October 1, 2013

Nerds in this day and age--an evolution thanks to media expansion.

I know that some of you were thinking I was such a friggin' liar for a post a week but that is still the goal.  I even got a new chromebook to help me go back out and blog all the time.

I'm watching Criminal Minds randomly as I start to write this post and it definitely has me thinking.  Penelope is the resident "nerd" character, and that has been a growing theme over time right now.  Nerd culture in general is now a streamlined thing.  Back in the day my mother used to take the train and the bus two hours across Chicago to get her Doctor Who books from England, not knowing what was in stock.  She had to stay up at a strange time to watch the latest episode that America got.  It was a big deal to her when she went to college that she met someone who went out of their way to knit the Tom Baker era scarf.

Nowadays, not only can you merely just google it and you can get the directions for a great scarf, but BBC America is carrying it and you can watch it on netflix or just rent the DVDs and people will talk about it at the work place (not as much as some other shows, but you're no longer the odd man out).  This has grown for a lot of things.  I noticed it in college when this professor in one my drama classes was relating to obviously not traditionally nerdy drama kids about how Battlestar Galactica was some of the best modern dramatic pieces out there.  That's when I knew--geek culture is becoming mainstream.

It's not everything.  Let's not lie to ourselves, it's not like the national pastime is going to become Warhammer.  But considering all the movies that are getting redone, all the investment in TV show characters that have geeky habits, and all the mainstream focus on nerd events like comic-con, it's now... not so surprising to say you're a trekkie or that you spend a good amount of your time playing video games.  And I can mention pretending to be a vampire on the weekends without people proceeding to ask if I'm in a cult and deciding not to interact with me.

However, I wonder if this really means that geeks are increasing in numbers.  Are we?  And what does that really mean if we are?

Well i think with the way media works these days, thanks to the impossible greatness of the internet, people are able to find out about things easier than they were before.  By the time I was in high school, if you wanted an obscure anime, either you had to have a friend or be in the dubbing circles on the early days of internet forums, or you had to find a place to buy it online and potentially have to know japanese to enjoy it once you received it.  And the price was friggin' high!  The sad thing is this is when it was just becoming easy for anime exposure.  Nowadays there are conventions all over the place, they carry manga in mainstream bookstores, you have Amazon the seller of EVERYTHING, and on top of that you can direct download some of the more popular animes on netflix.  Isn't it great living in the future?

This extra exposure to things that others who were not genetically predispositioned to dress up as Beverly Crusher on Halloween two years in a row (that's me, by the way) means that people are no longer surprised by they hobbies that previously had either been hidden from the majority of the public or had been stigmatized by popular culture and individuals who didn't understand nor cared to do the research.  I encourage young pen and paper gamers to watch the Tom Hanks classic Mazes and Monsters.  This is how our hobby was portrayed.  Can you believe that?  As much as the internet has its down points, its ability to connect and teach has lessened the stereotypes.  Now there are many more avenues for communication and learning, and acceptance is definitely increasing over time.

But another thing I see happening is that there is a lot more "casual nerding" going on.  There are people who may be interested in one sci-fi series, but can't seem to dig the whole Asimov or LeGuin library.  There are people who really like playing Mass Effect but then would never consider the rest of Bioware's franchises or even other games like mass effect.  There are people like me who do like a really good Doctor Who episode, but don't hunker down to watch the entirety of the series or feel it even necessary to appreciate it.  Possibly because the need of extreme interest is low thanks to media, we're getting more people who like geeky pursuits but don't love them the same way the smaller geek culture did before.  If you don't have to  an hour and a half bus ride to get that book you've been waiting for, it's probably easier to love the series and not be a die-hard.

And this is part of the reason I feel like writing this whole long rant today.  Living in the future means we are more exposed to these great hobbies and genres that have now experienced more time in the limelight.  It's fantastic.  As much as I haven't read or seen Game of Thrones (I swear to god I'll read the books don't judge me) I'm happy that we have a fantasy series outside of Tolkien's world that is now part of popular culture.  I'm elated that people are getting interested in the philosophical quandries that sci-fi explores in new stories.  I have to stop myself from doing a joyful dance when I went into a Barnes and Noble and saw they were selling Settlers of Catan and Pandemic.  It's almost as if we're in a miniature nerd renaissance.

But with that there are some drawbacks.  Part of the reason I used to love sci-fi is that I found that it was the better composed art forms.  Tighter, more thoughtful writing was prevalent.  Things were thought through.  But the more I look back, the more I realize that this was due to my mother's really good taste in art all around.  There are really bad versions of any traditionally nerdy pursuit out there, and thanks to living in the future, that has also spread around.  I am not going to pretend I know what all of them are, and in fact I'm not going to list any for fear of nerd rage.  Feel free to leave it in the comments.  But we all know what we're talking about.  This is why we're always wary of any story with lizard men--it doesn't automatically mean it's bad, but it does mean there is a higher probability of crap in that story.

