05 February 2008

Flunking Nerdology 101

Growing up, I was a nerd. By most standards of reference, I still am, but these things matter less when you’re middle-aged. In junior-high school, nerdiness was a curse. It frequently led to my getting beat up by the football team, whether by individual players or by specially drafted offensive squads. But there was no help for it. I liked opera — and show tunes. I made good grades. I took French class. I didn’t like football. (There’s probably a connection between my antipathy for the sport and my treatment at the hands of the sportsmen, but no matter.) Oh, the list goes on.

The Onion A.V. Club has compiled its own list of indicators of nerdiness, “The Knights Who Say ‘Nerd’: 20 Pop Cultural Obsessions Even Geekier Than Monty Python.” As a Dallasite, I was one of the original Monty Python geeks — the local public-television station was the first in the country to broadcast the show. So I ran down the inventory, to see how I’d measure up by today’s standards.

I’m ashamed to say that I don’t even make a passing grade. Over the course of three decades, new nerdologies have been developed to which I could never aspire. I record my scores below.


√1. Star Trek: I’m undeniably guilty of this one. I watched the show fanatically, I attended the conventions and met the cast, I collected memorabilia, and my little friends and I tried to make our own Star Trek movie. (I was Doctor McCoy.) In those days, we had only the original series to cling to, and I could identify the episode title within ten seconds of the program’s start. I knew the names of all the actors, writers, and directors. It’s pretty embarrassing to watch nowadays. The colors are gorgeous, but the performances are over-the-top, the scripts more often bad than brilliant. Yet the show gave its audience hope for a better future — that’s not bad. We reciprocated by hoping for a better future for the show. As if we awaited a Messiah, we prayed for the show’s revival, or a movie. In time, our prayers were answered, but except for a brief infatuation with Captain Kathryn Janeway (and the way I still cry when Spock dies in Star Trek II), I moved on.

Janeway confronts a Borg usurper.

2. Renaissance faires: I minored in Renaissance studies in college, and I still read the relevant texts, but I’ve never attended a faire.

3. Fantasy sports leagues: I’ve never understood any sport well enough to pursue this activity.

4. Michael Jackson: Speaking of Messiahs, listen to this guy sing “I’ll Be There,” and you’re getting a direct message from Jesus. If only Michael had died at 33 — instead he’s been crucified, and crucified himself, ever since. I loved the Thriller album, when it came out, but that’s like saying you love oxygen. I was never a Jackson camp-follower, merely an admirer — for a time. But some of my happiest memories are of dancing to “PYT” and “Human Nature” with Elise Goyette, a quarter-century ago. When those songs were playing, she was the only girl on earth.

√5. Wikipedia: I don’t edit Wikipedia entries, but I spend entirely too much time surfing its virtual pages.

6. Battlestar Galactica: The original series struck me as a weak substitute for Star Trek, and I’ve missed all the subsequent reformations.

If you think this is a picture of Billie Whitelaw in Beckett’s Not I, you’re a nerd. But a different kind of nerd.

√7. The Rocky Horror Picture Show: In junior and senior years in high school, I saw this movie 31 times. Since then, I haven’t seen it all the way through once. But I can still quote all the lyrics, and I haven’t forgotten how to do “The Time Warp.” I never dressed up, but I was a pretty hardcore fan for a time.

I remember doing the Time Warp
Drinking those moments when
The madness would hit me...

8. Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly): This pop-cultural phenomenon arrived on the scene too late to do me any good. I suspect I’d have been a fan, if I’d had the opportunity.

9. Media-specific role-playing (gaming in which one pretends to be a favorite movie or TV character): I’m not exactly guilty of this one, although for years I did woo a girl by pretending to be Lord Peter Wimsey, and referring to her as Harriet Vane. I’m confident this is not what the editors of The Onion are talking about, however.

10. Magic: The Gathering (a collectible card game): I’d never even heard of this before reading the article in The Onion.

11. World of Warcraft (a video game): I’d heard of this, but never gone near it — nor any other video game. That in itself must constitute a kind of nerdiness.

√12. The Simpsons: I’m pretty hardcore on this one. I have DVDs for the first nine seasons (after which we start running into far too many Worst. Episodes. Ever.), and I even listen to the Voiceover Commentaries by Cast and Crew; I collect figurines, and I was among the first people in France to attend the movie last summer. I don’t apologize. The Simpsons have made me a better person. Now, even my boogers are spicy.

13. Doctor Who: This British sci-fi series began in 1963, went off the air in 1989, then made a comeback in 2005. This is simply too much for me to handle. I can’t get involved in a series if there’s catching-up to do.

14. Frank Zappa: I admire him. I don’t own a single album.

15. Game-show tape trading: I can’t even see why this would be fun.

16. Animé: I like some kinds of graphic fiction, and I’m a big fan of Astérix and other French comic books. But animé never grabbed me.

17. Cosplay (dressing up as superhero cartoon characters): When I was four, my mother pinned a pillowcase to my shoulders, and I became Robin the Boy Wonder, joining the next-door neighbor, who had an authentic, store-bought Batman costume. Together, we would fight crime by running around the block as fast as we could. We never met any criminals, although this one time, we did see these older boys who chased us. That was the end for me of anything resembling “Cosplay.”

18. Live-action role-playing (acting out Dungeons & Dragons with costumes, swords, etc., in wooded areas): I couldn’t get into the tabletop version of Dungeons & Dragons. I wonder if the accoutrements would have given me the key to unlock the Cavern of Nerdy Delights, to smite the Guardian Orc, and to recover the Treasure of Fandom, giving me power over the Maidenly Wench. My guess: we’ll never know.

19. Second Life/MySpace/FaceBook: I have a blog. Does that count? I thought not. I’m too old for this one.

20. Fanfic: Although characters based on popular culture did surface in my early writings (the novel I wrote in high school is basically Star Trek Meets Upstairs, Downstairs — and yes, it’s that good), I was more interested in parody and in disguising my influences. Possibly because at an early age somebody explained to me the meaning of “copyright infringement.”

My Score: Four out of ten, not even a Gentleman’s F. I’m a failure as a nerd. (But I may have to contest the grade, because they didn’t even mention Tolkien.)

I should like to register a complaint.