Why Introverted Nerds Like Fantasy and Sci Fi

It’s perfectly Ok and respectable to have seen some trek and wars. However, you’re crossing way over the line if you know who Salacious Crumb is or know just how Shaka felt when the walls fell.
The new Battlestar Galactica is borderline respectable because of its general lack of aliens and elaborate makeup. You’ve probably gone too far though if you know the model number for each of the skinjobs.
You might possibly be able to pass yourself off as a semi-acceptable citizen even if you watch Stargate.
If you’re into firefly, B5, or Earth final conflict, forget it. It’s too late to save you.
If you:
-Consider yourself a member of clan Malkavian
-Have killed an ancient netch with the fork of horripilation
-Know the significance of the phrase ‘hello sailor’ or have been eaten by grues
-Have ever saved against death
-Know that every point of S after 3= -1 to armor save
-Have ever put a saproling token into play or accumulated poison counters
-Could swear Washington D.C. was founded in 4000 B.C. and believe Elvis has existed since ancient times
-Know the significance of the line “My shoes are too tight and I have forgotten how to dance.”
-Can sing ‘the man they call Jayne’ by heart.

then you have become indescribable in the horrific Lovecraftian sense of the word.
Yet there are lower levels still…

Some moderate exposure to fantasy and sci-fi is deemed to be an ordinary part of pop culture, but there’s a certain point where you’ve crossed the Rubicon and entered into Nerddom.

In Nerddom a movie, show, book, or computer game goes beyond mere entertainment. It becomes a subject of scholarly zeal and nationalistic devotion. In Nerddom one:
-Memorizes geographical features on fictional maps.
-Memorizes the specs of fictional weapons and vehicles.
-Masters a large body of spoken or written material to the point where they can quote from it at will.
-Knows details that are not actually divulged in the original work.
-Knows the customs, histories, or languages of fictional peoples…

To those who live on the surface, these behaviors are completely irrational and bizarre.
Acceptable people wonder why anyone would be so fervent about such obscure information.
Obscurity and exclusivity is precisely the point! Far from being insane, it’s a ritual of distinguishing those who belong to Nerddom from those who belong on the surface of society.
When people do not identify with the culture they were born into, surely it is no stretch of the imagination that they would invent a new culture.
Every culture has its lore and mythology. The culture of Nerddom is no different. A denizen of the surface might say ‘OMG WTF, why would anyone ever learn that?’
One could just as easily ask the same thing of conventional pop culture with its emphasis on frivolous details from the personal lives of countless ‘celebrity’ strangers.
In any given society, shared lore is hugely important. All those small details help bring members closer together while simultaneously keeping outsiders in their place. The small details are difficult to learn properly unless one is genuinely enthusiastic about the values held by the group. It is a means of quickly filtering out impostors.

Among surface dwellers, nerdly scholarship is at best regarded as an amusing and pitiable curiosity. At worst, it is seen as a symptom of derangement and an attack on traditional society.
Those who belong notice a pattern:
Nerddom attracts lots of people who just can’t seem to fit in.
This observation only reinforces the disgust of Accepted observers. Nerddom is the place where rejects go and hide from ‘reality.’

Why does this phenomenon exist?
It ought to be obvious!

When one grows up as a misfit and shares few interests with their peers, one undergoes regular bouts of social censure from an early age.
All one gets from the ‘real world’ of the conventional social environment is negative reinforcement. The every day experience is one of alienation and humiliation.

Why then is it a surprise then that those who are rejected should turn to fictional worlds?! Fictional realities in which all the traits that merit rejection are accepted. Fictional worlds far away from the order that judges and condemns.

These fictional worlds are an escape and separation from a hostile society, but that is only the beginning.
Having been thrown away like garbage by one’s birth culture, it follows that one ought to actively distance oneself from the conventions of one’s oppressors. By doing this one moves from a land and culture associated with shame and loneliness to new lands that promote pride and serve as a means of group bonding with others who have been cast out.
Before long, you have a black market of social belonging operating under the surface of the ‘Legal’ order. I suspect a lot of conventional resentment comes from the fact that the orthodoxy’s monopoly on acceptance and rejection has been effectively broken. Seeing Fracture in progress is inherently disturbing to those who believe there is only one Correct social order.

Far from being crazy or a curiosity, Nerddom is the understandable easily predictable result of the present system. Why on Earth would someone reviled by their fellow Earthlings stay on Earth when it is so easy to emigrate?

To sum it all up, emigration to Nerddom is a means of:

-Declaring independence from a hostile society. Unable to succeed and too isolated to bring any change, the best solution is to secede from a harsh and abusive organization.
-Including those who fail to identify with the conventional ways
-Excluding one’s persecutors.
-Finding pride and belonging when one’s birth culture gave only shame and exclusion
-Escaping to a place where it is not necessary to constantly be on guard. It is a way of releasing accumulated tension and stress.

In time, what started as a temporary shelter becomes more of a home than the birth culture ever was. In a sense, all of those fictional worlds are more real, more genuine than ‘reality’ ever was. From a shameful beginning characterized by being a sin, absolution follows.

Zygmunt blogs at Kingdom of Introversion (and elsewhere).

Why Introverted Nerds Like Fantasy and Sci Fi first appeared there in July of 2009, and is republished here by permission.

[image via Flickr/Creative Commons]

related:  The Anthropology of Nerd Societies: Formation of New Group Identities Within Industrialized Civilization

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