Monday, December 29, 2008


I listened to the ancillary commentary track on the new WALL-E blu-ray disc the other day, the one where several lower-run Pixar artists and producers comment on the movie and the pop-culture references therein. There are three guys on it, and one woman. The guys go on and on talking about what is a reference to SILENT RUNNING and what is a reference to DOCTOR WHO, and the woman keeps laughing at them for knowing and caring about this stuff, and they all generally agree that the three guys are "nerds" and how pathetic it is that they know that stuff.

But I ask: Why? Is America so overrun by shallow puddles of milky DNA stacks and plain old stupid people that we now ostracize anyone who knows "too much" about anything? Was there not a time when such knowledge would have been prized in an individual? It's certainly not useless knowledge to the WALL-E commentators! They made that movie! That knowledge has certainly helped them along in life. There is a difference between passion and nerdiness, but that demarcation is less and less important as we continue to compartmentalize, label, and stow all human endeavor for the coming storms.

Here's the thing. As bad as "the jocks" were in high school, so were the nerds. As I recall, nerds were humorless tightwads who took things way too seriously, constantly broadcasted their supposed superiority, and never had any fun.

But slowly and surely, over the last decade or so, the term "nerd" has unfortunately arrived at a much broader definition: anyone who is passionately informed and excited about any subject not officially catalogued as "manly" by the RMAA (Raging Male Assholes of America) is supposed to accept the label of "nerd" - and be slightly embarrassed about it to boot.

For instance:
Person #1: That reminds me of the pickle dish in 'Ethan Frome'
Person #2: (laughing nastily) What? You're such a nerd!
Person #1: (sheepishly conforming) Yeah, I know.

But hey, I fully approved of the 'nerd' label as originally implied. If you humorlessly catalog plot loopholes in STAR TREK - and JUST that one topic - then you may be a STAR TREK nerd, and you might have need to broaden your horizons.

But how can someone be a movie nerd? There are sexy movies, funny movies, good movies, great ones, bad ones, deep ones, bleak ones, goofy ones... One who chooses film among his fancies is certainly choosing an appropriately varied field, and one that can certainly while away one's hours happily. Why, such a pursuit is akin to the pursuit of happiness.

But since everyone generally likes movies, and everyone feels a certain amount of ownership of them, then someone who stands apart and dedicates more than just a passing fancy to the cinema is a "nerd". And on top of that, it's getting easier and easier for young people to choose the path of least resistance, and on that path you laugh at the people who know more than you about anything - "What a bunch of nerds they are over on that OTHER path, what a bunch of wasted lives, it's so sad really."

So I am a movie nerd, and, I guess, a rock nerd. Which means I care more passionately about those subjects than the average carrier of the human virus. No, I am not an "expert" or a "go-to" guy on those subjects, as I might have been 30 years ago. Today, I am a uselessly informed loser who doesn't spend enough time thinking about cars, sex, and football.

Because the average American is bred to believe that movies are just a past-time activity, and that rock music is just background party noise, and that anyone who chooses to dig deeper into those subjects is an unhealthily obssessed stigmatic, missing out on 'the good stuff' while he's wasting time with his passions.

You'll notice, there are no 'football nerds' or 'Jesus nerds' and even less 'sex nerds' in America. As a point-of-fact, I would say that 95% of male America qualify as 'sex nerds', in that they spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about and quantifying and cataloguing different aspects of an act that is even less complex than 'Star Trek'.

American males are, overwhelmingly, sports nerds and sex nerds. They are also 'gun nerds' and 'infidelity nerds' and 'alcohol nerds'...But because they have the floor, they get to decide what's kosher. And who is a nerd.

1 comment:

Esperanto Grrl said...

I actually had to endure being called "Queen of the Nerds" for a very long time.

To quote Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "It's true. But I don't have to like it."

I've always personally thought that a hobby doesn't become really interesting until it becomes an obsession. That includes movies, naturally.