Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nerd War!

Is it time to retire the term "nerd"? For the sake of my whole online identity, HELLS NAW!

More seriously: no, I don't think the word "nerd" should be discarded, but then I have given this subject a lot of thought and know just how fluid and ill-defined the word is anyway. I don't really care how it's "cool" now so it's really uncool, or how it's been "appropriated" and "monetized," because that's about larger American commercial culture, not the group itself. White suburban kids have appropriated hip-hop, but does that mean the term "rapper" is suddenly not apropos?

Is it BAD that people are more comfortable with the moniker? That we've carved out enough social space that more and more people can feel comfortable openly admitting their love of certain "nerdy," non-mainstream niches, even if they just happen to like anime or Star Wars or whatever and don't fit the other criteria of the more technical definitions? That we're appreciated and tolerated instead of scorned and reviled? That's a victory for our whole culture, I think, not something to be bemoaned. And no matter how "cool" it is, I still really don't think it's all that cool. I mean, ask any kid in school if they'd rather be a nerd or a jock, and I think you'd find a hell of a lot more going for the latter. Even still, so what if some kids now can take the word "nerd" and use it positively as a part of their identity? Considering the hell that is high school, with its adolescent groping for identity, its deeply primate quest for tribe and belonging, I'd say taking at least a little bit of the sting from the term "nerd" is a wonderful thing.

And doesn't the whole conversation suggest something of a Zen koan: is arguing over the utility and appropriation of the word "nerd" not itself intensely nerdy? Frankly, no one else cares; in the end, its really only nerds who give a flying fuck about definitions, because we're nerds and that sort of stuff makes us giddy as schoolgirls. Not since the medieval Church has a group more enjoyed the opportunity to come together to shout, jump up and down, call one another not only wrong but heretic, and schism than us. It's one of the beauties of nerddom, I think.

All I know is that I earned my bones long ago, and I am, and will ever be, a nerd.

Update: Nerd is the word.