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My Answer To A Guy Hating on "Nerds"

Updated on March 5, 2018
You sicken me.
You sicken me.

Mufasa in The Lion King said, being brave doesn't mean you go looking for trouble. I have trouble following that. I often like to stick my nose into drama and "trouble", especially whenever it comes down to certain communities I take pride in membership in; geek, otaku, gamer, atheist, cartoon artist, out and proud bisexual, MRA/Anti-feminist, etc. Someday I may even add "writer" to that list. Ha!

So, I've never been afraid of controversy, and I deliberately seek out challenges to my beliefs and worldview, much like a martial arts expert seeking out the toughest opponents to fight. I'm not satisfied as some people are by just finding the dumbest possible newbie teenager to pick on, I want to find smart people and still find a clever way to prove them wrong. A nauseatingly often-heard quote from Game of Thrones fans is that one where Tyrion said a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone. But as a Rurouni Kenshin fan would say also, a sword is a weapon. The art of swordsmanship is learning how to kill. If I don't fight anyone with that mind, it's not good for anything. I would argue that a mind needs books, but it also needs conditions that challenge it to become greater. So who will I slaughter with my mind-blade today?

Reddit's "off my chest" is exactly what it sounds like: a forum where people post angry rants just to vent. So, I bear no ill will against this person, who went in there to say:

If you call yourself a "nerd", I probably hate you. (Source)

In fact, many of the things he says about "nerd" culture are real and are sometimes annoying. It's kind of like how pretentiousness in the art community or self-righteousness among certain religious people can put you off. But just as not every artist is pretentious, and not every religious person is self-righteous/judgmental, not every person calling themselves a "geek" or "nerd" thinks they're better than everyone who does not. This person makes a lot of inaccurate generalizations about my community I want to address. I joked about swords and sparring earlier, but I don't really feel like I want to attack this person. I just feel the need to respond to this rant, as a "nerd", and defend the goodness in the nerd/geek community as a whole. The post is too old to respond to on Reddit, I think, and I'd rather do it here anyway, so that I can write at length and in detail about the issues this person brings up, that I think are worth a lot of thoughtful discussion.

Movie sucked by the way. Good meme though.
Movie sucked by the way. Good meme though.

Hey, I Can't Help It!

Being a nerd is not usually something you choose. Many of us get here because we tried to fit in, tried to be popular, and tried to make it in the world of America's socializing-heavy school system. And failed. Because we're inherently different from everyone who can make it there. I did Cheer America as a kid. I memorized details about Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and The Spice Girls and pretended to like The Titanic. I read those crappy preteen magazines to try to keep up with trends in fashion and music, and tried to dress like a "prep". None of this worked, because I was still me under the glitter and makeup. I was still much more interested in reading the latest Harry Potter than I was in whatever the hell Ashton Kutcher was doing, and I couldn't fake it anymore after a certain point. And you know what?

Embracing who you are is better than pretending to be someone else. Once I learned to accept this as the real me, the better I did socially. I stopped thinking "I need to act like everyone else to fit in with everyone" and started thinking, "I don't have to change to please everyone, I can be me and that will please at least a few people". I know that that is the cliché stock life lesson of many a sitcom episode or Disney movie, but it really did take me a while to figure it out. I think it's kind of like being gay. Maybe not as genetically hard-wired, but its still the same concept that it's better to be open about who you really are than to pretend to be "normal" for the sake of fitting in. And you'll never please anyone anyway. You can fake it and still have people who hate you. In fact, the cooler you are, the more you expose yourself to jealousy and backstabbing.

So for some kids, it's actually better if no one notices them and they can sit quietly in the cafeteria, poking at their bad Jello without anyone harassing them and starting shit. I thought the people in high school with 3-5 close friends and a niche interest or subculture were better adjusted than many of the people who had like 50 friends but no special defining characteristics other than looks and popularity. Daria kind of gets to this point. The popular kids in that show aren't evil, but they aren't very well adjusted either, because of their desperation to continue being popular, like being liked is a kind of addictive drug.

Good news is, geeks don't have to deal with that, and we can still have friends. Nice friends, who don't think we're weird, and who understand us when we talk about the things we like.

True Nerds Exist.

He says, "One of the things that bothers me most about self-described nerds is the same thing people hate about hipsters: the vacuous idea that their interests are unique, "underground," and makes them special snowflakes. Video games, sci-fi, fantasy, comic books, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. are not a "subculture" they are part of THE pop culture. Those things are WILDLY popular! I mean, MOST people play video games!"

That might be true, but there is and will always be a distinction between "normal" people who like a geeky thing, and "true nerds" who obsess over those things. Not everyone builds their lives around things like blogs, merchandise, art, fan fiction, conventions, and fan communities. Just because Lord of the Rings was a big box office success does not mean everyone who saw those movies:

  • identifies themselves as a nerd
  • reads the books
  • obsesses over the wealth of lore in the series, or
  • plays LOTRO every weekend.

