Damn truth. If you ca’int do something smart, do something right. Words to live by.
No really. Watch this.
Ancient Chinese instrument, the sheng, which originated back in 1,100 BC, and it can perfectly replicate the music in Mario.
It even makes the coin noises.
It looks like one of the Monster Hunter hunting horn weapons.
So I was supposed to go to New Mexico today to present a paper on Nerd And Geek Culture which is an amazing opportunity……..
The weather has said no. My flight is cancelled. No other flights are available.
I can’t present the paper. You guys get it instead….I am going to have a drink now.
Nerds In Crisis
A teacher teaches and a writer writes, I on the other hand, am a nerd. This distinction has been with me for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it started in the early nineties when I got custom black rimmed glasses so I could look like Buddy Holly or maybe it was in the eighties when I wore neon sweaters and reenacted my favourite scenes from “Masters Of The Universe”. To be honest I just don’t know. The entire concept of when I became a nerd became wholly irrelevant when I was recently faced with the much more terrifying question of what a nerd actually is. At first glance this question seems pretty straight forward, we can brush it off by deferring to some sort of cultural stereotype: nerds are fans, nerds are socially awkward, nerds are smart, nerds are loners, but these kinds of common responses are a problem. On closer inspection all theses definitions don’t really define, they merely describe. They are facets of what it is to be a nerd but say nothing of what a nerd actually is. Are nerds just socially inept intellectual fans? Well, to put it bluntly, no. Something very important seems to be missing from the common description that separates the nerd from the average fan. I know people who are fans of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” or “Community” but they are not nerds, they do not spend their nights writing fan fiction or logging countless hours on Sub-Reddit forums arguing over who the best “Buffy” villain was. Nerds seem to be a step above the average fan when it comes to dedication and emotional investment. The common definition of a nerd is lacking, it makes no distinction between nerd-dom and fan-dom nor does it delve into the foundations of being a nerd. In this work I will deconstruct the concept of the nerd distinguishing it from the common fan, ultimately defining a nerd as someone who assumes there personal identity from various products, properties and activities thus revealing the potentially dangerous implications behind being one.
In order to properly answer the question of what is a nerd we must look at the foundations of nerd-dom in an an attempt to pin point a potential nerd keystone, a characteristic of the nerd that is vital to nerd identification. It does not strike me as controversial to suggest that the primary characteristic of a nerd is that they are fans but of course not all fans are nerds. Whether its television, music, gaming, or hand knitted cat sweaters, nerds must begin as fans. This point may seem obvious if you have ever spoken to a nerd regarding their favourite show or movie or game. You probably have already experienced first hand one of the shared attributes that comes from being a nerd or a fan, namely passion. Before I had ever played a game of “Dungeons and Dragons” I was told all about the game’s glories and wonders by a friend of mine who, without a doubt, was a D&D nerd. A nerd has a passion that motivates a deep and complex desire for understanding of whatever they are a fan of. This passion is a wonderful thing that has led to the creation of spin offs, the saving of a television series, the creation of movies, and even the creation of a fictional town that acts as a real life support network for fans. A quick search of Tumblr will reveal a torrent of fan created art, from gifs to full scripts of fan fiction side plot story lines.
The passion of the nerd is unbridled but that does not mean that it is unique. Many sports fans can be seen making costumes or painting their faces for a big game. So what is the difference between the passion of the nerd and the passion of the fan? To answer this question let’s look at a quote from Gamerfury.tumblr.com of a tweet sent to one of the developers of the major game “Call Of Duty” after a patch was released that changed a gun’s virtual rate of fire by a millisecond:
“I swear to god I am going to find out where you live and drown you and your daughter in bleech [sic] and leave you there [sic] to corrode” - _Xegaa
This quote is an extreme example of what is commonly known in the media, as “nerd rage” and is a shameful occurrence among certain groups nerds. Another example of such rage is presented by Dan Roth as he quotes game writer Jennifer Hepler in his article for Blastr.com “Graphic Death Threats Lead to Long Time BioWare Game Writer to Quit”. Quoting Hepler, Roth writes:
“I was shown a sample of the forum posts by EA security, and it included graphic threats to kill my children on their way out of school to show them that they should have been aborted at birth rather than have to have me as a mother.”
