Kozlowski: Hail to the nerd

By Mark Kozlowski

Strolling through a Best Buy a few months ago, I couldn’t help but look through some of… Strolling through a Best Buy a few months ago, I couldn’t help but look through some of what passes for comedy in our modern era. The backs of the DVDs described plots that were rather sparse in both the character development and clothing departments. The “screamingly funny” films looked more like they were cringingly embarrassing. One of the films that especially caught my eye was titled something like “I Love You, Sarah Connor” — the name changed for humorous and memory reasons — and had a plot that seemed both typical and depressing.

The idea is, a high-school valedictorian and stereotypical movie dork has a secret crush on the most popular girl in the grade and decides the best way to inform the young lady in question is to inform the rest of the graduating class simultaneously, in his valedictory speech. Then, that night, the girl shows up with her BFFs and converts the poor sap into a cool kid, and everybody’s happy.

Sounds pretty typical, no? Nothing to get excited about particularly. But the plot irritated me. First, it discourages hard work in school, lest you be considered un-hip. Further, the film promotes the idea that all nerds secretly want to be cool and are unfulfilled because of their nerdiness. This second idea is completely false. There are numerous joys of being a nerd, some of them even involving the opposite sex.

The best part of being a nerd is knowing no fear. Or at least less fear than usual. Seeing a movie poster or a book that tries to scare the viewer with a bunch of mathematical equations is generally an intimidating experience. Until you’ve studied lots of math. Then, you can very smugly say to your English-major buddy “oh that’s easy, it’s a trivial derivative. And it was done wrong” and have god-like status for knowing how to differentiate. Those lengthy papers in technical journals, though still scary, become more understandable the more of them you read. Nerdiness is an immunization against the terror of the technical.

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Nerds are also rebellious by nature, but rebellious in a unique way that doesn’t irritate grownups. Some of us actually do know where the bounds of popular culture are — we just don’t care to partake in it. Granted, some of us are clueless, but still, we march to our own drums and don’t have to read gossip magazines to see what we should be fans of this month.

And what about success with the opposite sex? We all have the image of the nerd as the guy or gal for whom the wildest sexual encounter ever experienced was a meaningful glance or flirtatious gaze. Not the case. In my experience, a young lady would show an interest in a nerdy male, show it very clearly sometimes, and the fellow simply wouldn’t get the hint. Most of the time, the lack of “action” in the life of a nerd is not so much because of a lack of opportunity as a lack of perception.

Take, for example, an episode in my life. A girl once asked me for homework help in the hallway in high school before classes. I cheerfully said “Why, sure,” and helped her with the problems. I could not understand why she seemed so upset when I concluded with the homework, asked if there were any other questions and left. I mean, I helped her with the homework, didn’t I? That she likely had ulterior motives never crossed my mind.

Romantically, being a nerd provides a very nice filter for those who are and are not worthwhile. After all, if somebody is unpleasant to someone he perceives as socially inept or slightly immature, that somebody is not a nice person. They aren’t worth your time. So, better to have them display what they are, by saying, “Why would I want a nerd like you?” then to have to play a guessing game.

There is also the fallacy that nerds are interested in exactly the same sorts of people everyone else is interested in — nerds all want either the cheerleaders or the starting quarterback as a significant other. Now, while we might not object to having those significant others, we certainly don’t object to dating another nerd, which carries several advantages. First, you share common interests, and if not, can create a few. Second, there is less competition in the market for intelligent significant others, particularly men looking for smart women. Third, social ineptness is not as big a deal because your significant other understands and is the same.

The point is, we the nerds of the world do not want to be converted. We are happy where we are, thank you very much. Indeed, the plot of the movie would have been much better if the girl shows up at the guy’s house and the guy teaches her calculus instead.

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