The Nerd Zeitgeist or… Why We Now Have to Add an Asterisk Whenever We Mention Our Love For Anything Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or ‘Alternative’

‘OMG I’m Such A Nerd!’

If you haven’t said it sometime in the past few years then you probably have “friend” who has “maybe once or twice… no more than fifty times total… in a week… shut up! Who the hell are you, anyway?” Ahem. I know I have. Nerd culture has taken over mainstream pop culture and suddenly the Avengers are everywhere and everyone has a heretofore unmentioned nerdy hobby. Probably something to do with comic books or flying shark dirigibles. Sweater vests are everywhere! The world’s plastic supply can’t sustain the demand for thick-framed glasses! The Big Bang Theory is the most watched comedy on television! Which… means nothing actually. Let’s just disregard that last point. What I’m trying to say is that it’s cool to be a nerd.

Or Is It?

Here’s a question: what is a nerd? Now, I don’t want to go starting some debate on nerd cred because seriously that’s awful. And it’s beside the point. Because here’s the thing: nerd is not cool. By definition it can’t be. Let’s be honest, what the trendsetters have done is taken the look and the sci-fi/fantasy genres and created this Hollywood veneer of nerd to sell to the masses. Geek Chic, if you will. And you know what? That’s fine. As long as we’re moving past the obsession with the ‘80s (we are done with that, right?), I’m all for it. But something weird and somewhat disturbing has come out of it (kinda like that time I mixed Orange Pekoe tea and Bailey’s). I call it ‘the nerd asterisk’.

What’s All This About An Asteroid?

I know you’ve heard it too. Sometimes it comes in prefix form: “I’m total nerd… I have all the Star Wars movies.” And sometimes it comes as a suffix. “I read The Hobbit last week… I know, nerd alert!” It’s the asterisk, the tag, the qualifier, the defense mechanism. It’s us saying that yes I like this thing, but I’m also aware there’s something socially unacceptable about admitting it without further explanation. And even though I’m guilty of it, I find it really messed up. I mean, isn’t that the reason everyone hates hipsters? Because everything they do is done ‘ironically’? How is this different? Are we as a society really unwilling to admit that something like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings is just plain mainstream at this point? Why aren’t fans of westerns or thrillers called nerds? What is it about sci-fi and fantasy that makes people assign labels? I might argue that most stories involve a society that in some way deviates from our own and challenges the rigidity of the status quo, something that has always led to name-calling and labels. (Which makes Orson Scott Card’s epic bigotry all the worse. Seriously, fuck that guy.) But that’s a whole other issue.

The Burning Resentment

Reappropriation is nothing new: you take something that was a mark of shame and turn it into a badge of pride. Those ultra cool trendsetters who made it a mark of shame in the first place parading it around as something hip and fashionable is something different entirely. Or maybe I’m way off base here. Maybe I just wish nerd culture had been cool back in junior high. Because man… mousy brown hair, glasses, braces… I had it all! Think of all the power I could have wielded over my fellow students. That oral book report on The Elf Queen of Shannara would have netted me ALL the party invites. And I shudder to think of the hearts I could have broken when I won the Math & Science award. If I hadn’t stopped needing my asthma inhaler in 4th grade I think we all know who truly would have been left breathless. And that’s everyone. Literally every single student.

A Carefully Manicured Image

I also find it very interesting that this whole “nerds are cool” thing has coincided with the rise of social media and the increasingly dominating power Facebook has on our lives. For a generation so self-aware and so careful in the image we project to others, we’re oddly afraid of vulnerability. So often we choose to define ourselves by our dislikes rather than our loves, all too aware that all our mistakes and embarrassments will be preserved forever in the unforgiving depths of the internet. And the current nerd fad is indicative of that attitude. If it’s hip to be square, you get a free pass on mockery. Just as long as you keep with that Hollywood veneer and don’t start like, going to Star Trek conventions or whatever. Cuz OMG, only weirdos get really excited about things that make them happy.

What’s That? Wrap It Up?

Here’s where I stand: I’m going to try to stop using the word nerd to describe myself, at least as a qualifier. I’m going to love the things I love without need of a label or category because human beings don’t fall into a single category. We’re wonderful messes of contradictions and random assortments of hobbies and ideals. So strap yourselves in because the unabashed professions of love start now!

I love everything Mass Effect and Dragon Age. In fact pretty much anything with dragons I love. And swords. And castles. I spent my first year of university taking courses in a castle (My English Lit room had a dungeon, bitches!). I have spent hundreds of dollars on action figures/collectibles with zero regrets (though I do worry when Commander Shepard falls over and her head pops off). I’m writing a fantasy epic that may well turn out to be longer than The Wheel of Time (which I also love). PUPPIES! (Enough said.) I have been receiving a word of the day email for over 8 years. Living north of the 55th parallel for 3 years has not quelled my love for winter. Snow is beautiful! (Cold is not.) Tennis is my favourite sport. For playing and watching. I currently own 2 electric guitars and 2 basses. They all have names. I played the drums for about a year and a half. They had a name too. I had a blonde fauxhawk and sundry other funky ‘dos in high school during a “punk” phase. I’ve watched the Plinkett Star Wars prequel reviews more times than the movies themselves. I have glasses I adore. Thick ones. (Seriously, my eyesight is NOT good.) I also have a pair of tattoos (and dream of being ballsy enough to get one on my upper arm). I’d rather go to Europe than the Caribbean. Ask me about feminism and the representation of women in media and watch me go! The longest love affair of my life has been with Lego and for real somebody better get me that giant Tower of Orthanc set. Or at least the Monster Fighters Haunted House.

Wow. I am such a dork.


One thought on “The Nerd Zeitgeist or… Why We Now Have to Add an Asterisk Whenever We Mention Our Love For Anything Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or ‘Alternative’

  1. Pingback: From Popular Girl to Nerd Girl | Stories in 5 Minutes

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