Where shame and passion are one and the same

I’m pretty sure that at this point in my life, I’ve spent a collective 20 hours futilely writing about what a nerd is and isn’t. I’m not saying this because you should have read any of said writing, I’m just saying that it’d be pointless for me to talk about what a nerd is. It was pointless for me to do it in the first place. Everyone has the good sense to know that “nerd culture” is typically centered on consumerism (collecting), an esoteric sense of community (fan clubs, conventions, online gaming) and anything involving “genre” (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, erotic fan-fiction).

Some would even argue that “smarts” or “brains” should factor into the equation of the essence of nerd. Being smart, in and of itself, does not make you a nerd. Where being academically successful or intelligent makes a difference is how much you let it affect who you are. If you are really good at math – so good that you have received awards for your work – that does not make you a nerd. Neither does going to school for it or getting a job where you get to apply your vast math-wizard skills. If you love math so much that you play Dungeons & Dragons in your spare time because you get to turn those math skills into actual wizard skills, then chances are you are a nerd. However, if you have so much passion for math that you get in a fight (verbal or other) with someone over the effectiveness of Schrodinger’s Cat as a quantum mechanic thought experiment, then you are, inescapably, a nerd.  

To be truly nerdy, the stuff you “geek out” on needs to have some greater affect on your life to  the point that you’re not even conscious of it. For example, I just recently switched rooms in my house, and while laying out my bed, I noticed that I was putting it in the furthest corner of the room from the door. I did this because I have a deep-seeded fear of being surrounded by zombies. Zombies, specifically. I didn’t realize this at first, but I always try and sleep as far as possible from main exits (even going as far as to be closer to any available secondary exists) and with a wall to my back no matter where I sleep. The wall to my back is so that they cannot surround me, and the distance from the entrance is so that I am not the first thing they attack (provided there are obstacles in the hordes’ way, human or non-human). This will never happen. Ever. But my mind can’t fully accept that because I love the concept of zombies too much.

This is why nerd culture, being mostly based on obscurity and high-mindedness, still comes off as somehow low-brow and pathetic. A simplistic view of nerds paints the picture of a socially distraught youth, defined by his interests (comic book guys and Star Trek dweebs, for example). However, that is not an accurate definition of them. Deep down, they’re fuelled by a love so pure that it turns them into judgmental and pedantic assholes, but it’s not like they’re not aware of this. Some will try and compensate for being a life-sucking nerd by trying to appear normal, or failing that, fashionably eccentric. Nerds who are socially competent enough to appear normal are at near constant war with trying to keep their nerd cred while at the same time overcompensating for it.

I call this the “Vin Diesel,” named after Mark Vincent, a nerd who decided – I’m guessing after a 20-hour raid on a Goblin fortress – to start lifting weights and produce a string of films portraying himself as a hard-bodied action star that you do not fuck with. Having accomplished a career as a mono-toned, fast driving mad-man with the wit of a lobotomized sea-turtle, Vincent let his nerd-flag fly by opening up his own videogame company, Tigon Studios, and came out of the closet as a D&D player. Dude even has his character’s name tattooed on him, which shows great dedication to his love of the game, or at least, hopefulness that he’ll one day meet the Gladric Ravenspeaker of his dreams.   
This sub-breed of nerd feels like they need to accomplish something (varying levels of fame or respect from “non-nerd” people) to establish themselves as “cool enough to make up for it,” before it’s fully acceptable to let loose with their love of Magic the Gathering and weekends spent at LARPing camp-outs. So in that sense, I guess they’re kind of like hipsters, only they actually care about something.

//Sam MacDonald

Sam MacDonald has been a nerd since before being a nerd was cool. He therefore possesses an unmatched ability to channel the rage of his overly passionate brethren. Armed with only his mind and his surprisingly large muscles, he reports from the frontlines of the Internet and beyond.

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