Friday, September 08, 2006

More Tomato Nation: Insights into Dorkiness

Okay, now I've started reading Tomato Nation, and I'm finding more to comment on. Having just recently disagreed with Sarah's review of Grizzly Man, I now find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with her account of dorkiness, and I'd like to throw in my however-many cents about it.

Here's where she hits the nail on the flat fucking head, articulated so perfectly that I'm probably naive to think I have anything more to say: "'s that idea of looking to that thing, that signifier, to let you belong because that thing belongs to you, horses, baseball, Broadway, Harry Potter, Risk, loving it as though it will love you back, without apologizing for it or winking at anyone who might be watching you."

I'm going to repeat that, just so everyone gets it: true nerdhood is about loving something you do so unabashadly that it can't possibly make you cool. "Cool" is always about image and perspective, and it requires constant mediation to make sure you distinguish yourself without actually annoying or alienating the majority of your audience. Nerds can't be this kind of cool. They don't even HAVE a fucking audience. They can't be ironic, because irony is a way of talking about something in a way that distances you from it. Sarah is absolutely spot-on correct... nerdiness is about your attitude toward the things you're enthusiastic about.

Two people in my academic career have exemplified nerdiness to me, in all its sublime excitement.

One was a middle-school teacher I worked with in my extracurricular activities. He busted his ass to teach seventh-graders, those kids who refuse to think about anything but establishing superficial social lives, about the importance and excitement of poetry. He told me I would like Jorge Luis Borges' cerebral fiction, because The Library of Babel and The Garden of Forking Paths are simply sick-ass awesome stories, and when I read Borges a couple years later, I found he was absolutely right. The same thing happened with the rock-and-roll zombie flick he recommended to me, Wild Zero. Oh, and he LOVES drunken trivia, and he kept score for his team pretty strictly.

The other was a college professor who I never worked with very closely, but who exemplified the kind of passion you need to be a bona-fide nerd. He was an IR professor, and he presented a series of screenings and critical discussions of Star Wars: Episodes IV to VI. At the end of these discussions, he said something that's been with me ever since: "Next semester, I'll do these discussions of the Matrix movies, and not only will I show you that they aren't as bad as you think... I'll also convince you that they actually got BETTER, one after another." In a world that's obsessed with disparaging the second two Matrix movies, that's a ballsy statement.

Honestly, I think these professors might like this very blog, because it's my expression of enthusiasm about the movies and Internet memes that I love. The Rundown, Pirates of the Carribean, Wikipedia, and Cyberpunk... if you really want to know, this blog is a window into my soul. I'm glad someone like Sarah managed to put that into such clear terms for me.


Kelly said...

Linking this to the conversation we had up at the lake this past weekend, I think that this post clarifies why I'm such a nerd... I get way more excited than is cool when I'm curious about something. I don't just display a casual interest--I talk *incessantly* about it, immerse myself in the research of it, and write about it until the enthusiasm fades. In middle school I had to learn to keep that under wraps as much as I could, but it still leaks out because I can't help being enthralled with the world at large.

(Or maybe that's what makes me a geek instead of a nerd? Less fascination with one thing over time, but fascination with many shifting things over time? Or perhaps I'm just a spaz.)

lisa said...

jesse! mr. heidt pointed me in this direction and i'm happy to have discovered your blog. . .i think your definition(s) of nerdiness is dead on BUT dorkiness vs. nerdiness is another question (even according to ben schott's 2007 almanac, which is a fun read if you haven't read it already.) anyway. . .i'm moving to DC for an internship with NPR in 2 weeks so find me on facebook or somehow to chat if you're inclined!

- l i s a b r u n n e r :)

Jesse M said...

Lisa -

I'm in full agreement there. There's a fine, but important, semantic distinction between "nerd" and "dork," based on a couple things.

1) Nerd is more easily appropriated, as in the case of "nerd-core" and "riot nrrrd."

2) Nerd is more readily modified, as in "video game nerd," "non-euclidean geometry nerd," or "media theory nerd." You don't generally hear of someone being a "computer dork."

Thus, "nerd" pivots on the idea of dedication, whereas "dork" pivots on the lack-of-coolness factor without the emphasis on a skill, or on a positive identity.

Thanks for the comment, and I'll get in touch!