Geek Evolution: Let go of your anger, be a Better Nerd

by Nicholas Thurkettle

I have known Ashley for a few years now, and I think she would agree geekdom has been a foundational pillar of our friendship from the very start. And so when she started on this topic I felt like this was a conversation in which I could participate, and she has been good enough to lend me some space on her rabble-rousing e-billboard here.

I have to confess I was, for a long time, on the wrong side of the argument she describes. I used to talk about latter-day self-labeling geeks as wearing the equivalent of fake prison ink. I am part of the last generation that experienced adolescence without the Internet being a significant presence in our lives – the year I graduated from high school, 1995, was the year in which commercialization of the Internet took off with the decommissioning of the National Science Foundation’s NSFNET. At the time, I was in an economics class that played the game of investing imaginary dollars in the stock market. One of my teammates kept suggesting we throw every piece of play money at this thing called America On-Line. We didn’t listen. He’s wealthier than I am now.

But the difference I will have to describe to the younger generation from now on was that, pre-Internet, it really was possible to feel utterly alone in your geekdom. But for the two or three friends who could be talked into staying up all night to watch The Trilogy (there was only one back then), it was difficult to conceive that there was a vast world of us out there. And, even if we could rationally-accept that there was, it didn’t do our daily sense of isolation much good.

Nowadays, of course, there is this astonishing and galvanizing sense of instant community that can be created around any obsession, and Geekdom has become a powerful nation influencing affairs all over the cultural planet. And as Ashley and many others have rightly pointed out, we ought to celebrate that, and be grateful the next spawning of lovely nerds won’t share our suffering.

But until recently, I clung to the tribulational aspect of my nerd youth. It’s easy to love Doctor Who now. Hop in the TARDIS and try loving Doctor Who in 1989. That’s not for sissies.

As I reflect honestly on it, though, I really wasn’t actively bullied much in the classic sense. It was more a sense of being frozen out, and not understood. There was this pretty, glittering party of a world that the popular people were running, and my kind just didn’t fit there, and I perceived that in a million baffled looks and dead-ended conversations. But part of my maturation has been to realize that basically everyone feels left out of something; and the most successful, popular person around is, inside, probably as messed-up and uncertain about life as I am. I now realize most of the crowd ever meant any harm. And I think time grew my grievances as it can so often do.

Wasn’t it our comfort in those times that the things we prioritized – imagination and the deep commitment and knowledge that comes from loving something to a truly-geeky extent – was worth more than the fleeting goose honks that passed for What Matters among the superficial crowd? I know I believed it. The key question here is – did you really believe that when you said it or not?

Because if you do, then suffering is not intrinsic to being a nerd. We don’t have to be scorned for the way we love in order for that love to be valid. To hold on to that anger is, to an extent, to grant the vaporous and unslayable Thems of our past the premise we always claimed to reject – that to be this way is weird, wrong, and so rare and useless as to be vestigial to right society.

So I am relieved to come clean and say I was wrong. A positive definition of nerddom can emancipate us from old anger.

I do believe, though, that is still possible, and even defensible, to watch that these labels of geek and nerd, which we have reclaimed from derision, not be embraced too cheaply by too wide a crowd. Because then we risk them not having a definition at all.

I’ll use an analogy so dated as to be almost useless, except that I know the nerdiest among you will go to Wikipedia to read about it and will probably think it’s cool that you learned something today: if a hardcore Bob Dylan fan told you that you can’t call yourself a REAL Bob Dylan fan unless you own the non-commercial release versions of the Newport Bootlegs, then you might well say that person was being clannish, superior, and intentionally-obscure. What I hope we are trying is to keep geekdom at large from that status.

But if you heard someone say that they were a HUGE Bob Dylan fan, and when you asked them what they loved about him, they replied that they had just heard that “let’s get stoned” song of his on the radio and thought it was cool, I am saying you would be damn right to be irritated. Because that is not even the song’s name, and a nerd wouldn’t get something like that wrong if the word “nerd” still means anything.

