I went to junior high with a guy named Brian who was, by any measure, an extraordinary nerd. He was smart, scrawny, wore thick glasses, was in the chess club, and one day he came to school with an antenna-like device that had a light bulb on the end that he could switch on rather than having to raise his hand in class.
He got beat up a lot.
When we were in the ninth grade, my boyfriend, Jeff, decided to become Brian’s best friend. I thought Jeff was just being really charitable, since he was so super-cool and a bad boy and all, but looking back as an adult, I have to admit that Jeff was also in the chess club, and in all the honors classes, and had an enormous collection of Star Wars toys, so maybe I just didn’t know how to delineate between nerd and cool back then.
But even then, it always made me sad that Brian wasn’t celebrated for his unique brain and left-of-center interests.
Flash forward 30 years, and I just spent an amazing four days at Comic-con, where the greatest thing you can be is a nerd. Where I am at a distinct disadvantage for not knowing whether it’s better to be Heavy or Demoman in TF2, and actively jealous of the fangirls who can hold extended conversations about whether Grant Morrison’s or Brian Bendis’ X-Men run is better.
People cosplay (dress in costumes of their favorite characters), and line up for hours to hear once-outcast nerds talk about the books, movies, TV shows and games they are now creating for their fan base. And everyone is super nice. Seriously, aside from the Hollywood douchebags who are just there to get drunk for free at overly-loud, velvet roped parties, the folks in San Diego this past week, from the volunteers to the panelists to the attendees, were friendly, patient and just happy to be among their own.
Chief amongst them was the awesome Chris Hardwick, founder of Nerdist, who moderated some of the biggest panels of the event. During the official Nerdist panel, Chris explained that when he was a kid, he was isolated by his love of what was considered uncool, and once the Internet came along, he wanted to create a safe space for kids like him to discover that they aren’t alone in the universe, and there are other people who think that what they’re creating/reading/watching/playing is awesome, too.
When an audience member asked why Nerdist only has enthusiastic, positive reviews of all-things-geek on its website, Chris and some of his team replied that at the outset, they decided that they would only talk about things they loved, and if they didn’t love something, they didn’t need to talk about it. Chris concluded with this, which I immediately wrote down word-for-word, because it is so right:
“There’s so much negativity in the world, and people think that’s more real than the positive, but it’s not. They’re valueless. It’s all the same, so just choose to be positive.”
And all the nerds in San Diego.
And all the nerds trying to survive junior high.
And Brian, wherever you are, I hope you are surrounded by people who respect and appreciate you. If everyone could do that at all times, the world would be such a happy place. And I hope you still have your electric hand-raiser. I never told you back then, but I thought that was pretty damn cool.