Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It Shouldn't Hurt to be a Nerd

Over the past few years I've seen a steep increase in the number of people who are willing to let their nerd flag fly. In some strange way nerds, who have traditionally been a marginalized group, are in the mainstream now. They have girlfriends and have people who admire them for their knowledge and skills. It's a whole new nerdy world. Guys who would have been stuffed into trash cans not that many years ago are now being lionized by people who aren't even on the chess team (I was invited to join the chess team, and I had many friends on the chess team. I just thought it was a bridge too far. I tried (and failed) to have some semblance of coolness). It's more okay to be a nerd now than it ever has been, and that means there are more out-of-the-closet nerds than ever before.

With the increase in overall nerdy numbers, the schisms that divide certain types of nerds have gotten pretty wide. No, I'm not talking about Star Wars vs Star Trek or anything like that. I'm talking about those who wish to inflict their nerd powers on you, to use them as some sort of nerdy weapon vs. those who seek the more communal aspects of nerd life and seek peace in nerdhood. We can divide nerds into two main groups with many subgroups among them. I will not attempt to make a complete listing of the subgroups, but I will try to cover the topic as best as I can. Do I sound like I'm writing some sort of nerd term paper? Yes I do.

The two main types of nerd (and yes, I know that binary classification systems are often flawed) are the Destroyer Nerd and the Builder Nerd.

Destroyer Nerds are the reason you might not ever want to be a nerd. They are intimidating because they know more about everything than you do (partly because all they ever do is soak up nerd information. They usually have no friends and no life outside their nerdy pursuits) and they are always correcting you or laughing in your face at the slightest mistake. This type of nerd is typified by the comic book guy from The Simpsons. How often have you seen this guy derisively mock someone because they didn't know some nerdy detail that he knows? It's pretty much his whole reason for being.

The destroyer nerds I most hate to be around own a video game store in the city I used to live in. Because they own the store, all they do every day is play video games, read comic books, and discuss various types of nerdy crap. Their job allows them a certain elite level of nerd knowledge that people with a normal day job can't attain without completely sacrificing their social life. I once made the mistake of saying that there is a port of Gunstar Heroes on the Gameboy Advance. What I meant to say was that there is a sequel to Gunstar Heroes, not a port. When my mouth was spitting the sentence out, I couldn't think of the word "sequel." Maybe I was up too late the night before, or maybe I started talking before the thought was fully formed. I dunno. I said port when I meant sequel. When my little faux pas reached the ears of the nerd on duty, he basically jumped down my throat and called me a moron. Then he took the time to explain to me the difference between a port and a sequel, a difference I already knew. You would think I would get a little slack because I'm the guy who walks in once a month asking for Vectrex games (the nerd on duty never fails to point out that he owns the complete Vectrex library including all the peripherals and no, none of them are for sale). So now when I walk in that store, I pretty much keep my mouth shut. I don't want to make the slightest slip-up lest I get an "I know more than you about everything" lecture. Like I said, these guys use nerd knowledge as a weapon.

Builder Nerds are the reason you want to be a nerd. They love sharing and just plain old nerding out. Stan Lee is the perfect builder nerd. If you read the early Marvel comics he worked on, his little comments at the bottom of certain frames all  seem to be saying, "Do you think this is as awesome as I think it is? Seriously, I think this is super awesome." Reading a comic with Stan Lee comments feels like you're reading it with the man himself. You can tell he loves what he does and he loves to share it with the world.

The first builder nerd I ever got to be really good friends with was my friend Ryan. He lived in the small addition on the side of the bachelor pad I lived in during my first year of college. We had this huge house that was disgusting in every way, but the rent was super cheap. Something like 9 guys lived in it, and Ryan was the quiet guy who lived in the addition that had its own bathroom and kitchenette. We never talked to the guy during the first semester, and were only vaguely aware that he lived in our place. One night he knocked on the door to the main house to ask to use the bathroom or something. Once inside the house, he noticed my large collection of Calvin and Hobbes stuff. He got really excited and we started talking about how great Calvin and Hobbes is. He went to his room and pulled out some Calvin and Hobbes collections I hadn't read yet, and he loaned them to me. I, in turn, loaned him the ones he hadn't read. We talked about all kinds of stuff that night. It was, "Do you still listen to synthpop from the 80's even though almost nobody else in the world does? Me too!" "Have you used the cheat codes on Descent and laughed when the lady's voice said, 'cheater'? Me too!" "Do you hold Cinnamon Toast Crunch to be the superior sugar cereal over all other sugar cereals? Me too!" Ryan and I ended up staying up until 3 in the morning talking about all kinds of nerdy stuff. It was one of the best times I've ever had talking about nerdy crap. Since that time, I've had similar discussions with my music nerd friends, my movie nerd friends, my video game nerd friends, and all other nerdy friends. Sharing nerdy knowledge is one of the best things a nerd can do.  It's a building and rejoicing process rather than a destroying one.

And now we take a look at the subsets of nerddom.

