The “Nerds Have Won” narrative has taken off. The New York Times is even on about it. Videogames have hit the mainstream. Comic books have been and are being turned into major blockbuster movies. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is practically a rockstar now, and nobody’s really bothered when a celebrity gets comes on a late-night talk show and admits they play D&D or videogames.
But that’s all just a narrative.
Videogames have hit the mainstream, but only some videogames. Comics are big now, but only some comics. Celebrities can be open about nerdy hobbies, but they’re already celebrities. When people talk about “nerd culture” and “geek culture,” they’re talking about comic book movies, Dr. Who, Super Mario, and Star Wars, things that have entered the mainstream consciousness, and have been accepted by mainstream culture, but were, in the past, very fringe and “nerdy” things to be into. When people talk about “nerd culture” and “geek culture,” they’re not talking about X3: Terran Conflict, Virtua Fighter, or any anime (Except Miyazaki movies, occasionally). Nerds haven’t “won.” Most of us are still fringe.
And you know what? That’s okay.
Fredrik DeBoer can write four paragraphs about how “geeks are the overdogs” because our stuff makes a lot of money now and how we “now need to recognize [our] great fortune,” but those of us who are still in the fringe know what the score is. The mainstream picks up on certain aspects of our culture and, in their consciousness, sets them as representative of our culture. Comic books have been a nerdy thing to be into for decades. Now that they’re being turned into high-grossing films with lots of marketing behind them, “nerds have won.” Same with videogames.
But once again, those are only certain aspects of our culture. It’s easy to pick on the aspects that have become popular and accepted and jump to the conclusion that “nerds have won” (Especially when part of the point you’re trying to make involves haranguing those same nerds to “extend a little sympathy in the direction of us sad few who prefer other things”) but there’s still a vast library of “nerd” interests that are still fringe, and the vast majority of nerds are still in the fringe and will remain there.
Again: This isn’t a bad thing.
DeBoer is right about one thing: The victimhood complex needs to go, but his follow-up to that is all wrong. He wants us to lower our voices and put our heads down. I say we yell louder and hold our heads up high. Why apologize for loving what you love? Many of us have come to the conclusion that the hobbies mainstream society chooses to accept are basically arbitrary, so why not be loud about the things you love?
Being fringe isn’t just okay, it’s great! Who would want to be “normal?” I equate that word with mediocrity. Your interests are interesting! Be passionate and enthusiastic about the things you’re into, however fringe they are! Nerds haven’t won, but it’s certainly more socially acceptable to be into things that not everyone else is into, and that’s where nerds can win. We understand why we like the things we like. Few people will condemn you for being too into anime, Gundam models, or X3: Terran Conflict, and the ones who will aren’t worth engaging any further with. The importance of being enthusiastic and vocal lies in the potential for it to attract more fans to our culture, and to encourage other nerds to be enthusiastic and passionate about their interests.
Nerds haven’t won, but we’re a lot better off than we were, and while the vast majority of us are still in the fringe, that’s fine. Fact is, we’ve existed in the fringe for a long time and can continue to do so, even in the face of mainstream culture insisting we’ve won, based on a small number of lucrative media properties.
We don’t need to “win.” Enjoy the fringe.