Recently, I was listening to the Nerdette podcast and came across an episode where the hosts interviewed Peter Sagal. I actually enjoyed the interview as a whole, but something Mr. Sagal casually said in the beginning irked me and, weeks later, still sticks in my craw.
It came at the end of an explanation of how “nerds” these days have it so much easier than he did as a boy:
“Guys, you’re not nerds; you’re fans, you’re enthusiasts.”
Hold on a second.
I have a huge problem with people denying others the right to claim the labels they wish to, be it nerd or geek or something else entirely, just because someone else’s experiences differs from theirs.
I’ll confess that when I was younger, I didn’t like to consider myself a nerd or a geek. Nerd was a thing other kids called me. I was a tiny, bespectacled kid that always had her face in a book (not much has changed in that regard). I read The Lord of the Rings in the sixth grade while other kids gossiped during reading time, much like Mr. Sagal did. I did my math homework on the bus instead of goofing off with other kids, and read a book on the walk home from the bus stop.
I always made friends with librarians who worked at the libraries I frequented. I took advanced math, until I decided to drop it so I could take more art classes, because art was also a thing I was obsessed with (and admittedly, it was a lot more fun than trigonometry). As a young kid, I had to wear glasses and an eye patch because I had a lazy eye. That will never be cool.
TL;DR: I have geek cred. I even got bullied because I got good grades! Is it so hard to accept that things like that still happen?
As a member of the so-called generation Mr. Sagal is calling out, I’ll admit things are better for us of the nerd variety. We have the internet now, after all. We can find each other and talk about the things we love and obsess about.
Thankfully, one of the co-hosts, Tricia Bobeda, responded to Mr. Sagal’s statement:
“The nerd credential argument is one that we reject because we want to make it so that people who are the obsessed are ambassadors for the thing that they love so that it can become more inclusive.
“Because the subculture still exists.”
That’s right. We nerds are slightly more common and visible, but we’re still a subculture. And probably always will be.
We’re just better organized and appear in greater numbers at conventions and meet-ups.
I guess I’m lucky I grew up when I did, not 30 years before like Mr. Sagal, but isolation and bullies still exist. They’re never going away, although I’m not sure if that’s a necessary criterion to meet to check the box marked “geek and/or nerd.”
I think of it a little bit like arguing about the difference between film and digital photography. One is older, has a lot of nostalgia attached to it, and takes a little more time and effort…. But in the end, either direction you take, you still end up with a photograph, if slightly different depending on the way you go about it.
In the end, whether you choose to call us nerds or fans or fanatics, we’re still interested in the same types of things, even if we happen to enjoy them in different ways.
Things may be getting better for the nerdy and the geeky, but the road can still be a tough and lonely place, especially if you don’t fit into the narrow definition of what mainstream culture considers a geek. I certainly don’t—I just happen to wear the glasses and own the nerdy tee-shirts that make it easy to spot me in the wilds of normal life.
The world of nerdery and geekdom is vast and diverse. We don’t all look and act like the cast from the Big Bang Theory. And we certainly don’t need to.