There's people who do that stuff, who are in the subculture, and people who don't and aren't. Having something be a household name doesn't really change that. Maybe it used to be that only a few "nerds" had ever read or heard of Lord of the Rings, and now everyone has. But to some people, those are just movies, and to other people, they're almost like a religion or way of life. The latter are nerds. The popularity of certain things might make people see that nerd hobbies are cool and treat nerds better, but I'm not someone who thinks it makes the distinction between nerds and regular people meaningless.

There is, for example, a huge, meaningful distinction between someone who plays Candy Crush on their cell phone while taking a shit, and someone who has beaten every Legend of Zelda game to date, cosplays as Princess Zelda at conventions, and is actively involved in the fandom of the franchise online, editing the Wikia page and actively contributing fan art and fan fiction.

Venn Diagrams are sexy. This one's especially sexy, because it's a three-way.
Venn Diagrams are sexy. This one's especially sexy, because it's a three-way.

I Don't Know What Else to Call Myself.

But my main point is, there isn't another word that so handily wraps up in a nutshell and encompasses everything I like. I could say I'm a fan of speculative fiction, tabletop gaming, role playing games, sci-fi, fantasy, video games, anime, manga, literature, My Little Pony, and so on, but that's a long list, and a cumbersome way to refer to oneself. Geek or nerd are mere verbal shortcuts. It's kind of like how, for some people, calling oneself "emo" or "punk" can be used to spare themselves from having to list every single band they like. Yes, it generalizes oneself. But other people would generalize us with labels and categories anyway, it's a part of human nature that will never change.

Yes, these labels are never perfect. For example, I rarely ever play first-person shooter games (except for Portal which is more like a puzzle), and I don't like overly violent ones. The majority of "geeks" or "gamers" probably do. I don't care though, because it does neatly cover almost all of the things I do like, so to me, it's still a useful label. It helps other people understand who I am when they meet me. They can safely assume or predict certain things about me, or at least, superficial qualities like my hobbies, areas of cultural knowledge, gifts I might like, etc. It's not much more to me than that.

It's like going to a business event wearing a name tag, or handing out business cards. You want people to be able to "read" you right away. You wouldn't want to be mistaken for the CEO of your company when you're the accountant. Similarly, when I go out into the world, I don't want to be mistaken for a "normie" or someone from a different sub-culture, because then people's expectations of me when they meet me would be wrong. I'm sorry if the label I chose comes with drawbacks and stereotypes, but so does every label that everyone else wears. This is the closest approximate fit for me and who I am, and it helps me communicate who I am to the world.

Here, have some more text!
Here, have some more text!

This Is A Positive Community

He said,

"And another thing: just because you're vaguely competent with computers doesn't make you smart. You're not going to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. You're probably going to end up working a dead-end IT job. You know who, from my high school class, was the most successful? The "jocks" were. They were smart too! What? You can be good at sports AND be intelligent? Say it isn't so! Surprise: people with social skills tend to be able to connect with others more effectively. Furthermore, social skills and intelligence are not mutually exclusive either. This whole "misunderstood genius" bullshit makes my blood boil like none other."

I think somewhere in all this mean-spirited rancor is a worthy point: we should not see this as something that makes us better than others, only different. We should appreciate the good qualities in others. But this person sees us as worse than others, rather than merely different, because he thinks we're all arrogant and up our own asses about our intelligence.

I'm not going to lie, there are people like that I've met, befriended, and I talked like that in high school. Me and my Scholastic Bowl buds thought we would be out running the country by now, or curing cancer, and like he said, yeah, most of us are just in tedious computer or medical jobs. But saying it's bad to be a geek because you won't actually grow up to build a rocket for NASA is like saying it's bad to be athletic because you won't probably actually grow up to be in the Olympics or on a pro team. Let's face it, most people will never grow to match the greatness of their teenage idols. The soccer players I knew in high school probably haven't made it to the World Cup yet. That punk kid I knew probably isn't being hailed by the New York intelligentsia as the world's greatest living artist. And yeah, the kids I knew who were smart, even the one girl who got a perfect SAT score, probably only reached middle class success. In the business world, intelligence is not as important as passion, drive, motivation, grit, and schmoozing. I would hire a perky, punctual person with networking ability even if they misuse "irony" and say "irregardless". That guy is right about that.

But you know what? For all that we were maybe arrogant about this in high school, most of us learn that at some point. "I'm going to be the next Bill Gates", or "the people who make fun of us now will be working for us later" is shit you say as a teenager, but most adults know it for arrogance. Humility is hard to come by when high school comes easy to us academically, and adults praise our skills in writing, math, computers, science, etc., when things that seem so hard to others come so easily for us. But we do learn to be humble, in college and/or in the quote unquote "real world". We learn that being the "next ______" is much harder work than we ever imagined. We learned that success requires sacrifices most people are not willing to make, sacrifices to mental and physical health, and to the possibility of having a family. It means giving up on fun and making your life revolve around work, and of course then most of us aren't willing to do all that. It stops being about "I'm going to make the next Google" and more like "Make the next Google? Are you insane?".

