Vicariousness

I’m a nerd.

Always have been, and thus far it appears I always will be, but perhaps not for the reasons one normally holds forth. My sister believes that what really defines nerddom is not what you are interested in, but how your interest actually manifests itself. That what matters is not that you are obsessed with Star Wars, or Tolkien, or the World of Warcraft, or Frank Herbert, or Spider-man, or Terry Pratchett, or fantasy football/baseball/basketball/whatever, but that you are obsessed with something. That the way you show appreciation is not casual or flippant, but all-consuming. Nerds are nerds because they literally cannot be anything else: they would be just as nerdy if they were obsessed with high fashion as they are when they are entranced by the subtle play of bioluminescent anemone light on Na’vi skin.

Obviously, what nerds typically find appealing is something that allows them to indulge an obsession, something so massive they can spend years picking apart details and subsuming themselves in an escapist other. The reasons Middle-Earth or Earth-616 or a galaxy far, far away are so readily the refuges of nerds is because they really are entire other worlds. A nerd can (and I have) spend more time reading about those universes than actually consuming the media from which they originate. Many of my nerdly obsessions aren’t necessarily things I watch in and of themselves: I am sickly fascinated by reading synopses of horror franchises like Ringu, even if I can’t actually stomach watching the movies themselves because I am a giant wuss. But that’s how my learning process runs. When I am interested in something, I am completely interested in it, and I have to google it and read fan reviews, wikipedia articles, background history, auteur biographies, etc.; the original creative work itself often isn’t enough for me.

This is why I’m able to at least follow a conversation about the history of the X-men, even though I never collected the comics nor read many of them beyond a scattering of TPB collections. I am fascinated by the “academic” subcultures nerds build up around the things they love and obsess over. Right now, you can google Tolkien Elvish and find hundreds of online sources that will teach you to speak and write Quenya. An entirely fictional language works in a utilitarian fashion today, partly because Tolkien was a linguist and put everything a working language needed into place, but mostly because nerds out there are so obsessed that they have put in years of effort to hang flesh on the bones. That kind of dedication is like crack to me: I cannot help but be drawn to it, even as I am at times repelled by the forms such passion can take. In many ways, researching and learning about the nerdly communities built up around nerdly things is more fun to me than the nerdly things themselves. The internet has not only made these communities more viable, but has allowed the rest of us to watch them work and grow.

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2 Responses to Vicariousness

  1. kulagirl says:

    can one be a nerd (obsessed) about food?

    • According to this definition, yes. But one would have to go beyond simply enjoying food and trying new dishes/cuisines/restaurants/whatever. It would have to be something that you spend days and days researching, exploring, contemplating, and perhaps even applying to other, improper contexts.

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