Friday, October 1, 2010

It's Still a Jock's World (and Nerds Are Just Living In It)

For the better part of our existence, humans have exalted physical prowess and social grace over intellect and social awkwardness.

Or, put in another way jocks have always been cooler than nerds.

Recently, there has been an impression that with the growing importance of technology in our lives, geeks have gained a certain social cache that has never been afforded to them (us) before. There's even a term for it, "geek chic." Usually used as evidence of geek dominance of the cultural landscape- the popularity of geek movies like "Iron Man", "Harry Potter," and "the Lord of the Rings," the dominance of geek creations like iPods, and the Internet, and a sub-culture - hipsters - who try to purposefully emanate the social awkwardness that is an inherent part of the geek biological make up.

It's enough to make a nerd feel, well, kind of great! Like we're an accepted part of this big thing called "society"! I mean, it's like, everybody's geeking out about geeks! We even elected our first nerd president (Barack Obama and I are going to have a long conversation about Thulsa Doom at some point...)

Unfortunately, alot of this social acceptance is really just smoke and mirrors. It is true that there are alot more things out there for nerds. There are more nerd TV shows, nerd movies, nerd t-shirts, and nerd stuffed animals than ever before. But, does this mean that society, as a whole, has really come to accept nerds? Or does it mean that advertisers, and marketing folk have realized that we are a VERY lucrative demographic.

I'd say it's more of the latter.

Here is my test that I use to determine if I have been accepted, as a grown male nerd, into society. There's a street in Chicago called Clark. At the corner of Clark and Addison is Wrigley Field- one of the greatest jock landmarks on Earth. In Wrigley's shadow, there are countless enormous sports bars that are frequented by the grown up versions of popular kids from high school. When I walk down Clark Street on a Saturday night in my Green Lantern hoodie with a bag of comics, what sort of reaction do you think I get? Do you think I get alot of high fives? Or "Hey I can't wait till that movie comes out next year"s? Or "did you think Blackest Night lived up to Sinestro Corps War"s? No. I mostly get dirty looks. The popped-collared ones, at best, ignore, and at worst, try to make fun of me- usually for my shirt and (because apparently we're all still in 1st grade) for being 5'7"- a full inch and a half shorter than average. Let's forget for a moment that I could probably outbench most of these dudes; my shirt, glasses, and diminutive stature mark me as a social untouchable, and so I get made fun of.

I mean, I can take it. I can even dish back. My point here is that these folks (cool kids) still don't accept me, or any of my other nerdy brethren. And while they're extreme outliers (huge jerks) your average American human still aspires to jockhood more than nerdhood.

Seriously- go find a kid. Ask that kid what he wants to be when he or she grows up. Do they want to be a biologist? Or a mathematician? Or a comic book artist? No. They want to be soldiers, firefighters, or most often, sports superstars. Lebron James will always be more loved than Steve Jobs. Always.

Even Barack Obama, the first nerd president, got to where he is by tricking America into thinking he wasn't a nerd. How often did he talk about Spider Man on the campaign trail. Almost never. How often did you see him playing one-on-one basketball? Constantly.

What has happened, as I said, is that business folks have realized that many nerds have a good amount of income (computer engineers, rocket scientists, fantasy authors) and they like spending it. To fill that niche, they have flooded the market with toys, gadgets, books, and movies that nerds like.

It looks like acceptance, but it's really just advertising.

I mean, there is more acceptance. People realize that nerds build the Internet that supply them with endless fantasy sports, and pornography. They know that a nerd designed their iPod and their Call of Duty games. They know these things, and so maybe we won't get sand kicked in our face quite as much or as often as we did in the 50's, but it's not like we're being invited over for beers and brats either.

But none of that means that we shouldn't be proud of who we are. Nerds have, over the last 60 years, built a culture that is uniquely our own. We may not be accepted by the muggles, but we are accepted by each other. And some of the nicer muggles.

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