I am not saying there should be barriers to entry in our big nerdy tent – anyone could be a nerd about something. But it does take at least a little bit of work, some genuine and proactive embrace of thing beyond what can be passively-digested, to earn the label.

This is not nerding, this is being a couch potato.

We do agree that what makes a nerd a nerd is that he or she is not superficial about that over which they nerd. I don’t want us to shy from that. I want to retain and recognize the right – if someone wants to refer to themselves as a nerd or a geek about something – to see them demonstrate that they have bothered to delve into it; even to watch/read/listen to/play it more than once (can we get a ruling on that, at least?) Any rock band will tell you that just buying a T-shirt so people can see you wear it doesn’t make you a real fan, and we ought to listen to wisdom like that; because in the greatest days of rock, the best rockers were massive nerds.

If your friend bought a ticket to The Avengers, saw The Avengers, and liked The Avengers, that makes your friend a movie fan, not a nerd. And that’s okay. If they call themselves a nerd based just on that, I think we nerds have earned cuffing them (good-naturedly, I now stress) over it.

Now, maybe they saw it, and felt compelled to talk to you about how they think Nick Fury is a badass. And you enthusiastically agree, but lament that movie Nick Fury didn’t have the “Steranko Gun”. Your friend wonders what that means. They do a little reading (you lend them a book or two, don’t you?) And then they come with you to the comic store for hardback collections, because they have decided that They. Love. Nick. Fury. And they Must. Know. More. Now you are serving your friend well. Graciously welcome them to Geekdom. Find out what they nerd out about, because they probably have nerded out over something in their lives before and didn’t realize that’s what they were doing. Soap opera fans? Huge nerds. Also pro wrestling fans – but I repeat myself.

We have a responsibility, in being Better Nerds, not just to let go of grievances, but to articulate what makes us nerds to begin with, and what makes that a good thing to be in this blessed time for all things nerdy. If the isolation of the positive aspects of nerddom – that commitment and attention to detail and admiration for the artists who entertain us – is what will rescue it from past traumas, it can also be what protects the label from spreading out and being commoditized to meaninglessness. It is not earned by pain. But I say it is still earned.

We have an opportunity here, what with this staggering volume of delicious geek product being served to us, to show people not just how to love something cool, but how rewarding it is to love it in the way a nerd does. Just about every woman I have dated has been a nerd of some kind, and I feel lucky for it. Truly – once you go nerd, you don’t go back to the herd. That commitment and joy in discovery makes for a great partner.

If there is some lingering irritation at the latecomers to our party, let’s decide that it is only to protect what we think makes our ways valuable, and let it be welcomingly-simple to dispatch – you don’t owe us anything. You can be a nerd too; just do as nerds do.

Nicholas Thurkettle is a member of the Writers Guild of America, and in his life has authored screenplays, stage plays, prose fiction, newspaper and magazine features, film criticism, millions of words’ worth of blog posts, corporate training videos, ghost-written office dinner party jokes, and was once nearly hired to write an erotic virtual comic book, but was passed over despite that he had a fantastic story pitch for it.  His blog can be found at NicholasThurkettle.com

Guest Post Policy: Send me an e-mail, maybe you can post an entry here too.

Dearth of Posting

I do try to update this regularly, and even with quality content when I can manage it.  I’ve just started a new job and I had to work today, which is Sunday, for about 8 hours.  And I have to get up early, which means I can’t stay up late, which is when I do most of my writing.  It’s tough.

I’m also doing some freelance writing (for money!) as well as the NaNo writing, so it just turns out that blogging isn’t the highest priority thing on my plate.  Also, the thing I’m most focused on is how I feel about my current job and that’s not public blog fodder.

And so much interesting and/or horrific things have happened that I want to talk about and I’ve got an excellent feature idea for SheThought that I’m finding impossible to write because it involves way too many ideas and is going to be a short novel by the time I work through all the issues I’m dealing with in it.  When half your article is about how difficult it was to write your article, you’ve got to start rethinking some structural issues there.

