I was reading an interesting article today by Patton Oswalt on Wired entitled Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to die http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/12/ff_angrynerd_geekculture/all/1. It touched upon several ideas that I’d like to discuss.
I’m not a nerd. I used to be one, back 30 years ago when nerd meant something.
I agree that as a nerdy guy growing up, I did feel that a lot of the hobbies I was into, were, day I say it, underground. This made me feel like they were special. This feeling was emphasised by the fact that I rarely met people who were as into video games or comic books as I was, at least until I hit high school. Being into nerdy hobbies also meant that you were going to take a lot of flack from other social groups, so really, only the most hardcore of us nerds stuck it out, with the weaker ones slipping into conformity. If you somehow survived this trial by social fire, you and the few others left standing felt like you were bound by something more than a mere common interest.
I can’t say that I ever abided nerd stereotypes: I was never alone or felt outcast. I had a circle of friends who were similarly drawn to the exotica of pop culture.
I’m going to have to agree and disagree with you here Patton. As a young boy growing up, I always had a few friends, but when I say a few, I mean a few. When I used to talk about comic books, people would just look at me like I was crazy. I got a similar reaction when I talked about the video games I played because I didn’t have a Golden China. In junior school I generally would have one best friend who I would very sometimes hang out with after school. This was mostly due to the fact that I may as well have lived a million miles from everyone, and with my parents always busy, it was a problem getting around. I did make friends with some of the boarders at school, which was mostly due to my Mum’s long teaching hours. Still, my weekends were generally spent alone with my comic books and video games.
This did change drastically in high school, where I became part of a very nerdy group, whose friendship has stuck with me (for the most part) to this very day. However, being part of this nerdy group meant that we generally got looked down upon by pretty much every other social group at our school. We were the nerds who played videogames and sat outside the school chapel playing Magic the Gathering. We barely even registered on the social ladder, except when people walked past us and threw weird looks or insults our way. In a strange way this worked for us, since we managed to create a safe space for various outcasts from the grades below us, who came and took sanctuary within our group.
We needed it, too, because the essence of our culture—our “escape hatch” culture—would begin to change in 1987.
While the time of change may have been different for those of us living in South Africa, (and no, I’m not referring to 1994) it wasn’t until much later that our nerd culture would be assimilated into the mainstream. When I used to spend hours waiting for anime to download on my old 56K (https://rowango.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/just-like-the-first-time/), never did I imagine I would wake up one day and be able to have a random conversation with a rugby player about Berserk and Cowboy Bebop.
Boy, the times have changed.
Hobbies that I was once made to feel bad about taking part in, are now part of everyday life. Video games? I don’t know anyone these days who doesn’t play Xbox, Playstation, or at very least Farmville or Angry Birds. Anime? I’ve met jocks who are more into Bleach and Naruto that I ever was. Comic books? Thank you Hollywood, my last little sanctuary of geekdom has been commercialised and pushed into the mainstream.
What was once special to me and a few other people, is now loved and adored by fans all around the world. While a part of me is grateful that I can proudly wander the streets with the words Bazinga across my chest, another part of me misses the days when I was part of something that no one else was.
My name is Rowan Govender, and I was a geek before it was cool.