6 Ways To Be A Better Nerd In 2016
Good news, Internet! Nerds are in charge of everything! And we have been for at least two-thirds of a decade, since one of these headlines is from 2009:
Nerd movies aren't just No. 1 at the box office, they're every movie at the box office. The biggest TV shows in the world are either fantasies or shows about being a nerd. We have a sitting president who got excited about watching Star Wars with us, and presidential candidates who compared their own candidacy to the Rebel Alliance. We are in charge. Everybody high-fi- nah, fuck it. Everybody Vulcan Salute; say, "May the Force be with you"; and then make a Pokemon joke or something, because it's fine to come out of the Nerd-Closet and frolic through the meadows of relevance while bathing yourself in the warm light of cultural acceptance. For now.
Because this won't last forever. Soon, some other cultural entity will overtake us, and everything we love -- the superheroes, the movies based on video games, the gritty reboots of cartoons based on our favorite action heroes -- will fall from favor to niche, then from niche to myth, and then finally fade from existence just like Bing Bong does in Inside Out.
Sorry to make you cry like that.
Then future generations will look back on us, and what will they say? What will the legacy of the Era of the Nerd be? I don't know, but I know if we want to be remembered fondly, there are a few things we have to realize. Things like ...
We Have The "Stop Politicizing Everything!" Argument Exactly Backwards
The Internet hates when you "politicize" their Favorite Thing. Here at Cracked, people get so angry whenever we connect pop culture to the real world that we had to run an article explaining what's up with that. "Keep politics out of video games" is also something I've heard screamed a few times, usually by frothing maniacs. Except the truth is, nobody politicized pop culture -- we pop culturized politics. To say otherwise is like saying that Peter Parker should give the Venom Symbiote more personal space.
Ugh, you're so clingy, Pete.
While it's true that there are more articles and social issues showing up in video game and movie blogs, it's also true that video games, movies, and comic books are now major topics for political websites as well: Mother Jones (named after an early 20th century union activist) covers movies from their leftist view, The Wall Street Journal (named after the street with the all the banks) talks about films with their conservative slant, and Breitbart tackles video games from the all-important Moon-Nazi perspective.
Meaningless buzzword + vaguely anti-Semitic gibberish = Breitbart headline.
The reason this happened is simple: We're a generation of people who never had to leave behind our kiddie bullshit, because our kiddie bullshit grew up with us. This month, my recreation time has been split between a sequel to a video game I first played when I was 12 years old and a sequel to a movie I first watched with my dad at age 8. Next year I get to see a sequel to the first show that ever gave me nightmares. All of pop culture is trying to remind me what it's like to be a little kid, so it's irritating when someone tries to make something ugly of it. I don't want to be mature and thoughtful, I just want some escapism. "Why are you bringing up race relations?" my brain asks indignantly, "I'm only 8, and I'm trying to watch a movie about laser swords. Go fuck yourself."
I was a very precious child when it came to "fuck" words.
But the reality is that this is the price we pay for pop culture superiority. It's a simple trade: If you want to see the highest-paid actor in Hollywood punching a robot in a scene from your favorite childhood comic book, then you have to listen to someone analyze that scene from a political perspective. That seems like a good deal to me, because Avengers: Age Of Ultron is fucking sweet, you guys. I'd rather watch that movie and hear people point out the weird way it treated Black Widow than get neither. Because hearing someone else's perspective on something I like is the price of what I like mattering. To put it another way: With great power comes a lot of think-pieces you might disagree with.
Nerd Culture Isn't Actually In Charge; It's Just The Easiest Group To Sell Things To
The "Nerds Rule The World" headlines I just threw at you are the worst things you can possibly hear. It's a bold-faced lie about what nerd-dom actually means. "Nerd" is essentially just a word for "fan," and as fans we're in an automatically subservient role. We consume what other people make. Then we tweet about it or Facebook post about it and draw others into the fold. We are extraordinarily easy to make money off of: Just do what we want. And we will tell you what we want -- good God, will we tell you what we want. You won't be able to get away from what we fucking want. But that doesn't mean we're in charge, because they still decide what we get.