This person's comment overlooks all the positive things about being in this community, focusing only on the negative attitudes that usually pass with age and the wisdom that comes therewith. This is a community for people who have been bullied to come together in solidarity and heal together over shared experiences. To me, what separates geeks/nerds from regular people is that we value knowledge and imagination above all else. We see a person for their mind's beauty, not merely the beauty of their hair or lips or butt (well, we have been known to appreciate outer beauty too, but... ya know, we're only human).

I think this is a good metaphor: Imagine an old Victorian house with many rooms down a hallway. You go in, give the butler your coat and he leads you down a hallway. You can choose to enter one of two wings of the house to live in for the rest of your life.

In one, every kind of imaginable drug and alcoholic beverage will be available, and guests will be given whatever they want for free for as long as they stay. There will be beautiful, scantily clad women serving you and making flirty chitchat. There is loud, popular music, and a lot of pretty and famous people who will think you're interesting and want to talk to you. The best party you could imagine, essentially. Every day, you can get as drunk and high as you want, watch the latest TV and movies, and meet the hottest and most in-demand celebrities. You can work out, dance a lot, and have a lot of sex.

In the other half of the house, it's quiet. There are as many books as in the library in Beauty and the Beast, and quiet reading tables. You can get free coffee or soda and snacks, but you have to be quiet. Beyond the reading part, there are science labs, computer rooms, gaming rooms where you can either play solo or test your skills in whatever your favorite games are against the best and brightest the world has to offer. Beyond these is a planetarium/observatory, museums of every kind, botanical gardens, and a zoo, each of which is the best in the world. Anything you want to study is open to you, all the world's knowledge is available to you. You could spend your days studying microbes, galaxies, subatomic particles, music, philosophy, ancient history, anything and everything that catches your attention. There wouldn't be much time for partying and frivolous fun, but you could have a life devoted to the pursuit of knowledge.

Now, to be honest, most people would choose the first wing, full of socializing and hedonistic pleasures. But the world we want to live in as geeks is one of higher pursuits. It's not as simple as to say "I have a Star Trek shirt, and that makes me better than you, so nyeah". It's saying, I think differently, and value things other people do not value. In Star Trek what people do is explore new worlds, seek out new life forms and new civilizations, to learn about alternative ways of being and thinking. It's difficult, dangerous, and scary at times. But the crew of the SS Enterprise are boldly going where no one has gone before. To me, that captures the essence of what being a "true geek" is about.

I'm not sorry for the number of Star Trek references in this article.
I'm not sorry for the number of Star Trek references in this article.

I Don't Think Our Interests Are "Childish"

"Also, you're not looked down upon for being "smart," you're looked down upon for having childish interests..."

So, you think liking comic books is "childish" because I guess many of them are marketed at teenage boys? What about the ones that are more geared toward adults? Do you know that the most popular comic books you can name with superheroes saving the day and whatnot make up but a fraction of what you find at a comics store? How are the interests of regular people more mature? Are you really going to tell me that dropping my stash of manga in favor of contemporary bestselling romance novels would make me a better person or more mature? Or that I should stop following Attack on Titan and Game of Thrones in favor of whatever it is normal people are watching this season on Netflix?

This also contradicts what he said earlier. If our hobbies are normal and mainstream as all that, how can they also be "childish"? It just doesn't make any sense. Either it's true that:

  • Geek culture hobbies have become so mainstream that they're now indistinguishable from pop culture in general. OR:
  • Geek culture hobbies sicken me because they're only for weird people clinging to their adolescence.

Which is it then? This person seems to say both in one rant.

At any rate, I don't really believe that everything needs to be restricted to just the intended demographic, or that there's anything morally wrong with liking or even loving something aimed for a demographic that's different from oneself in age and/or sex. People who think like that are being judgmental and narrow-minded, which really gets me down sometimes.

Finally: He Has A Point.

I disapprove of this person's strong language, but I do think he's right to point out that "ThinkGeek" and other websites are cringey as fuck, and that they only commercialize the most superficial aspects of geekery to make money by making people feel better about themselves. If you're able to be suckered in by a website telling you that buying a bobble-head doll makes you smarter than everyone else, you're probably not smarter than everyone else.

But on the other hand, I don't think there is shame in wanting to buy that bobble-head doll either. It's not inherently a bad thing. Everyone uses their money to do what makes them happy, and what that is is diverse and unique to the person. I believe that everyone is special, and being a geek is just one way to be special among many.

Most of us have faced a lot of hell to get here. We've faced bullying, judgment, ostracism, and people like him who think that putting us down for being ourselves makes themselves better than us. But what makes us great is that we keep going anyway, determined to show the world that being a geek is cool and fun. And, we're winning, otherwise the mainstream status of geek culture this person noticed wouldn't exist. Geeks are not just making the world a better place for geeks, but for everyone. We are contributing to society and we do have value to everyone.

Be a geek! Or don't. But either way, don't let other people's perceptions of what you are stop you from being authentically yourself!

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You Said It, Angry Cartoon Squirrel!


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