Friday, 23 December 2011

Dear Self-Proclaimed Nerds: Please Stop Trying to Make a Subculture Out of This Shit

Nerd: a derogatory slang term for an intellectual but socially-impaired, perhaps obsessive person who spends inordinate amounts of time on unpopular or obscure pursuits, to the exclusion of more mainstream activities. Nerds are considered to be awkward, shy, and unattractive. Thus, a nerd is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by others, or will tend to associate with a small group of like-minded people. As with other pejoratives, nerd has been reappropriated by some as a term of pride and group identity. ~ Wikipedia
The word used to be an insult; only a few years ago, it stood for trainspotting, social ineptitude and glasses that left the wearer utterly without dignity. Things are different now – the 2000s saw a huge influx of superhero movies, and The Dark Knight was the highest grossing movie of 2008. DC, taking advantage of the accompanying surge of interest in comic books, rebooted their entire line in September.
Fantasy put in a strong appearance too, with the hugely successful Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies. The Dark Materials trilogy also became a sensation (although the movie franchise was mercifully abandoned after universal agreement that the first film was a fucking abortion). Meanwhile, massive advances in gaming created intricate and graphically beautiful products that inspire as much discussion as art-house cinema among fans. Nerd has gone mainstream.
And so many self-proclaimed nerds hate this fact like poison.
It’s pretty much an accepted fact that all subcultures, however subversive they might initially appear, will ultimately be broken down, repackaged, and sold back to us in watered-down junk form by marketers and corporations. It happened to hippie, punk, goth, grunge - and now, some nerds believe, it’s happening with Their Shit.

No names mentioned or anything.
The increased use of technology in everyday life has made computer aptitude a more or less mandatory form of interaction, rather than a signifier of social ineptitude. The image of the thirty year old nerd listening to metal in his mother’s basement and ruling only the interwebs is an unflattering throw-back to a not-so-distant past, when those who went online for their social interaction were commonly assumed to be horrible at real life. Today, though, mention that guy and we picture Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerman.
And I suspect that that’s what a lot of the self-proclaimed nerds are pissed off about: as soon as the label ceases to be an insult and starts to gain positive connotations, it’s taken from them and put on like a Spiderman T-shirt by the same borderline-illiterate trendies who picked on them in school. It’s being diluted and sold right back to them, via people who disdained it just a few years ago.
But here's the thing - nerd is not a subculture. So... you can quit guarding it like a dog with a bone. It's a term with very little meaningful currency nowadays - and in fact, by trying to make it into an esoteric little niche for Clever People, you only create a target out of it for the very marketers and corporations you're implicitly bitching about when you get bitter about the fact that shit you’ve loved for years is suddenly popular.
So far I’ve only mentioned certain types of nerdery, because there are many out there that I’ve never even heard of. Just last week, for example, I discovered an Otherkin community dedicated to educating the world on metaphysics.***

*** Yes, seriously. 
Because the truth is, nerd fodder stretches from J. G. Ballard to Joss Whedon. It doesn’t outright exclude anything on the basis of ideology, and it certainly doesn’t carry with it any guarantee of intellectual greatness; just one more reason people who use it as a self-congratulatory implication of how smart they are get on my nerves. The label applies to quantum physics fanatics and a Doctor Who junkies alike. Nerdy things can be just as dumbed-down and banal as mainstream.

Again, no names mentioned.

Today, nerdy no longer automatically means intellectual; geekdom unites professors of philosophy and Spider-Man fans. More than ever in this information age of ours, there can be no one thing that makes a nerd, when we have access to so many things one can be nerdy about: there are online communities for lesbian comic fans, white supremacist songwriters, straight female authors of slash fiction, middle-aged academics, and anime sneeze fetishists. Its identity politics are not ruled by a single dominant discourse. The trappings of Geekdom are too many and their creators too varied in background and beliefs for that.

That’s not to say it isn’t guilty of the same bullshit as the mainstream at times, of course. There's a strong interest in marginal voices, but it’s by no means a utopian, colour-blind or gender-indifferent world. And for all its indie pretensions, it's not without market domination either - DC could undoubtedly buy and sell most of the comic producers in the States.
But part of the allure of nerdery is its fascination with marginal voices, idiosyncrasy of vision, and the excitement of discovering little-known gems by veering off the beaten track. And that will always happen, because – again – nerd is not a subculture. It is a word sometimes applied to people who may be into one or more of an immense variety of interests. Virtually everything that attracts enough interest will become commercialized in the end, but there will always be those small groups of people seeking originality.

And with the internet at your disposal, you will never run out of things to discover. They made a bad movie out of your favourite comic? Then go read The Bobcats, or Daisy Owl, or any one of a million others floating around the interwebs made by talented individuals whose names you’d never have even heard if this was even ten years ago. It's not like the inclusion of nerdy shit in the mainstream is killing that impulse that keeps people making this stuff - all it’s done is give them a forum. Corporate interests still hold art to ransom, but this is far from a new state of affairs; they always did.
So get over yourself. Geeking out over something doesn't make you a superior being. It just suggests a good deal of knowledge about a particular topic, alongside a passion for it that’s strong enough to make you gibber like an overexcited preteen, carried away with excitement and praise and love.

I don't pretend to understand all of it.
Getting the arse about people discovering things you liked years ago is ridiculous - just judge mainstream efforts on merit instead of onanistic anti-populist snobbery, and enjoy the upsides. I mean, do you want to bite the hand that fed you The Dark Knight and Frozen Planet?

"Yeah, that's what I thought, bitch."
Or do you want to count down to season 2 of the awesome Game of Thrones, and root for HBO to do a similarly good job on American Gods?
Appeals to self-proclaimed nerds to remember their core identity as the REAL discoverers of this shit, and contempt for poseurs and wannabes who enjoyed the Watchmen movie without ever reading any Alan Moore, seem to suggest that nerdery is something to be hoarded; some currency by which we real fans can judge ourselves superior to others. Yes, it can be annoying when people eat up commercialized versions of things you like whilst actively resisting superior but lesser-known works. But hating people who creamed themselves over Mark Steven Johnson’s Daredevil, because they didn’t read the comic back when they were a teenager, is missing the point.

The point is to hate them because the screenplay was poor and you’ve taken dumps with more charisma than Ben Affleck.

Let's be clear: I’m not such a hippie I'm suggesting we do away with judgment altogether. If a book, movie, comic or whatever is genuinely shite, then it’s your civic duty to berate it loudly.

But if the reason you’re pissed off is because you’ve loved it for years and a lot of other people now love it too, then quit bitching. As far as I'm concerned, that just means all the more people to favour with my incisive commentary and witty observations.
Surely that which excites you should beg to be shared. Instead of bitching about the Mundanes stealing Our Shit, shouldn’t we be excited that so many people have fallen in love with geek-gone-mainstream things that are actually really fucking good?
Because there really is a lot of awesome stuff out there. And if you’re complaining about others encroaching on your territory, then... are you sure you really like this stuff? Because maybe it’s just me, but when I fall in love with something, I want to share it with everyone I’ve ever met. When seized by the enthusiasm of a new discovery I will send you links, make you sit and watch clips from the internet, orate a thesis on my interpretation of its message, and just generally become monumentally boring on the subject.

Because when something lights you up – I mean really hits you right in the sweet spot – don’t you just want to show it to someone? And isn’t it an absolute pleasure when you find a fellow nerd with whom you can rhapsodize about something you thought you were alone in liking? To paraphrase that paedo teacher in The History Boys, it's like a hand reaching out across time and space, and taking yours.

Pictured: wisdom. Also, boy-love.

No comments:

Post a Comment