If you spend even a little time on nerd websites or in nerd online communities, you’ve noticed there are a lot of fist-pounding, froth-brewing, table-flipping nerds out there. I’ve at times felt like I should contact a trusted adult, because things haven’t felt safe in nerdlandia lately.
Rather than joy in nerddom, we’re far too often seeing misery. This is unfortunate, as it’s never been a better time to be a nerd.
From my perspective it’s hard NOT to appreciate the nerdy times we are living in now. For example, I’m old enough to remember a time when every blockbuster movie wasn’t a superhero movie and you’d be beaten up for admitting you played D&D. In fact, I can remember a time when the word ‘nerd’ was used pejoratively, but it’s now perfectly cool and mainstream to have nerdy interests.
Plus, the media being produced nowadays is worlds better than it’s ever been! I mean, if Kang the Conqueror took the CW DC shows back in time to show it in front of an 80s audience, it would freaking blow people’s gourds wide open. And let’s be honest, those shows aren’t even the slickest nerd properties on television right now.
I rest my case with Star Wars. Six months after The Phantom Menace, I had little hope that that franchise was going anywhere except into a Death Star trash compactor. Darned if The Force Awakens didn’t awaken the hearts of Jedi everywhere, and even if certain elements of them aren’t to your personal taste, we’re getting new Star Wars movies, which is an amazing thing.
Game of Thrones. The MCU. We are seriously living in a nerd renaissance. So what happened? Did nerds get spoiled?
Why Are Nerds So Mother-Table-Flipping Miserable?
Being that I’m not a behavioral psychologist, all I can do is offer 4 assorted thoughts and musings:
Firstly, nerd misery has always existed. Nerds have always bickered and passionately discussed the minutia of the things they love. I can remember playing with GI Joes as a kid, discussing for hours which Joe was better than the next. Then we’d blow ’em up with firecrackers. This hasn’t been limited to nerdy hobbies. It used to be after sporting events that referees would get cussed at in the parking lot after the game.
This type of stuff has existed pretty much from the beginning of fandom, from way back to letters to Stan Lee sent to an address in the back of a comic book, to heated arguments at the counters of comic book stores.
But “passionate discussion” becomes “malicious hate” too easily and too often.
Nerds love obsessively, but the flip side of that passion is that they also hate obsessively, too. If you aren’t careful, you can start defining your nerdiness by what you hate, rather than by what you love, and that’s no good for you or the people around you.
Secondly, the Internet, y’all. The internet has given these “passionate discussions” a larger and more public platform.
We’ve noticed the depressing trend of belligerent online anger amongst us who identify as “nerd”, or “geek”, or whatever. Some of the remarks are negative enough that it deflates the whole mood over nerdy things that we should be celebrating. Whereas this once was underground and contained in local communities at one time, the Internet collects that hate, then exacerbates it and magnifies it.
Some of the fun has been stripped from fandom, that’s for sure.
However, I’ll be darned-tootin’ if I’m going to let us hit pause on that note. The flip side was that back in the day there wasn’t a platform where millions of like-minded people could exchange ideas and offer support and encouragement, even if that encouragement was just about learning to like yourself regardless if the things you loved were not considered cool.
Even as we are bemoaning the anger we see in nerd culture nowadays, we would do well to remember that there is a nerd culture nowadays, and that’s something to smile about.
Thirdly, our brains and emotions are delicate flowers. I think there are thoughts to be thinking about what happens when we mash points 1 and 2 above together.
While it’s clear that the rage in fandom has always existed, technology and social media have amplified it. This process has advanced much faster than the human (particularly young men’s) ability to adequately respond emotionally and socially to it. Technology is advancing faster than our emotional development, in others words.
Let’s just put this out there: if you make death threats over a comic book or you are concerned your childhood is ruined because of a Star Wars movie, then you clearly lack full emotional sophistication and/or social maturity.
And I know it’s difficult to hear that an entire generation of young men are largely emotionally and socially immature, but it’s hardly a controversial statement. We see the evidence of this all around us.
As long as humans have studied human beings and human emotions, they’ve known that while our brains are the amazement of the cosmos, they can also be fragile flowers. It’s clear in a lot of online communities that we are witnessing the symptoms of this, as we’re seeing people who are struggling to healthily connect with others or to interpret data in healthy emotional ways.
In some specific instances, psychologists can pinpoint this. For example, psychologists have noticed that being critical of something makes us feel smart. If it seems like there is a smugness in many of the comments you read online that highlight a particular piece of minutia that they find fault in, then psychologists might say it’s because that particular fan–in pointing out what they think others might not see–gets a feeling of superiority in that action, even it’s it’s only subconsciously felt. It’s a simple, small emotional tick that we’re seeing writ large, and that’s just one example.
So, yeah. Us Earth Nerds are struggling to properly interact in this complex online world we live in. So we should be extending grace toward one another, for we all have our struggles! Alas, we know that happens too rarely.
Finally, nerds really are spoiled. Putting aside that passionate discussion has always existed (even as it’s amplified by the Internet) and our emotions that aren’t always up to the task of dealing with the pressures placed upon them, I still think it’s fair to say something: nerds can definitely be spoiled nowadays.
How could us nerds not be spoiled with all the superhero movies and TV shows that are not only high quality, but are getting general social acceptance?
Let’s be frank: nerd culture has never been more polished or of higher quality. But when the wonderful becomes the normal, we lose our perspective. Our perspective gets wonky because Hollywood is making really good nerd entertainment, so we understandably want all nerd entertainment to be of the same quality. The bar has been raised, so complaining abounds when nerds don’t think that everything is clearing that higher bar.
This can create a general sense of entitlement when it comes to fans. It’s a full blown pickle of a problem, excuse my harsh language.
Nerds have always been particular (#1 above). They know what they like and they know what they want. Plus, nerds can be extremely impatient with media as well. The credits haven’t rolled on the film, yet nerds are complaining that the sequel is taking forever. I call it the nerdosecond.
The nerdosecond is an impossibly small unit of time, smaller even than the nanosecond and the yoctosecond. The nerdosecond is the amount of time it takes after a new product is released for us nerds to ask ‘what’s next?‘
So we’ve identified that nerds can be spoiled, particular, and impatient. But that we can deal with. What’s worrisome is when it’s exhibited as anger, which it much too often is. It’s funny to joke about table flipping but it’s a dangerous system when it’s for real.
Great. We’ve identified we have a mustard stain on our jacket. Now, how do we get it out?
The Greek philosophers of old believed deeply that we become good people through practice. You know, treat others the way you want to be treated. Practice what you preach. That sort of thing.
So let’s all take some baby steps today, shall we nerds? Pick and choose, trying at least one of the below:
- Let’s ID one nerdy thing we love and tell someone why we love it so much!
- Let’s leave a positive, affirming, gracious comment online today, on the nerdy website of your choice.
- Give a buddy a high five in celebration, or hug a friend who’s had a tough day.
- Spend a day not reading a website that makes you feel icky, and replace it that day with a website that makes you feel happier about your day. (We hope that’s Nerds on Earth!)
- Create something today (and try not to criticize anything).
- Share the below kitten GIF.
Listen, I certainly don’t want to trivialize this, and I’m fully aware that a happy kitten isn’t going to solve societal ills. My point is simply that I think all us nerds can agree we hope to live in a sunnier world, both for ourselves and for the nerds around us.
So in order to bring a little sunshine to our fellow nerds, let’s each take a baby step today. We have to start somewhere.