It seems uncontroversial to suggest that the kind of passion that sparks these kinds of rage laden and twisted emotional responses, is not an average passion. To most people even those within the nerd community, these types of threats are insane, especially when we consider that the source of these threats against human life stem from changes made to a video game. These types of threats seem more in line with someone defending them self from harm rather than a small change in frame rate or a slight weakening of a fictional weapon. Perhaps if our families were being held hostage and we searched for the words to express our hatred for the horrible kidnappers, we may stumble onto something similar to those expressed by the angry nerd. For the nerd, the passion that drives them overshadows the inane circumstances that surround the situation; for the nerd it is personal.
I wish to make it explicitly clear that I am not saying that all nerds would prescribe to or even condone these acts of senseless terror. The average nerd is not the raging manic depicted in modern news stories, the average nerd is a vessel of nerd love and admiration for what they are fans of. Examples like the above threats are merely the simplest way of demonstrating the difference between the passion of an average fan and that of the nerd. The type of rage and love expressed throughout nerd subgroups is a testament to not only the passion they have but is also a demonstration of the sense of ownership that accompanies being a nerd. The average fan may respond negatively to change but the instances of threats stemming from nerd-culture are notorious. This is mirrored by the amount of support and pride that the nerd shows for his many loves, whether it be “Doctor Who” or “Call of Duty”. But why is this the case? Why does it seem that nerds are so quick to march to war when it comes to the things they love? Why are nerds so quick to defend and express a sense of ownership or love? To put it simply, they must care differently, whatever they are a fan of must mean something more to them than the average person, or the average fan. For the nerd, his identity has become intertwined with the object of his affection. It isn’t that someone changed a game it is that they changed my game, they came after me, they tried to change me by changing what I love.
The capacity for such reactions and the strong sense of ownership of the nerd lends credence to the idea that for the nerd, the affinity for whatever they are a nerd of has more to do with personal identity and less to do with simply being a fan. To demonstrate this as clearly as possible let us look at certain subgroups within nerd culture. I am what is known as a Whedonist, meaning that my nerd drug of choice is all things made by Joss Whedon, “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” could easily be viewed as my heroin. Another subgroup of Whedonists are known as Brown Coats, a term reserved for nerds of the show “Firefly”. There are also Human Beings or Communies, who are nerds for Dan Harmon’s show “Community”. The possible list of groups and subgroups of nerds who identify with the passion they have for a particular project is endless and shows that for the nerd a show isn’t just a show, a game isn’t just a game, and knitted cat sweaters aren’t just cat sweaters; whatever someone is a nerd for it is a part of who they are.
Assuming that this is correct, that a nerd is a person who assumes their personal identity from the products or properties or activities that they are a fan of, then what does that actually mean? To put it bluntly, it means nerds are in serious philosophical trouble. In essence all nerds no matter what they are nerds of, are living a lie and are actively engaged in perpetuating that lie. Earlier in this paper I mentioned that I do not know when I became a nerd and this is true but what I do know is why I became a nerd. Like a lot of people at a young age, I was awkward in my own skin. I was confused with who I was, the thoughts that I had and the feelings that accompanied them. The concept of myself became a sword of Damocles ever hovering over my head. Comics, movies, and tv shows made for a distraction, instead of wondering about what I was, I concerned myself with which “X-Men” is the best or what the spice from “Dune” tasted like. In time my sword of Damocles seemed to vanish. I knew who I was, I was a nerd, I was my passion for popular culture and I was comfortable. Though here is the problem the sword was still there I just couldn’t see it. Answering the question of “who are you?” with the response of “I am my love of Buffy The Vampire Slayer” is no answer and in believing it I was believing a lie.