Anyway, I want to do a quick rundown of things that happened this week that pissed me off and/or impressed me.

This made me cry happy tears: Little girl bullied for liking Star Wars gets hundreds of e-mails and toys in support.

This made me scream in rage: The Westboro Baptist Church (aka the scum of the earth) protested Elizabeth Edwards funeral because she used IVF.

This made Wayne Brady want to chock a bitch: The Salvation Army won’t give kids Harry Potter or Twilight toys. They will, on the other hand, give them guns.

This made me snark: Egypt thinks that Israel is using attack sharks against them. I repeat, EGYPT, as in a real country in the real world, thinks ISRAEL, also a real country and not a Bond Villain, is using SHARKS as WEAPONS. Seriously.

This made me go Hmm… wha?: Only 6% of scientists identify as Republican, which is even less than how many College Professors identify as Republican (14%), and we know what pinko commies professors are. The author and I agree that this is the problem, but our opinions diverge very quickly when he seems to think the problem is with Science and not with the Republican Party. Between with the uber religious and illogical ideas the religious right clings to along with the anti-science agenda of the GOP, it’s not surprising that few scientist would admit to being supportive of the party. The problem isn’t science, the problem is that the GOP needs to get its elephant head out of its elephant ass and start supporting science and intelligent thinking, instead of psuedoscience and intelligent design.

And finally, the last two things that have been impressing and depressing me: Wikileaks and Bernie “GIANT BALLS” Sanders.

Here’s an interesting documentary about Wikileaks. Here’s a useful timeline of events. And here’s an opinion piece that pretty much sums up my own feelings on the subject.

A balance must be struck between transparent democracy and diplomatic need, but calls for hunting down Assange and hyperbole regarding the cables do not further this important debate and seem designed only for media sensationalism.

From 1996 to 2009, the number of documents labeled classified has increased about 1,000 percent, according to an Information Security Oversight Office report. It’s as if the U.S. government thinks it must guide us rather than allow we-the-people to guide it. And it’s as if the government — and seemingly much of the media — thinks we can’t handle the truth.

And finally, Bernie Sanders, gotta love that man.  I have spent hours searching to try to find clips from the Stackhouse Filibuster episode of the West Wing.  I can’t, but I will link to a video of Bernie and leave you with a quote.

‎Tonight, I’ve seen a man with no legs stay standing, Dad, and a guy with no voice keep shouting. And if politics brings out the worst in people, maybe people bring out the best. Because I’m looking at the TV right now, and damn if 28 U.S. senators haven’t just walked onto the floor to help.

Movie News; January is Entertainment on Crack

December is a relentlessly slow month in Los Angeles.  It can be refreshing or really painful if you need to be working.  January, however, makes an attempt at making up for all the hours not worked in December.

Today:

Sarah Palin will have her own show on Fox News.  “It’s wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news,” Palin said in a written release.

Spiderman 4 is NOT happening anymore.  Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire are off the project.  They’re going to reboot the franchise, which seems insane considering it’s not even a decade old, but whatevs.  This also means no more Kirsten Dunst!!!

All signs point to the Arrested Development movie happening this year.

SNL film MacGruber is looking good from early reviews, apparently as good as Wayne’s World.  Which is good, since the SNL movies of late have included The Ladies Man, Superstar, and Night at the Roxbury.

I’m sure you’re all aware of George Lucas on The Daily Show and the horrifically funny youtube review of Phantom Menace.

The 2010 WGA nominations are out.  Only 79 scripts were eligible to be nominated, versus last year’s 267.  Shockingly, Avatar is nominated for Best Original Screenplay.  But thank God!  That screenplay has been released online!  And it has a deleted sex scene

NEYTIRI
I am with you now, Jake. We are mated for life.

JAKE
We are?

NEYTIRI
Yes. It is our way.
(innocently)
Oh. I forgot to tell?

He rouses up, making her look at him.

JAKE
Really, we are?

NEYTIRI
We are.

JAKE
It’s cool. I’m there.