Destroyer Nerd Subsets

The Old Guard- This is the guy who can't accept the fact that there are 12 year old kids who enjoy the same nerdy crap he does. Somehow he's forgotten that he was once a 12 year old  with nerdy interests and that at one time there were people who knew more than he did. He's probably forgotten all the builder nerds who helped him gain all his nerdy knowledge. The old guard nerd is, at heart, an ingrate.

The Ninja Nerd- This type of nerd is never a part of any conversation. He has no friends, and subsists in nerddom only by sneak attacking existing nerdy conversations. This is the type of guy who will sneak up and lecture you on the difference between a sequel and a port when he wasn't even a part of the original conversation. He's always there lurking in the shadows, waiting for someone to make a mistake that he can pounce on. He'll correct you, make you feel bad, and leave as soon as he came. It's no wonder he has no friends.

The Evil Career Nerd- This is a guy who works in the nerd industry but uses his powers for evil rather than good. It's the comic store guy who talks down to you because he knows everything and you don't. It's the record store guy who laughs in your face because you haven't heard of some obscure band who only has 45's on some Japanese label. It's the guys who work at that video game store who gave me a half hour of crap for a slight verbal mistake. These are the living versions of the comic book guy from The Simpsons.

The Claim Jumper- Although he is usually lying about it, this guy knew about every trend in nerddom before you did. He was on the bandwagon back when it was freshly felled trees waiting to go to the mill to become the boards that would eventually become the bandwagon. He will never stop rubbing your face in the fact that he staked his claim first. About the 90 millionth time you hear about how he had the screener for the pilot of Firefly before the series even hit the air and become a cult classic you just want to punch him in the face.

The Player Hater- Nothing is good enough for this guy. He believes true nerd power comes from staring awesome things in the face and declaring them to be not nearly good enough for his refined palate. No matter how good something is, he'll find something wrong with it. He thinks he's a great critical thinker and a very refined person, but he's really just a two-bit hater. It takes no skill to find fault with everything you see. Nerds of this variety are probably very insecure at heart, and their player hating is a smoke screen.

The Hoarder- This is the guy who's holding four aces but will never show them. He'll let you see the two of clubs that fills out his hand, but you'll never see the single of spades. He feels like he'll lose his power and status if he ever lets anyone else know about some nerdy area of knowledge in which he is an expert. He seriously thinks his life would be perfect if nobody else knew about Voltron or whatever it is he is hoarding. In addition to robbing the nerd community of his expertise, this guy is robbing himself of potential friendships and good times.

Builder Nerd Subsets

The Old Timer- The old timer is the guy who has been doing nerdy crap his whole life. He enjoys seeing a new generation come up and take hold of the nerdy crap he loves. My Dad is this kind of nerd. For Father's Day I gave him some DVD's with tons of digital comics on them. He started talking to me about why Jack Kirby's Marvel stuff was the best there has ever been, and we ended up having a nice long discussion about comics that both of our wives rolled their eyes at. It's fun to be able to talk about stuff with a guy who remembers when The X-Men were brand new.

The Good Career Nerd- This is the guy who works in the nerd industry and manages to not let his status go to his head. It's the comic store guy who gladly introduces neophyte nerds to comics they will probably enjoy. It's the record store guy who will put on a record of a great band you aren't aware of because he wants you enjoy it as much as he does (His name is Steve and he co-owns Hoodlum's in Tempe). It's the video game store guys who love to direct you to awesome games you haven't played (Some of these guys work at Bookman's in Mesa). They are guys who use their positions to bring good stuff to good people.

The Rejoicer- This is my friend Ryan. It's the guy who you can talk to until 3 in the morning. He loves that anyone else in the world knows about M.A.S.K. (because illusion is the ultimate weapon y'know). His mind is blown any time he meets someone who loves Get Smart as much as he does. Life is a 24/7 party for this guy because at any moment he could start up a conversation with a random stranger about how great Patrick Stewart is.

The Librarian- This guy owns an extensive collection of nerdy stuff, but is somehow not opposed to constantly lending it out. He views his collection as less of a personal property and more of a collective pool. Unfortunately, this guy is very easily exploited by destroyer nerds. If he surrounds himself with builder nerds, however, this guy can create a nerd commune where peace and happiness reign.

The Sherpa- This is the guy who will take a young or aspiring nerd by the hand and guide him through the admittedly convoluted world of sci-fi, comic books, and other nerdy crap. He helps you avoid the jabs thrown at you by destroyer nerds. He helps you set up your nerdy base camp with your nerd essentials and may even help you reach a nerdy summit or two. The sherpa is a true friend and is of great value to aspiring nerds.

Anyway, I might add more nerd types when I think of 'em, but these will suffice for now. As you can see, destroyer nerds are self-centered and bring nothing of value to the nerd community. Builder nerds are the nerd community. There wouldn't be conventions and gatherings if there weren't nerds whose purpose in life is to share and rejoice in good things.

If I were president of nerds (and no, this is not me throwing my hat into the ring. If I ever run it won't be until at least 2016) I would actively seek to set up some sort of nerd rehabilitation to help destroyer nerds learn to contribute positively to society. There really needn't be a rift in nerddom. It pains me to see it.

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