The Guy Who Likes Stuff
I went to a life recording of The Nerdist Podcast in Royal Oak, Michigan the other night, and it was an eye opening experience for me. Not so much because of the stand-up acts and the podcast, which were incredibly funny, but because of the realization of who I was among the sea of strangers who were cosplaying as well as tweeting whatever they could to read it on the big screen before the show started. (It was a great interactive measure, actually. They projected the results of a live reader that finds any tweet with the Nerdist hashtag. The problem is that not everyone who thinks he is a comedian is actually funny… In fact, most aren’t.)
This isn’t a new realization but rather a deeper realization following my final 2010 post about Patton Oswalt’s defense of geek media from mainstream consumption. Back then I denounced the status of the labeled enthusiast. I was ready to move forward on the same path I had already been walking, sans the luggage of status-seeking. It hasn’t been the easiest path. It gets really hard when married to an Astronomy PhD grad student who surrounds you with people who constantly use the labels and think it’s cool to do so. More power to them, but then I get looks when they make a graph to plot everyone’s level of geekery and I lack enthusiasm about it. When the graph includes an area for “fake geeks”, how can I give them them a thumb up? They’re what I’ve been considering wrong about the labeled culture.
Clearly, going to The Nerdist was going to elicit a reaction from me. The thing is called The Nerdist! But it’s a branding label and a good one at that. If you are trying to put something together, you need a name. Chris Hardwick chose a great name that draws together all of the kinds of people he wants to entertain. It’s shooting fish in a barrel to just make timely pop culture references to pop culture enthusiasts, but he does it well.
It was uncomfortable for me. Being surrounded by people who wanted to be stereotypes of their group was not comfortable. Being surrounded by people who needed to draw attention to the fact that they are part of the label was not comfortable. It all stems from an insecurity that I hope to see go away; this is not how we get it to go away.
What gatherings like this are good for are making people feel comfortable in their own skin. The ultimate desire to label oneself as a geek, nerd, or otaku is to feel comfortable being “the other”. The fact that the labels exist proves, especially for those who can’t find it, that there is a community out there. You are not alone. You are another one of us and you just have to find us.
What is there after that? Us and them? There is only one community in which you can thrive? A community that encourages your more asocial tendencies rather than help you improve them? Is this the end point?
I think that accomplishes nothing while selling everyone a bit too short. The goal is normalcy and full integration. The fact that the mainstream media is capitalizing on formerly niche ideas and introducing them to everyone is not to be bemoaned but rather celebrated because it gives everyone a common point of reference. One can mention Ghost Rider, Green Lantern, and even the Silver Surfer in public without fear of quizzical looks. People know they exist. Not everyone will like them, but not everyone likes the Tigers, Yankees, or Red Sox either. But it’s out there and we’re all part of it!
During the show it was really noticeable that people did not want to integrate. Like I said before, people wanted to outnerd one another and draw attention to the fact that they are different compared to the so-called normal people out there. And I realize that one of the reasons this gets to me is because I’ve already been there. I know that it doesn’t get you anywhere. Hell, Chris Hardwick knows it doesn’t get you anywhere. That’s why he’s the one on the stage and everyone in the audience will likely stay in the audience (save for the replacement Johna Rays they brought on stage). That’s why he celebrates nerd culture, not nerd separatism.
A dark thought grew in my mind after the show. I turned to my wife and said, “I think I might be the hipster of geeks.” I was where they all are currently standing and feeling like they thrive. Was I a geek before being a geek was cool? I’m sitting here now and typing about how people should be focused on the next step in their development because I assume I’m at that point. I am the hipster douche of that culture.
But I’m not wrong about it.
We have events like that. Let’s not forget to mention the various comic cons, especially the big ones. Such events are breeding grounds for the lows of this culture. Asocial behaviors such as shouting to draw attention to oneself, tweeting so that the screen at the front can display that one is reveling in public intoxication (on any sort of intoxicant), and of course going for a while without practicing personal hygiene. There’s more, but these are perhaps the most egregious behaviors practiced. Events like these teach people that those behaviors are also acceptable because the culture as a whole is being celebrated without appropriate shaming.
(Funny anecdote about the show. One crowd member kept shouting things out during Hardwick’s standup act. He thought he was being funny, of course, and he wanted attention drawn to himself. So he decided to shout about Tommy Lee, referencing the very old sex video. Hardwick stopped his act, turned to him, and asked him for the follow-up since it was so funny. The guy admitted that there was nothing. Hardwick moved on after publicly embarrassing him. Of course, the guy shouted something a bit later in the show, and at that point Hardwick repeatedly told him to shut the fuck up. He was quiet afterward. Shaming and playing the role of the douchebag is frowned upon overall, but it sometimes it’s the only way to bring about some sort of order. Let’s accept the fact that some behaviors cannot be ignored or incidentally supported and must be called out as unacceptable.)
Beyond that, the more people are drawn out of their comfort zone, especially after a comfort zone is actually established, the more they grow. Like in discovering some of their less social behaviors or in finding another way to look at things. Another one of the big complaints about that culture is that they are quick to complain because they must be right. It’s condescending sometimes. When one steps outside of a culture that supports that, one finds ways to take other perspectives. This doesn’t go just for the geek community, but it’s most associated with them these days.
Ever since I grew up after being firmly entrenched in the culture, which I still am, I realized that I do not want to be associated with geeks, nerds, dweebs, dorks, or otaku. I want to be associated with people. People who like stuff. People who don’t need labels. People who don’t need to feel like they’re part of an overarching people. People who don’t feel like they need to prove anything to stay in the group. People who encourage people to like things instead of turning them away for selfish and insecure reasons. (There was this whole thing about fake geek girls a while ago that I really meant to write about, but Leigh Alexander covered it so well that it was unnecessary. She may be post-geek hipster as well.) People who just want to be with people and share. I think that’s the ultimate stage for everyone, regardless of interest.
But enough about me. What do you think?