because cool kids are boring

The Questions

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In his year end write up, my boy Z linked to Patton Osawlt’s Wired piece about the current state of nerdity. Z and I have different opinions about the nature of the piece. He tends to see it more as holding up the old guard as the true path of nerdity. I on the other hand see it as a send up of folks who cling to the old ways.

What ever the intended nature of the piece, it has left me thinking about a few things that I want to address in a couple of pieces.

The first such piece is about “the questions.”

– What is a nerd and/or geek?
– Are you a nerd and/or a geek?

These are the two questions, in one form or another, that have dominated nerd discussions over the past year or so. It has gotten to the point that a lot of us are pretty sick and tired of the questions and would be happy to see them never asked again.

Over the past couple of days though, since Z posted his essay, I’ve found myself thinking about these questions. Why are we so sick of them? On their own they’re actually really important questions. Ones that we should be constantly asking ourselves in self reflection. Why then have they developed such a negative stigma? My theory is that it has nothing to do with the questions themselves, but in the answers that we’ve received in response to them.

The replies we tend see are dominated with checklists involving social status, societal awkwardness or isolation, a laundry list of approved interests and hobbies, and an underlining sense of obsessiveness that exceeds socially acceptable limits. These are answers that make sense, if the question was being asked 10 years ago.

Invariably, the answers that we receive to these questions is not what we are, but instead what we were. The kind of things that used to separate us from the “norms”. The thing is that the last 10 years have seen a monumental upheaval in how nerds interact with and relate to society as a whole. We now live in a world where we take it for granted that a new summer will be met by more then one attempt from Hollywood to mine our most cherished fandoms for the next big money grab. Where we have found ourselves intermingling with the norms in our collective obsessions with properties like Harry Potter, The Sopranos, Lost, and The Wire, among a plethora of other franchises. Where we have taught them the toolsets we developed in our slavish devotion to older properties like Monty Python or our desperate attempts to make sense of the Akira movie. And where they have begun to adapt these toolsets to their own separate obsessions.

These changes have created a situation where the old definitions of who and what we are now ring hollow. They are recited from memory because these are the responses time has taught us, but when we stop and really consider the question being asked, we find that we don’t really believe our answers anymore. This existential crisis has lead some to grasp tightly to the old ways and hold them up as a true path. One that must be followed with out mis-step if one dares to lay claim to the title of nerd or geek. Others respond to the crisis by declaring the death of us. A mournful bellow that the terms have lost all meaning and should be driven from our tongues is their cry. Still others ignore the reality of the situation and pretend that nothing has changed.

The problem with all of these responses is that they treat who we are as static things to be cast in amber and placed on a shelf for later observation. For a social group to survive though it must be allowed to grow and evolve, or else it will stagnate and die. So these reactions to the changes that we are undergoing are more then just attempts to hold back the hand of time, they are, in a very real sense, a death sentence for our very identity.

There is cause for hope though, as mentioned in Z’s piece.

Art has long held a place in society as the preferred method though which we can explain the unexplainable. Free of the chains of logic and the rules of discourse, art provides us the freedom to say things that we have no words for. While the past year has in many ways been defined by our inability to answer the questions, it has also provided the best answers we have to these questions. When you look at the art we have produced; from some of our best music yet, much of which comes from relative new comers; to amazing fan vids; to the temporary spaces we have created where we are free to redefine who and what we are; it is obvious that what we are is not what we were, but is evolving to something new and wonderful.

When history writes this chapter of our existence, the first decade of this century will likely be seen as a time of change for us. A time when we had to jettison what we used to be and redefine who we are. That same history will likely record a laundry list of embarrassing missteps and fruitless side quests, but it will also show that it was what we did, not what we said, which ultimately guided us through the transition.

Written by Matt

January 3rd, 2011 at 2:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized