#2. Collecting Things Meant You Were Obsessive and Crazy
What It's Like Now
I was watching an episode of Pawn Stars the other day where a guy was getting married and was forced to sell his Star Trek action figure memorabilia to help pay for his wedding. His entire car was loaded with hundreds of boxes, and he had spent years getting them signed by the original actors. Everything about the negotiation was what you'd expect, but one thing really stood out for me: The tactic that the pawn guy used was telling the seller that it was "time to grow up" and "get rid of his toys."
And I thought, "That right there. That is the last true staple of nerd." Right there in the middle of an actual business transaction, that guy was treated like a stupid little child who couldn't let go of his stupid geeky interests.
He got $6,100 for it. I know you were wondering.
But It Wasn't Always Like That
When I was a kid, it wasn't so much about the contents of the collection as it was the level of obsession. If you had a sword hanging on your wall, it was considered a decoration. It was art. If you had an entire room dedicated to your collection of throwing stars, nunchucks, staves and ninja shrouds, there was something severely wrong with you.
Not just because you're loaded with enough weaponry to take out your local National Guard. Substitute in baseball cards, and you got the same reaction. They're in your closet, not hurting anyone. You have them neatly put into sleeves and packed away into anti-humidity boxes. But when you hit a certain age (usually late teens), you're fully expected to either sell that shit or pass it down to someone younger who can get some real use out of them. Like putting your Mark McGwire rookie card in the spokes of his bike so he can pretend it's making a motorcycle sound.
"Dude ... is that urine I smell?"
People who put that much time, money and effort into a collection that other people didn't understand were considered just as creepy and obsessed as someone who builds a hair shrine to Jodie Foster and fantasizes about dancing in her skin.
And God forbid you ever got into a verbal sparring match with anyone who knew about those hobbies. They'd bring that shit up as a weapon. "Hey, at least I didn't spend more money on little pieces of cardboard than I did on my fucking car. The one I use to take actual girls out on dates while you're at home, organizing your Pokemon by their elemental alignment."
They didn't see the time and effort. They saw "child obsessing over meaningless horseshit."
"Well, he looks like he'd be lightning, but he's actually water. You're a deceptive little guy, aren't you?"
#1. Fantasy Geeks Were the Lowest of the Low
What It's Like Now
Thanks to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, the teenagers of today grew up on magic as much as Happy Meals. And even if you don't play them yourself, you at least know someone who's been lost in games like World of Warcraft, Skyrim and Final Fantasy. Dragons and magic spells and elves.
But It Wasn't Always Like That
Take everything I said above about the stigma attached to comics or Star Trek fandom and multiply it times three. When I was in high school, if you were caught carrying around a Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, you would have been laughed out of existence. The same if you were spotted reading any novel with a wizard on the cover. Fantasy culture was the lowest form of nerd culture back then, and if you enjoyed it, you kept that shit hidden at all costs.
"Dude, if you say you want to roll to see if you can fuck it, I'm punching you in the face, I'm serious."
We were seen as kids who immersed themselves in fantasies in which we were magic! We pretended to be romantically involved with elves, and that we were strong enough to slay mighty, evil, otherworldly beasts. To everyone else, we were detached from reality. It was the equivalent of being a furry today.
As teenagers and adults, pretending simply wasn't a permissible form of entertainment, which was exactly what the fantasy world demanded that we do. It wasn't until we were adults that we could finally stand up and say, "Yeah, sorry, but I work my ass off. I pay my taxes. And I'm as responsible as anyone you know. I'm buying tickets to go see Lord of the Rings because I read that shit when I was a kid, and it was fucking awesome." During that transition is when those walls started to break down, and when we saw the insane numbers being talked about in ticket sales, we realized that the world was full of people just like us. All hiding our nerdy interests out of fear of ridicule.
"Wait a minute. Show of hands -- who's been pretending their whole life that they didn't love this shit?"
It paid off for our kids, too, because they're now growing up in a world that is much more accepting of their likes and dislikes. Now don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that nerd persecution is over with. Start talking about your love of My Little Pony in real life, and there's a good chance I'm going to cram your head into a toilet and wedgie you so hard, you'll need asshole surgery to remove the underwear.
What I'm saying is that these things have a way of leveling out over time. And that even the most annoying, fucked up people on the planet (again, furries) have a chance of being accepted as normal on a long enough timescale. But until then, like what you want to like. It's your love of unconventional shit that makes awesome things happen when you're finally powerful enough to give bullies the finger and tell them to lick your asshole, and there isn't a goddamn thing they can do about it.
John has a Twitter. So fuck you.
For more Cheese, check out 5 Terrible Things You Can't Stop Your Children From Doing and 4 Awful Ways The Internet Is Tainting Everything Else.