The case for being an unashamed nerd

Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001

Comment by students at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds ANL-151025-114649001

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What enters your brain when you hear the word ‘nerd’? Perhaps social isolation, thick-rimmed glasses and board games in your parents’ basement.

Well, at least in part, you’re not wrong. I do indeed wear heavy specs (and I’m not a stranger to the odd game of Dungeons and Dragons).

But the imperative principle – the ‘law of nerd’ if you will – is being totally unironically excited about the things you love, whatever they are.

There’s no social barrier to (literally sometimes) launching myself into the air with excitement over a new film or book or album. I am permitted to cry when Yoda dies in Star Wars. I’m allowed to shout and have passionate arguments over the meaning of Holden’s deerstalker hat in The Catcher in the Rye. And I can’t imagine living any other way.

Contrary to what you might believe, nerd culture can be one of the most vibrant and diverse places you can experience. You’ll find people - perhaps thousands - who share your interests and passions. Interactions typically happen online (yes, that’s why I spend so much time on my computer), and they are usually extremely constructive; two people ‘geeking out’ over Star Trek, revelling in their shared love of a subject they know lots about, is beautiful to watch.

Millions of pounds raised for charity through web-based programmes and campaigns says that these communities are also extremely productive and thoughtful when it comes to helping out people in need.

Sounds attractive?

In reality, sometimes it can be incredibly difficult. Nerds are a species that face a surprising amount of discrimination.

You only need look as far as the TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Despite the lead characters all being nerds, the main source of humour is their painful social inadequacy. The audience definitively laughs at the characters rather than with them.

And that seems OK, on the outside. Unless that topic of comedy and mockery is your actual way of life. Then it’s a very personal and character-based attack on the things you hold closest. That’s not fun.

But recently, and directly as a result of the increased accessibility of the internet, nerds have been able to shelter from the mortar fire of social rejection. What was once a lonely kid sitting at his computer playing video games, in isolation from even his family, has become a vibrant online community, full of positivity, unironic excitement and love.

The internet has become a bunker, a safehouse from the onslaught that popular culture perpetrates.

Does being a nerd seem so unattractive now? We don’t have to be embarrassed about being unashamedly, unironically excited. We can express our love for Star Wars or video games or ELO without the spectre of social expectation looming above us. In short, we don’t care what people think.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to play fantasy board games in my garage. And I’m going to get excited about it.

Seriously. Really excited.

-- Will Allsopp is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds