...or, "How Time Corrupted the Nerds."
I remember being a kid in the late 90s and early '00s and getting picked on for being something of a nerd. It was already starting to turn over, though, with the culture becoming more and more mainstream the older I got. It wasn't like I got beat up for liking Batman. I got made fun of here and there and sometimes, occasionally, it was because I had some sort of nerdy stuff around, but more often than not it was just because kids are fucking rude and they would grasp for any straw. So maybe I'm not the be all, end all of experience here, but I'm doing this anyway just because I'd love to say that being a nerd doesn't seem like all that proud of a thing now.
Honestly, I don't even like hanging out with nerds anymore. I think too often, that turns into a pissing contest of purity. You say you like a thing and then some idiot has to chime in with “YEAH BUT DID YOU SEE THIS OTHER THING? IF NOT THEN I JUST DON'T SEE HOW YOU'RE A REAL FAN!” And it's like, Jesus, turn it down, buddy. It's just a movie. Not like we're at the Conference of Nations here. If I like a thing, that just means I like it. Not looking to join the fucking debate team here.
And in recent years, with the ballooning of Marvel, Star Wars and Disney into a grotesque blob devouring everything in sight, it's hard to be sympathetic to this kind of aggro fan posturing. It's cool to like the stuff, I've enjoyed some of it, but at some point you're also basically getting pumped up and angry defending the 1% of entertainment. You're basically like “don't be so mean to this untouchable billionaire behemoth!” This especially applies to Star Wars. Jesus, the bitching I've heard and read about these new movies, you'd think they had paid for these people's housing and food needs for years.
That isn't even the worst of it. You hear worse things from women who try to enter the nerd kingdom's gates. Awful tales of sexism. And I'm glad I don't have to suffer the annoyances of any minority trying to wade into the public discourse. Just look at any time Marvel or DC tries to introduce a new incarnation of a character who's black or a woman or gay. Online, things have gotten perilously toxic at times, such as the 'Gamergate' fiasco that really showed how awful and toxic these people were, sending death threats, screaming misogynist garbage.
Nerds got to the top and then proceeded to act like the exact people they hated, discriminating and pushing people around. One thing nerds love is a quote from a nerdy movie used in some other context. So for me this whole thing is like when Harvey Dent said, “You either die, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” The whole predicament is basically the story of so many “I'll show them” nerd fantasies. We all had 'em, the whole idea of “they're making fun of me now but I'll get rich and punish them someday,” but it's become a reality for some people. There's a NYT editorial that goes into this with more finesse than I could, about people like Elon Musk. There's a dark side to every kind of person, and any ideal is somewhat corruptible, unfortunately.
I get how it happens. Nerd-dom is basically just liking something in a real, intense way. You don't just watch or read or play the thing passively, but actively consume, sucking up every morsel of information like Kirby from Smash Brothers (see, another reference). A lot of the time, that kind of devotion comes with a loneliness or something missing in real life, and a lot of young teenagers have that because life is tough to put together when you have almost no autonomy. But most of us grow out of that and become productive and well-rounded adults, to some extent anyway.
But some people don't grow out of it, and that portion seemed to grow more vocal as the internet got bigger. They turned their loneliness and social ineptitude into a weapon. Who knew how they'd gotten there? They just never seemed to click with real life. Never fit in. I guess we used to laugh at people like this for being fat Star Trek cosplayers who lived in their mom's basement. Now, I guess they're the same people, except they're angrier through a lot of time spent behind a screen reading conspiracy theories and getting angry at 'PC culture' for leaving them stranded in the dust. But the world has never been totally fair and at some level, if you're born into a first-world country to a family with money to afford the internet for you to read those conspiracy theories, you have to take some responsibility.
So I barely ever even refer to myself as a nerd. I enjoy a lot of 'nerd media' and don't care if people know it, but I stop short at calling myself one. I don't like the context anymore. I think it's given birth to some toxic shit.
And honestly, with the proliferation and mainstreaming of nerd culture, what do bullies even make fun of kids in school for anymore? Is it back to race, socioeconomic class, the simpler stuff of days of yore? I dunno.