That's what Simon Pegg was talking about earlier this year when he criticized modern nerd culture for being obsessed with kid stuff. And he was right: Some people are very happy that a lot of us care more about Star Wars and Captain America than Freddie Gray and ISIS and the presidential primary debates. Because we're distracted by the bright colors and sexy people. By gorging on what we want, we might be starving ourselves of what we need.
This isn't a criticism of you, but of us. Hell, if nerd culture is bad for society, I'm more complicit than most of you. My entire job is predicated on you having the plotline of all six Star Wars movies memorized. I don't know the answers to these questions. But I know that if we want The Era of the Nerd to be remembered positively, we need to be aware of the things happening outside the bubble of our Very Favorite Thing.
We Need To Get Better At Noticing When We're Being Used
A couple days before The Force Awakens came out (don't worry -- I'm not going to spoil anything), Gawker published this article:
This is what happens when you take the two things I was talking about in the last entry and smash them together. Now, I have no idea how Gawker's editorial system works, but I can guarantee that nobody involved with that article believes in what they're saying. Think about what has to have happened:
"People who have seen Star Wars are saying this simple, easily proven thing," said the writer, "but I, a person who has not seen the new Star Wars, think they're probably wrong, and I have no evidence to back up this delusional opinion."
"Yes," the other actual, thinking, breathing human being replied, "that's a good point. We should publish that on the website we work for because it is a thing worth saying that other human beings should hear."
I'm sorry, but I just don't think people are that stupid. Instead, what I'm sure happened is:
Gawker Person 1: "Hey, if I claim that there's no way that the new Star Wars movie passes the Bechdel Test and base it on absolutely no evidence, I bet people will get mad and hate-share it a lot."
Gawker Person 2: "That terrible idea is a good idea. We should exploit the anger of the nerds, because it is literally the easiest thing in the world to exploit, and make money off of it. You know what? Don't even bother making the article longer than, oh, four or five paragraphs."
Gawker Person 1: "Should I put any effort into making this piece well-written or clever?"
Gawker Person 2: "Why bother? No one's going to read past the headline anyway. Put a picture of Admiral Ackbar in there so we can claim it's satire later, after it's become one of our biggest hits of the day."
The most frustrating part of this for me isn't that Gawker has been pulling this same shit since the very beginning of their existence. The most frustrating part is that we're the nerds, dammit. We should be scoffing at these weak-minded attempts at manipulation, not falling for them. We should be the Jedi of the Internet, not the witless Stormtroopers!
"This isn't the article we're looking for!"
But we are. We're the Stormtroopers, agents of a great evil, whenever we get the chance. Especially when we don't ...
Remember What It's Like To Not Be On Top
There are a few arguments I see floating around the nerd culture. One is, "If you don't like something, just ignore it." If a woman complains about sexist depictions of women in movies, they say, "Just don't go to those movies." If parents complain about violence in video games, the answer is, "Don't buy those video games for your kids." This makes perfect sense from the outside, but it clearly doesn't really work that way. And I'm shocked that nerds are making that mistake, because (at the risk of playing into stereotypes) let me ask you a question:
How easy do you find it to ignore sports?
Because for me it's literally impossible. I have never in my life gotten excited or even put any effort whatsoever into watching a football or baseball game, but I am currently in two different fantasy football leagues and am intimately familiar with several decades' worth of trivia about the Boston Red Sox and the San Francisco Giants. Because I have friends and family members who I love or who are still necessary pawns in my long-term plot. And they care about these things. And through sheer osmosis, spoooooorts has become a part of my life too. I can't escape it. So of course I, eventually, develop an opinion on it. Just like I'm sure you have.
