If you know nerds, you probably know that they like to argue about things that seem trivial. If you’re a nerd, you probably know this better than anyone. You can attest that your passion for whichever items of pop culture that interest you can drive you into shouting matches. You might argue why your fandom is better than another nerd’s, why Star Wars is more important to society than Star Trek, why Doctor Who will teach you lessons that Supernatural can’t, why math unlocks the secrets of the universe better than all of the humanities combined or any other topic traditionally associated with the socially awkward among us that sparks (mostly) civil discussion.
I let my nerd flag fly, as you can probably tell if you’ve read my previous opinion pieces on how awesome DC Comics is; you probably also know that I am on the comics side of nerdom. By no means do people have to subscribe to everything traditionally associated with nerds to be nerds. Nerds are traditionally understood to be socially awkward individuals who derive more enjoyment from other things in the world than human interaction, making them quite a unique breed. While this description is not absolute, one thing about nerds is true: their differences in preferences should not serve as means of dividing them.
It’s not as though we’re engaged in a Marxist-style class struggle with fitness addicts for control of social capital or anything, but still: there is strength in unity. I happen to see all points of the spectrum on such issues as Star Wars vs. Star Trek, DC vs. Marvel and Harry Potter vs. Lord of the Rings vs. seemingly every other fantasy universe. All of them have engrossing universes, appeal to different aspects of the human experience, and have very intriguing connections to the myriad of cultural and social factors that comprise the human experience. While Star Trek embraces a utopian future and looks to the limitless potential of the human spirit, Star Wars is grounded in the myths and legends that have united people for centuries and is filled with tropes from all manner of popular forms of expression, ensuring that everyone can love something about it. In a similar way, Harry Potter weaves the fantasy genre into a relatable, modern setting while exploring real problems of young people, whereas The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia draw from various myths, including those of Christianity, the Celts and the Vikings, to create rich and imaginative universes in wildly fantastical realms. Marvel keeps it real while DC imagines a brighter tomorrow.
To me, popular culture is very fascinating, and it can be extremely enlightening and entertaining to hear and see not only other people’s thoughts and feelings about it, but also at their faces when they hear or spout out obscure knowledge. Though many don’t react particularly adversely to my “geeking out,” perhaps because nerds have become accepted and occasionally revered in modern society, I have found that nerds’ petty disputes can prevent them from forming meaningful friendships across boundaries if left unchecked. This becomes especially worse when nerds become overly passionate about their interests and take jokes or mild jabs about them personally.
But why should it be this way? “Why is it this way?” is a better question. Why can nerds become devoid of reason and cut themselves off from people with whom they could be friends, or perhaps even more? The best explanation I can think of is that nerds do not invest their energy in socializing, and as a result they are excluded from some parts of society. They compensate for not belonging fully in a social group by investing most of their energy into an interest. Tis interest provides a sense of belonging when they meet others of a like mind. This is what causes the passion that can fuel many arguments among different subgroups of the nerd kingdom. For some, allowing themselves to be sucked into another world may also be an effective escape mechanism from the social isolation of the real world. In an alternate world, they feel empowered, knowing more about this world than those around them and thus being the best individuals to navigate it.
If nerds were to see past the areas of interest that divide them, they would empathize with each other’s possible loneliness (not all nerds may be socially maladjusted) and use their newfound unity to form stronger bonds of friendship with. Perhaps they could find a place to honor all forms of nerd expression in one lovely, awkward, adorkable unit.