest social performance of them all, why do you take two mormons fishing (?) because if you only take one he’ll drink all your beer.
The way people are religious publicly and the way people are religious alone fascinates me. Actually the way people are religious publicly disgusts me but disgust is still a type of fascination.
With nerds the public side is the drastic over enthusiasm, the grouping, the costumes, the fetishization of objects. Jumping up and down squealing is not something people do alone. Sporting events and rock concerts allow people to act that way and now nerd culture does too for people scared to go to sporting events and rock concerts. But who is the nerd when she’s alone? Private religion is turned to in times of fear or gratitude but what is private nerdom? Answer, there is no private nerdom, there’s the internet.
Nerds invented and ran the internet for decades before anyone else and there’s always been conventions and expos. Nerds move in great herds because it’s a defense against being alone, it’s putting external identity in place of internal identity. And you can be a nerd about sports, you can be a nerd about Bruce Springsteen, you can be a nerd about anything. Ultimately I think being a nerd is defined as inflating an interest of yours until it becomes your consumable identity for others.
To be massively consumable that identity has to be pretty simple, the group has to be inclusive so the requirements have to be simple. It becomes about liking Pokemon and including yourself as a fan on Pokemon rather than about any mechanics of the game or even any enjoyment of the fictional universe. You’re the victim of successful marketing and you turned it into a resume virtue and an excuse to group think.
In closing, although it in no way seems like it, I do like nerds and love all my friends who are nerds or nerdly, anyone who gets from waking to sleeping not doing any harm and in a decent mood is a fine enough human.
I know the first attempt at a counter argument (although these aren’t arguments, they’re speculations) will be “it’s fun, leave it alone.” Which I’ll call argument from sanctity.
The notion is that jokes aren’t funny if you explain them. This has been extrapolated to almost every other construct, primarily by the inarticulate. Excepting Kierkegaard. So it’s now normative to insist that the qualification for loving someone or something is that you can’t explain why you love it. So if you say nerd culture is fun and I say why and you say because it is, it’s that simple, stop overthinking and start underthinking then you can be as happy as the rest of us I say – you’re not really happy.
The highfalutin notion that there is more beauty in the inexpressible than the expressible is disappointing to me. Simply, if examining why you love the things you love makes you love them less, instead of more, than you don’t actually love them. And when you find you don’t actually love something you thought you did? Congratulations, you can take what you learned, share it, and go back unto the search.