Now that these nerd loves are front and center, it means that there is a higher probability that the "normal consumer" of certain medias are going to be more highly exposed to the filth.  Noticed how many comic book movies are receiving the sequel treatment that ruined many a franchise before.  Old sci-fi movies are getting redone and forgetting why those stories were important in the first place.  One example that I hate picking on but I'm going to anyway is Star Trek: Into Darkness.  J.J. Abrahms makes great movies.  They're exciting and riveting and you get sucked in the theater and you forget that you drank a bucket worth of lemonade and need to pee for the last hour of the film.  He makes great films.  I'm never going to argue that Into Darkness was a bad movie.  But I will argue is that Into Darkness was bad Star Trek.  We're talking about a series that was known for thoughtful questions of humanity that were answered in hour-long shows.  Not every episode does that, but the pursuits of those questions are always present.  Those questions were not fully defined or explored in Into Darkness.  In fact, I would argue that Into Darkness has the opposite problem that the very first Star Trek movie had.  Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a great question about the reach of humanity in space and its affects that was clouded with bad writing and editing.  Star Trek: Into Darkness was a very well done movie that never touched anything that would make the audience think after they left the theater.

On top of the normal things that will affect any medium that becomes part of pop culture, you now also have nerds becoming more prevalent as characters in other stories, such as Penelope in Criminal Minds.  Her portrayl is okay, although it does totally fall into the stereotypical problems that any hacker schematics do in any TV show or movie (no, hacking isn't just a bunch of fast code typing, it doesn't work quite like that).  But let's take a look at The Big Bang Theory.  I'm officially going to say this: fuck that show.  What the internet did to help get away from stereotypes that associate with nerds, i.e. the whole loner persona who has trouble communicating with people and are so out of the loop they can use their personality to collect disability, The Big Bang Theory brought back in full force.  There are geeky people of all different walks, and let me tell you I've been a loyal fan of Star Trek while still knowing how to dress fashionably and not be socially awkward.  I could make a whole blog post about how we have to stop treating socially awkward like it's a subset of cute, but then I may have to do research into The New Girl and I'm not feeling that.

Finally, there is the in-fighting.  I've posted about this before, where there is a subset of nerds judging other nerds about not being geeky enough.  Female cosplayers do get the largest brunt of it but it happens all over the place.  People who don't know all the lore judging people they believe know less of the lore for their beloved series.  People who think that the influx of women in certain fields is entirely superficial.  People who feel you have to prove yourself to them before you can join their games.  SERIOUSLY GUYS!  There should not be a test on whether or not you're a nerd!  Why would we be so exclusive?  Who benefits from that?  Seriously, so many other groups have shot themselves in the foot from in-fighting, do we want to join those ranks because someone who wants to join your Star Trek marathons doesn't fluently speak Klingon?  Are we seriously going to do this?

As you can see, there are so many benefits to this new nerd era we're living in right now, but also some set backs.  Some of the things that I hope all of the geek-spheres take advantage of is the ability to expose more people to the love of their hobbies.  For example, my friend David Zoltan, the man who introduced me to the LARP hobby I've loved, is now opening up Geek Bar Chicago thanks to the magic of kickstarter.  I don't know how successful this could've been without the magic of living in the future.  I think if we invest in spreading the word and accessibility, we can teach the masses why we've loved these hobbies all this time, and invite them into what we invested those long bus rides across town for.  That will help get rid of the issues with misrepresentation and, potentially, with poor quality nerd productions.  We just have to show everyone not only what we like, but why we like it.

As a side note, there's a part of me that likes bringing good sci-fi to the forefront.  Star Trek is definitely a big part of the reason why NASA exists in the first place.  So many genius people were inspired by it.  Maybe we can get that again in hope that it wil inspire the next generation for us to a better future, where maybe NASA will no longer be considered non-essential.  Because in the long run, those hopes that widened our eyes when we participated in all of these things are actually help make us into people who strive to problem-solve, discover and create in the future.  That would be the best result of this mini renaissance, don't you think?


  1. "We just have to show everyone not only what we like, but why we like it." Yes! I totally agree! I really enjoyed this post! Please keep them coming, I'm going to go read the post on in-fighting now. Also, YES on hating the Big Bang Theory. That show is so infuriating it deserves a whole post of its own.

  2. Thank you Katie! Maybe I should attempt to do an actual critique of Big Bang Theory. I will definitely continue to write, I forgot how much I loved it!