In the past, I’ve been given more than what I think should be my share of insulting compliments, usually starting with “you remind me of…” and ending with something like “…my brother” or something worse. Usually, this comes from women, thus I cannot tell if they actually mean it or are trying to turn me down in such an obnoxious way that I’m glad to be rid of them. That sounds paranoid, but I’ve as many reasons to believe as to not.
I thought I heard a new insulting compliment the other day, coming from a classmate who told me that for all my nerdy obsessions, my demeanor was distinctly non-nerd. I write a blog dedicated to my enjoyment of kung fu movies, fantasy novels, and RPGs/video games; I thought that she just was dicking with me, until I realized the company that I keep at my university. For your reference: the first day of class, another guy sat next to me, and immediately started talking about his home made arcade unit (a PC in an arcade cabinet running MAME) without any sort of introduction or anything to indicate that he had any reason to start talking to me about his own unique brand of nerd shit.
I don’t claim to have come up with the idea of being nerdy without being a nerd, or post-nerd, or post-geek (ugh) or nerd-cool. But I do know that to some degree, I have attained enough of whatever that is for somebody of the opposite sex to comment on it in what I don’t think was an intentionally insulting way.
Now would be the fortuitous time to proffer a guide to being a nerd or a geek or what have you, not just because somebody acknowledged that I am one without seeming like it, but because the pursuit of what was once considered nerdy has become a part of the mainstream. Frat boys who never heard of Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament play Halo; the academy recognized Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings adaptations; everybody blogs and twitters and brags about their gadgety, gimmicky cell phones. The trick to being a nerd in such an environment is to constantly appear to know more than everyone else, both what came before and what is on the horizon. The trick to not appearing like a nerd and a tool is to know what to talk about (and when to stop talking) with people who have only a cursory knowledge of stuff like video games and fantasy literature.
Unfortunately, I have no ability in the writing such things. I can offer basic advice: keep the video-game/franchised t-shirts to a minimum. Shower. Don’t talk about anime. (No, not even Satoshi Kon or Mamoru Oshii) There is never a good reason to vociferously defend the AD&D 2.5 rule set. Ever.
If you have to be seen reading science fiction or fantasy, do us all a favor and spare us the ugly-ass cover art from your licensed, video-game franchise novels. If you’re too illiterate to read literate SF/Fantasy, at least read an old paperback and pretend you’re doing so out of irony. Don’t read Gor, no irony exists there.
I don’t know if it was a regional misconception, but by-and-large, people I knew in high school thought that the appreciation of video games and Japanese cartoons and other nerdy crap denoted a person of minimal athletic and social ability who (assuming he or she wasn’t a devil worshiper or a lesbian) was quite smart. That wasn’t true then, and it still isn’t now. In my experience, it’s the least intelligent people of like interests that tend to be the most insular, if not the most socially retarded. The “cool geeks” and the more acceptable nerds generally included people who displayed actual intelligence as opposed to worthless knowledge of arcane trivia.
But don’t these things go without saying? I recall joking a few weeks ago among friends that although we included female friends and girlfriends and fiancés in our nerdy conversations, we could easily expel them by bringing up something of uber-nerdiness. I offered Nihon Falcom RPGs as an example, and immediately lost the attention of the lone female member of our conversation. Call it Pigsy’s Law: Falcom repels women IRL. That went without saying as well, but I had fun saying it.
That might be the real secret. It’s really all about not being a pedantic asshole.