The era of the nerds is over. It’s something I’ve been joking around about for a while now, but it’s starting to look more prescient every day. Even nerd-centric sites like Kotaku, who recently suggested “We Might Be Witnessing The ‘Death of an Identity’ are starting to take note of which way the pixelated canaries in the coal mine are flying, and it’s not pretty.
The most recent and controversial episode in the downfall of the nerd has come in the form of #gamergate. This has been covered ad nauseum elsewhere, but briefly, it’s a “movement” that evolved around gamers’ reactions to a couple of high profile women in the game industry, Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn. To make a long story short, gamers, or nerds, have taken to harassing those in the field, both journalists and developers, who dare to criticize their beloved hobby. This sort of trolling and stalker-like behavior is most often, you will in no way be surprised to hear, directed at women.
Self-professed gamers, realizing that they’re under attack, perhaps for the first time in their lengthy run as the arbiters of popular culture, have assumed a position of victimization, considering criticism from outside, or even within their community as a condemnation of their entire identity.
This is good. Their identity is fucking nerdy. Gamers, and all other types of nerds, should be ashamed of themselves.
As we’ve seen in the #gamergate imbroglio, and, for that matter, in the recent celebrity phone hack story, itself pushed along by another type of nerd, the Fapper, the nerds in question, or, at least the most vocal of the group, do not know how to interact socially with anyone outside of their peer group. This often includes, in large part, women in general, but even women who share their interests. Mild rebukes are blown out of all proportion. Women who suggest they may want to rethink some of the misogyny in their pastimes are automatically declared feminist pigs or sluts who are sleeping with powerful men.
This isn’t a bug in the code of nerdom, it’s actually its chief feature. To be a nerd is to be someone whose identity is so intertwined with your hobby, be it traditionally nerdy forms like video games and comic books, or more widely “acceptable” things, that it subsumes your personality. You are defined by the thing that you purchase and expend entertainment dollars on to the point that you’ve socially handicapped yourself. The fat dude “living in his mother’s basement” is a boring cliche by now, but to be a nerd means to bring the basement walls with you wherever you go.
This isn’t just to pick on gamers and other types of traditional nerds. It also applies to what we might otherwise think of “cooler” hobbies, like music, or film. We’ve seen the term nerd, or geek, “taken back” by groups as diverse as Food Nerds, and Tech Nerds, Design Nerds, and so on. Not even the bro-hammered realm of football is safe anymore. An entire cottage industry has grown around Stats Nerds, who enter every moment of every play of every game into spreadsheets in order to, well, in order to be a guy who enters plays into spreadsheets. One can’t just appreciate the occasional beer any more either, you have to become a Beer Guy. This is just as true of more stereotypically “feminine” interests, like fashion as well.
Somewhere along the line we convinced ourselves, or allowed the narrative to take hold, that to be obsessed with something was a badge of pride. This likely had a lot to do with Hollywood realizing there was a lot of untapped spending power available in nerds who grew up to be tech guys, and started patronizing them at ComicCon and similar events. The entire entertainment industry became a fan-service peddling complex, hoping to tap into that elusive nerd dollar.
And nerds, being nerds, rewarded them by bitching about every single last thing they offered.
For a devout nerd, nothing is ever good enough. There is a very thin line between being a pop culture obsessed fanboy and a religious fanatic: any deviation from orthodoxy is heresy.
Despite what the conventional wisdom has told us for the past few culture cycles, there’s simply nothing cool about spending that much time focused on anyone thing, whether it’s Xbox, or DJ culture, or sneakers, or fantasy football, or what have you. Obsessed over every new Apple product? You’re a nerd. Know every new hip hop release before it comes out? You’re a nerd. Eagerly anticipating the launch of some horseshit designer bag? Constantly talking about how Beyonce is FLAWLESS? Nerd. Nerd. Nerd.
Knowing everything about one specific subject doesn’t make you a respectable expert, or a quirky little branded persona, it makes you kind of a sad person who doesn’t have many other interests.
When you devote so much of your time and energy to the study of, or collecting of, or obsessing over entertainment products, you degrade your ability to interact with people who don’t also share that same perversion. Paradoxically, this is why many people became such nerds in the first place, because as young people they didn’t know how to socialize with anyone else, and so lost themselves in the world of their choosing. That’s sad and all, but too bad dude, you’re an adult now, get the fuck over it.
I’m not saying you can’t appreciate whatever the hell it is you want, or spend most of your leisure time enjoying it, but you’re no longer getting a pass as some arbiter of cultural cool. If you’re a well-adjusted nerd capable of dropping the persona for a few minutes and acting like a normal person, by all means, do what you want. The rest of you need to get your shit together and grow up. There’s nothing cool about being uncool anymore. There never really was.