If you took your lessons from TV, (where people are depicted in broad generalizations), then all nerds (or geeks, whatever you want to call the people who like the type of things we like) are part of one giant group. Apparently we all go to Comic-Con, we all dress up in costumes, we all read comic books, we all love science fiction, we all play endless games, we all play D&D, we all love Lord of the Rings movies, etc… But it isn’t true. Some of us like some of those things and some of us definitely do not like some of them.
In contrast to this strange media depiction of one giant, inclusive community of nerds, in many circles there is a pretty exclusionary attitude towards the other circles of fandom. While it isn’t very extreme (there aren’t Warriors or West Side Story style confrontation going on at conventions between Doctor Who fans and Game of Thrones fans… even though that would be very entertaining) there is a fair amount of animosity. One group will often have little or no understanding of what the other groups are into, and we can find it quite insulting to be lumped into one amorphous “nerd” banner. This kind of division can seem random from the outside, but it is nothing new, and certainly isn’t isolated to our culture of fandom. It has always existed within politics, religion, sexuality, etc. People like to be acknowledged for their unique features, not randomly labeled in ways they do not identify.
The other day I admitted to a friend that the reason my sheets are all gray is because I’d always wanted my bed to look like Deckard’s in Blade Runner. This was apparently pretty ridiculous, even to a fellow science fiction lover – “You’re such a geek!” was the response. I didn’t expect that, but it is true; compared to many people I take some of my interests to a more personal level. It isn’t that I want to live in a Blade Runner-esque, miserable, futuristic dystopia (although some would say that we already do), but I have always loved the styling of the film and I cannot help but be influenced by it in my own taste. the interaction highlighted something for me; we are not all the same type of nerds, even the ones which share similar interests may not express them in the same ways.
One example that occurs to me is the way that my peers have vehemently protested the way DC has changed the use their fantastic library of characters over the last couple of years. My response to it has simply been to allow my superhero reading to trickle down to a meager two or three books a month in the last year, rather than protesting the changes or demanding alternatives. That is because my passion for comic books isn’t focused on superheroes, but on the medium itself and so I’m very satisfied to just read more of the independent books which tell stories about other things. Some comic book fans have said that I’m taking it too lightly or that I’m not speaking out for the medium I love, but I feel okay about coasting along and accepting the changes. That’s the kind of comic book fan I am – we aren’t all the same.
A complaint I heard from many of my friends over the holidays was that when they visited their families, they were asked “Are you like those ‘Big Bang Theory’ guys?”. Understandably a lot of them found this irritating, and I believe that this is because the writers of that show paint with a broad brush, they generalize (as is the norm in many sitcoms). One of the defining characteristic of the characters in the show is that they’re hard core scientists with serious social disabilities. The fact that they are also obsessive comic book readers, they readily dress up in costume for parties and conventions, they are heavily involved in role-playing games, etc, is almost incidental. This broad range of interests, on top of a full-time profession as scientists is actually rather unusual, but because they enjoy almost every possible aspect of nerd culture, there is almost always some small aspect for a disinterested relative to associate us with. We’re branded as like them even though very few of us identify with these socially dubious characters, it’s understandable that people find it annoying.
For people who do not share our interests the distinctions we make between our interests might seem random, but I know that I’m not a gamer because I’ve tried to get into it and I just can’t. I’ve had many opportunities to play games and have tried to do so on multiple occasions with all kinds of games (both on and offline), but I can’t seem to get into them. In my work as a graphic designer I’ve had jobs where I had to design promotional materials for games and loved the work and the culture because they look great and the aesthetic really appeals to me… But actually playing them just doesn’t work for me and so I can say without a doubt that I’m not a gamer.
Gaming is just one example where I don’t fit in to some sort of generalized “nerd culture”, but we all have them. Last week I watched a film called Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony and it was wonderful fun. I appreciated the positivity and sense of community which the fans found in their shared love of the cartoons. However, despite this sympathetic experience, I remain completely uninterested in the My Little Pony cartoons themselves, they’re just not for me. It didn’t stop me from appreciating the documentary, but it clearly another aspect of fandom which doesn’t include me.
The differences between our interests aren’t the only thing which separates us. While we enjoy the same things, they might not enthrall and consume some of us in the the way that others do. One of my friends just posted annotations for the latest Sherlock episode, which I read purely out of curiosity (since a friend wrote it), but it didn’t interest me at all. This is despite thoroughly enjoying the show itself. We’re friends who both like the same show, and yet the way we’re interested in it is completely different. Frankly I wouldn’t put us in the same category of interest at all, yet we are both part of one big, amorphous fan-grouping.
It annoys me to be labeled so generally and so casually, I think it is pretty weird for most people (except maybe those popular kids in ’80’s movies, wearing the pastel polo shirts with the collars turned up). Which nerdy things will appeal to me is quite random so it can feel awkward to be grouped together with fans of things I don’t understand. Despite this, I can still appreciate their excitement and in that way at least I do feel like part of a larger group.