When something exists and is popular, it affects your life. It affects the things you do like. And it's important to talk about it. If we tell people to just ignore it, we're basically arguing that pop culture doesn't matter. And if pop culture doesn't matter, then, like, what ... what are we even talking about? Why have any feelings about anything ever? Should we all just roll over and die?
We Need To Get This Chip Off Our Shoulder
"Gamer" is not an identity. "Star Wars fan" is not an identity. Those are just things that other people made that you like -- and right now, they're things that everybody likes. It does not distinguish you at all to like them more or "harder" than other people do. Because you're not making anything. You're just consuming something that other people made and saying, "Yeah, that was pretty good." You deserve no credit. You deserve nothing more, in fact, because the transaction is complete. You paid for your ticket and got your movie/book/video game.
It's not just that nerds are entitled; it's that we feel like we've been ripped off in some way. We care so much about our movies and our games, we care so much about the things that we're fans of and have sacrificed so much of our lives on the Altar of Our Favorite Thing that surely, surely, we are owed something, right? We're owed a Blu-ray release of the original Star Wars trilogy. We're owed video games that fulfill our every niche preference. We're owed a satisfying conclusion to our favorite TV series. Because we've given these creators our time and our energy and the space in our memories. We've done the work that a good artist expects a good audience to do. So where is our goddamn recognition?
The problem is that no one asked us to do that work. It didn't serve any purpose beyond our own fulfillment. Nerdiness exists outside the "hard work gets you an external reward" social contract. It has to, or what incentive would there be to do any other job? If society rewarded you for bingeing on Star Trek episodes, who would grow our corn?
Nerdiness can't be the primary part of your identity. If you do that, you're setting yourself up for a half-life, because you're defining yourself by things that have nothing to do with you. No matter how much you love Mario, he will never love you back.
His heart belongs to another.
Well, that's a dynamic we're familiar with, right? Even as nerdy pop culture dominates the entire world, rejection is still a huge part of the community. Suffering from bullying is still a badge of honor for a lot of people. You can scribble "no one understands me" in your Moleskine notebook (TM) and wrap that knowledge around you like a cloak made from the tattered shreds of your own ambitions. And then you'll grow up to be the kind of person who writes phrases like "a cloak made from the tattered shreds of your own ambitions."
Let me spell out what I see happening as simply as possible: When our favorite thing about ourselves is not our differences but the simple fact that we're different, then we start getting high off rejection. And when you start seeking out rejection and conflict over something like Your Favorite Thing (which, again, isn't something you've done -- it's something external that you've latched onto like a lamprey), then you become one of the cruelest, most selfish people on Earth. That's when we sexually harass, try to ruin careers, or just make people unsafe, all because of opinions that mean absolutely nothing, because they're about something that doesn't matter. That's when we become, if I can coin a phrase, Shit Gremlins. And that's when we hurt ourselves more than anyone else can. Because ...
We Must Accept That It Will End Soon
Back in 2013 I wrote an article about how the superhero movie bubble would soon burst, and though the timeline of my predictions hasn't turned out to be 100 percent correct, I'm confident the direction is solid. The things we, as a generation, love -- Star Wars, flashy superhero movies, Harry Potter -- won't be popular forever. In fact, the more we tighten our grip, the more facets of pop culture will slip through our fingers. Our kids will be into weird things we don't understand, stuff way crazier than video games that defy what we think it means to be a "gamer." Movies that don't seem as cool and interesting as the ones we like. Young Adult novels will overtake superheroes at the box office. Erotic fan fiction will become more important than sci-fi space epics. It'll happen: We'll start hating everything "cool,"and even worse, no one will care. Our time will have passed. It'll be over.
And then ...
... what? What mark has The Era of the Nerd left on the world? What are we doing with our time? What will we be proud of when we're old and there's no one left to impress because no one cares about what we think, and the only respect we can ever hope for comes from inside ourselves?