Monday, April 24, 2006

I Heart Nerds

This past weekend, the Science Museum of Minnesota hosted a “geek prom”, which you can read about here and here. I didn’t go, but don’t think that I consider myself too cool to spend a Saturday night with a bunch of dorks and spazzes and nerds. Even though I’m probably better pegged as a “hipster”, I try not to be too pompous about it. The way I see it, a nerd and a hipster are very close together in the great scheme of human variety. The borders between the two blur together and, to our more distant subcultural cousins–the jocks, the future business leaders, the gangstas and the like–we are all but identical. Sure, hipsters might have better fashion sense and nerds might be a little less pretentious, but deep down we’re pretty similar. We both tend to feel oppressed by a society of normals, we like to band together, and we often obsess over obscure cultural phenomena. Babylon Five or Stan Brakhage, there probably isn’t that much difference in the grand scheme of things.

Many of my friends and most of my family are nerds, you see. It’s amazing that I didn’t become one. Sometimes I sort of wish I had. Nerds rule the world, after all. Nerds have cachet. Nerds are sexy. I’m sort of a nerd wanna-be, I guess. Nevertheless, I feel I know enough about them to be able to speak authoritatively on the subject. So, submitted for your approval is this, the Insomnia Report Schema of Nerdhood.


ZERO: In your basement, there are a few twenty-year-old action figures in their original packaging, a few comic books sealed in plastic wrap. You often forget they’re there, though, and every once in awhile you make a point of chastising someone who’s nerdiness is more obvious than yours. Only a nimrod would want to stay at home to catch the Star Trek Voyager marathon, you say (a little too loudly), only a total virgin would pay fifty bucks to go to an anime convention. This is because you’re in the closet and you hate the nerd in yourself. You are the saddest species of nerd: the self-hating nerd.

ONE: In college you wrote a term paper on Devo. Your e-mail messages end with a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In fact, you were slightly angered by the recent Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie. You felt it wasn’t true to Douglas Adams’ vision. But you keep most of these opinions on the down-low; not because you’re ashamed of them, but because not many people you know would care. You’re well-established in straight, non-nerdy society. You’re married and your spouse wouldn’t know Douglas Adams from Scott Adams. You’ve bought drapes that go with your furniture. The furniture that matches perfectly. Because you bought it that way.

TWO: You have recorded entire seasons of that show where two teams of nerds compete to build robots out of junk. You’d rather watch this than the latest Tom Hanks movie, unless the latest Tom Hanks movie has been directed by Steven Spielberg, who always manages to pull off some innovative cinematography tricks within the context of the popcorn blockbuster. If someone pressed you, you would fess up to seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind more than two dozen times. However, when you went to see Serenity the week it opened–without telling your spouse, because you figured he/she “wouldn’t be interested”–the people there in costumes embarrassed you a little.


THREE: You wonder why that person at the Serenity showing was giving you funny looks. Sure, you’re in a costume, but it’s not like you camped out at the theater or anything. You work with computers, but your real passion is the universe created by Hayao Miyazaki. You have the kid from Spirited Away tattooed on the small of your back, you maintain a presence on at least a dozen anime message boards, and you’re considering taking up Japanese so you can contribute to even more. If you’re expecting a child, you have–for at least a moment–hoped that it will be a girl so that you can name her Mononoke.

FOUR: The months of June, July and August seem to drag on forever for you because you’re impatient for the Renaissance Festival to begin. It seems to you like it might be fun to pick up Middle English. You, in fact, have a knack for languages. You already know Ewokese, Jawaish, and Fortran. You have a cat named Number One and you’ve had a series of parakeets, each named Number Six. Sure, you’ve got bad memories of being picked on in junior high, but the sweet, sweet paychecks from Microsoft have more than made up for that.

FIVE: Even the thought of team sports makes you uncomfortable. You go out of your way to avoid occasions where you might have to dance. You’ll never admit it to anyone, but you do dance sometimes in your apartment alone at night, when you’re revved up on caffeine and have They Might Be Giants cranked up full blast. You’re not proud of it, but you once yelled at a good friend for offering a contrary opinion on the quality of Frank Miller’s graphic novels. You can quote at least six classic Monty Python sketches verbatim.


SIX: Many people are involved in the phenomenon of “on-line gaming”, but very few have had to go to a doctor for repetitive motion injuries incurred while playing one. There was a time when you considered getting your name legally changed to Samwise, Gandalf, or Arwyn. By the same token, you use the abbreviation “LOTR” and expect everyone you communicate with to know what you’re talking about. You are three-quarters finished with the sixth volume of your unpublished fantasy saga, and are seriously weighing whether or not to make it available on-line. All your favorite art is made with an airbrush. You declined to go to the Science Museum’s “geek prom” because their lax door policy might have allowed a few non-geeks in.

SEVEN: Your Myst fan-fiction has been rejected for having too many sex scenes. Your most fervent hope is that Hollywood will soon stop making films out of the comic books you like, because every time they find new ways to ruin them. Your budget has allowances in it for cloaks and enchanted swords and metal figurines shaped like characters in Battlestar Galactica. You know how it feels to wake up sludgy-mouthed and covered in dew in front of a multiplex, your heart aching with the hope that George Lucas hasn’t lost his unique vision.

EIGHT: Your behavior towards Gates McFadden has been described as “stalker-esque”. You are banned from several chatrooms for abusive language towards people who prefer TOS to TNG. In homage to LeVar Burton, you wear an engine filter over your eyes pretty much everywhere besides work. At work, you’re known as “that guy”, but everyone is nice to you because they know that you can absolutely destroy all their hard-drives with just sixteen keystrokes. You once played “Doom” for twenty hours straight. You have fantasized about playing “Doom” in your office, if you know what I mean. The memorabilia you keep in an airtight chamber in your home has been appraised as worth more than the GDP of several Central Asian nations.