Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Five Degrees of Separation

Just the other day I was informed that I was a “professional nerd.” When I asked what that meant, my friend explained that I wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill nerd. According to her, I embrace my nerd status and make a study of it. I make nerdy cross-references and study the implications of nerd philosophy. While I have never attempted to hide my less-than-cool status, I had never thought of my place in the nerd hierarchy in those terms before my friend’s casual comment.

As I consider my place in the kingdom of Movie Geeks, Comic Book Collectors, Star Wars fans, Gamers, and Trekkies, I realize that while I dabble in several areas of “nerdom,” I have never specialized. Each of these groups considers itself as slightly superior to the others, except perhaps Trekkies who seem to have accepted their rank at the bottom of the totem pole. Hang out in any of these circles for long and you’ll hear comments like, “Well, at least I don’t collect comic books,” or “It’s not like I play D&D in my mother’s basement.” Yes, even amongst nerds there is no solidarity. The cliques and prejudices of the popular crowd plague the nerds, too. Maybe that’s why I’ve never picked a side. I guess I’m more of an equal opportunity nerd. I accept all types of freaks and geeks, well, except for Gamers. They’re just weird.

Let us examine those I view as the highest functioning of the nerd set: the Movie Geek. This brand of nerdiness manifests itself in compulsive purchasing of DVDs including, but not limited to: classic cult films, sci-fi flicks, indies, complete television series, and childhood favorites. The average Movie Geek will probably have The Princess Bride, The Original Star Wars Trilogy, Pulp Fiction, Caddyshack, The Godfather, and Office Space in their DVD library. Of course, the title of Movie Geek is not bestowed on every person with a DVD collection in their closet. No, the title involves far more responsibility than simply maintaining an impressive list of films. There is the movie quote/trivia knowledge factor. A true Movie Geek can always think of the most appropriate movie quote for any situation. They always win at “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” (If you aren’t familiar with that game, don’t worry. It just means you’re not a Movie Geek.)

I must confess that I have a soft spot in my heart for this type of nerd, as it is a vital part of my own nerd makeup. When my husband and his friends spent a year speaking to each other in quotes from the film, Snatch, I could join in and hold my own. When my friends talk about a movie but just can’t remember who played the girl-who-killed-that-guy, I always come to the rescue. Movie trivia games at my house turn ugly, fast.

Many times, different nerd groups overlap. This is often true of the Movie Geeks and the Comic Book Collectors. While hard core Collectors certainly scoff at the “inaccuracies” of film adaptations of their beloved comics, they still line up to see the latest attempt to bring one of Stan Lee’s creations to life. Many films even celebrate the Comic Book Collector. Writer/Producer/Director/Actor Kevin Smith features comic books and collectors heavily in his films. In Smith’s Mallrats, one of the main characters has an epiphany after an encounter with Stan Lee in front of a comic book store. Even a blockbuster film like Live Free or Die Hard includes a brief interlude where Kevin Smith plays an uber-nerd who helps save the day. The Comic Book Collector may be mercilessly mocked by people both in and out of nerdom, but if Hollywood is any indication, their stock may be rising.

Closely related to the Comic Book Collector due to the similarity of subject matter is the Star Wars Fan. When I asked my husband what a fan of Star Wars was called, he said, “Cool.” Unfortunately for my husband (and me), that’s mostly wishful thinking. While Lucas’ recent offerings may have upped Star Wars’ popularity, the true Star Wars Fan still stands alone. Many a Fan has scoffed at the Star Wars neophyte who commented that Phantom Menace was awesome. The Die Hards know who they are and that Empire Strikes Back was the best Star Wars movie ever and that Admiral Ackbar can always spot a trap.

While I do claim to have a toehold in the Star Wars Fan realm of nerdom, I have to surrender to the greater power in the Force, my husband. One of his greatest regrets in life is that he never got a Millennium Falcon as a child. He actually plays a game with other Fans where they name random characters and decide who is “better,” a nerdy variation on the more risqué “Who Would You Do?” game. He recently lost this game to a seven-year-old boy. They were having an argument over who was better, Chewbacca or the Ewoks. My husband was arguing for Chewy while his little friend insisted that the Ewoks were better. When my husband asked him why, he simply said, “Chewbacca was fooled by a piece of meat.” No one could argue with that. (If you listen closely, you will hear all the nerds laughing at this story. They get it.)

Like the other layers of nerdiness that I have already explored, the next level of nerd flows nicely from Star Wars Fan – the Gamer. Once again, we have some overlap. Gamers like to live in a world of their own (or someone else’s) imagination. The same people who love LucasLand, also love to play Dungeons and Dragons (or D&D as it is affectionately called) and video games like World of Warcraft. The D&D Gamer hand-paints tiny figures to represent their characters whose fates are decided by the roll of 12-sided die. The D&D game is led by an all-powerful person called the Dungeon Master – also known as the guy who never got a date in high school. Gamers speak a language all their own and often see their imaginary worlds as a place of escape. Though this is the nerd group with whom I have the least affinity, I do have to salute their commitment to their own nerdiness. They make no attempt to hide their Gamer label. If anything, they seem to wear it with pride. You’d have to admire their bravery in parading their obsession in front of a cruel, uncaring world if you were sure they accepted this world as their own.

The final group in the nerd hierarchy deserves a paragraph without transition or link to the discussion of previous groups. In the land of nerds, Trekkies, or Trekkers as those in denial prefer to be called, stand alone. The devoted fans not only watch and memorize episode after episode of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, and Enterprise, they also attend conventions where all their fellow Trekkies gather, many of whom are dressed as their favorite character. They tell each other to “Live Long and Prosper” and translate Klingon love poetry.

For some reason that I can’t quite grasp, other nerds view Trekkies as the weakest of the Pocket-Protector Pack. They are the butt of jokes that nerds tell each other. To be called a Trekkie is considered an insult by many. This seems unfortunate to me since I have found Trekkies to be some of the nicest people I have ever met. Maybe it’s just my inner Trekkie bonding with a kindred spirit. Sure, I’ve never used the offer of a Vulcan mind meld as a pick-up line, but I do love the show and feel deep indignation at the fact that J.J. Abrams (of Lost fame) is bastardizing the series into some overblown action flick. Oh, no, my Trekkie is showing.

This explication of nerd-theory and the organic hierarchy of nerds across America has brought me to a higher understanding of my place in the cold, dark world of the uncool. Maybe my title shouldn’t be “Professional Nerd” as much as it should be “Nerd-For-All-Seasons.” I like to think I celebrate all the different areas of nerdom, and there are many. After all, I haven’t even started on the International Nerds. Great Britain has “Whoies,” a group obsessed with the show Doctor Who, a long-running program about a time traveling alien who regenerates into a different actor every time one Doctor “dies.” And as everyone knows, Tom Baker was the best of all the Doctors, and can I offer you a jelly baby?

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