How exactly is this a lie? Well, to put it opaquely, philosophically speaking it is a lie. Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason writes that the self exists but that it’s existence is the only knowledge we can have of it as it is a thing in itself, a condition for all possible experience. Therefore any claims made about the self whether it is about its immortal properties or how it came to be are mere fantasy, a complex lie. Granted at face value this doesn’t really seem like much of an issue. Outside of knowing that I am living a life based on self deceit, it doesn’t seem to change anything about how I live my life. I am nerd and I am perfectly happy getting my daily fixes of popular culture. I was content in this life and finding out what Kant says about it really didn’t matter until I started to examine my life as a nerd. Instead of spending my days expanding on the understanding of myself or bettering myself, I spent my days preserving myself, well my nerd self anyway. If I was my love of popular culture then my enjoyment of it was akin to eating or drinking. According to Kant in The Critique of The Power of Judgment actions of this kind of self preservation are a base form of action governed by enjoyment and the agreeable not the good or moral. This means that my actions were based on want not need. I wanted something for my self so I got it. As a nerd I wanted things to protect that self that I believed was real. To give an example: at this time I have over seven hundred comic books, I have purchased the full series of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” on DVD three times and the truth is I only watch it on Netflix! The self that I believed was real wanted, and I gave it what was agreeable. I coddled it and defended it until it was all “I” was. Now maybe you hear this and you think it’s just another story of an aspiring philosopher who got his mind blown by reading Kant so now he is questioning everything and will end up in a monastery or naked in the forest. Normally I would agree with you except in this case it’s wasn’t just Kant telling me that being a nerd, as I have defined it, is dangerous, everywhere I turned made me more worried.
After I had my initial philosophical panic attack, I started looking to other philosophies for answers. Hermann Hesse in his work Siddhartha showed me that defining the self in the material world would keep me from finding enlightenment. That being a nerd would in essence bind me to a cycle of suffering through my wants. I found similar answers in the Bhagavad Gita, where the material and physical self that I believed was real would be that thing that stopped me from achieving eternal bliss. I was starting to really panic now so I decided to look to the ancient Greeks for answers. I mean if anyone could help it would be Plato right? Wrong, I couldn’t even find refuge in Plato’s Phaedo because I could not spend my immortal life with the Forms, learning the truth when I already believed this lie that I was living was true. According to some of the greatest minds the world has ever known being a nerd is the same as being in some serious existential trouble.
What I found is that the more you consume whatever it is you are a nerd of the more it consumes the self. When we as nerds personally identify with a piece of pop culture, it is akin to saying that “I am my love of Buffy The Vampire Slayer” or “I am my love of Doctor Who”. The more we identify the more we preserve that identity and in doing so we rob ourselves of the possible peace and enlightenment that can come with true introspection. This of course is not the only negative and potentially damaging aspect of being a nerd. Looking back on the examples of nerd rage we see a real world example of a self overtaken by it’s false identification. A small change to a video game equates to a personal attack on the self and in turn results in an outburst of intense emotion in defence of that self. A self overtaken speaks in references and relies on whatever the nerd is passionate of to communicate with those around them, interpersonal connections can become a shared nerd passion. If that passion is not shared then for the self overtaken connections can not be made.
I am not a doom sayer, not all is lost for the nerd, nor is it necessary to abandon what we have passion for. In the beginning of this paper I referred to myself as a nerd and I think I truly am one but now I am a nerd for myself before any shows or movies. I care more about who I am then what I love and I will defend it more then any popular culture. As should every nerd no matter what they are a nerd of.
I became a nerd out of an awkwardness with my self. I remained one out of a fear of what I might find if I looked closer, past all of the walls of references and trivia that I put up. I write this paper now as a nerd that just so happens to really love pop culture and I urge all nerds to first become nerds for the self before it is to late and they are overtaken. So say we all.
— Pete Holmes