An Open Letter to Pop Culture Nerds


Dear Nerds:

I work for a man who does not care for The Beatles.

He has no active distaste them, as I’m sure it must be pretty difficult to outright dislike The Beatles. But he has no affinity for them either, and this is in its own right a difficult thing for a Beatles fan to accept. At first, my instinct upon learning this about him was to argue, as he was clearly wrong, but my instinct for self-preservation thankfully overtook my instinct to be right, and I found it best to let this one go. But that was even harder to do when I found out how much he loved Cèline Dion.

For the record, yes, this a very intelligent man we’re talking about here.

It’s a standby for pop culture nerds, early in adult life, to question the mental faculties of those radically differing in aesthetic taste. We assume there’s a natural correlation between mass-produced commercial art and a lack of lights upstairs — the consumer culture caters to the undiscerning who favor mindless, passive acceptance of whatever you can sell them Coke with. These things have no sway over those of us on the fringe who pride ourselves on active engagement with pop culture and a keen critical eye for what really makes something good.

This has NOTHING TO DO with being picked on and alienated throughout adolescence.

College can be an excellent environment for cultivating our exclusionary vision, as for the first time we find ourselves with ease of access to others who view the world and its inhabitants from similar perspectives. They too have wrestled with the pervasive wrongness of their peers and heretofore found little validation for their efforts. In the honors dorm, though, they may meet their betters for the very first time, and soon they form inseparable bonds of fealty. When a large, disparate group of nerds is gathered in the same place, they will form their own communities based on their shared experience, and for the first time, they may rule a kingdom of their own design. College is a happy time for a nerd, for he has so many of his kind surrounding him he has no need for normal folk. Grind and keg stand all you want, normals – we’ll be in the war room.

But just as the last vestiges of ancient empires crumble into dust, so too must this dream fade.  In entering the working world, the ubiquity of American Idol fans becomes much more prevalent in day-to-day life, and there are serious consequences to informing these people that Kris Allen sucks the gnarliest of all possible balls. But at least in my case, forming normal, civilized relationships that a few years ago may not have survived past the first suggestion that one’s love of MadTV may be an early warning sign of functional retardation, has actually proven to be an enlightening experience, when the idea of insulting someone else’s shitty opinion is rightfully forbidden.* Here is what I have learned through these relationships, or can at least reasonably infer consistent with the evidence:

1. Those of us who would condemn the taste of others while firmly believing in the correctness of our own are the kind of people who take an extraordinary amount of personal, even self-defining pride in our cultural literacy and, by extension, our opinions thereto pertaining.

2. Not everyone places this kind of importance on cultural literacy, nor do they derive much or any of their personal pride from their opinions pertaining thereto.

3. There are way more of these people than there are of you.

And it is into this world that the adult nerd must enter.

In other words, not everybody cares about pop culture as much as you do. And their affinity for terrible cultural schlock does not necessarily have any correlation to the stupidity you perceive. It could be — and I know this is going to be hard for you — that not everyone you talk to today has heard of Black Flag, and in the event you encounter one of these people, you should not, under any circumstance, attempt to convince them that Bad Brains holds and superior status to Let’s Talk About Love because — and I cannot stress this enough — they simply do not care. It is imperative to understand, if we are ever going to become members of civilized society, that the perceived ignorance of others based on their tastes is a fallacy and a shame, and is not gentlemanly behavior.

Brief Aside — All that being said, there is exactly one exception to this rule: If you find someone who does not appreciate Queen, that person is incorrect, and should be informed thusly.

Nerds, I understand the validation that comes with faith in your own correctness. For those of us that grew up on the outer rims of the playground, of course, our pop cultural preferences are correct, because that is an extension of our overall brainpower. We take pride in our own assessments because those playing with the athletic-balls are incapable of the same. Fools! They only ostracize us because they don’t understand, and one day, they’ll see. THEY’LL ALL SEE.

But we were supposed to grow up somewhere down the line, and that will probably be a helpful thing to do. The fools won’t see, they will never see, not because they cannot understand but because they are simply not interested. That someone likes something that you think is stupid does not give you the authority to publicly declare his or her defaults, nor does it really even give you the right to even think it. This correlation is false because it assumes that others give a damn about the same things that you do.  And if there’s one thing nerds should be wary of, it’s false correlations.

And really, if we’re being honest with ourselves, you don’t seriously want them to appreciate your opinion. Let validation stem from other nerds who themselves appreciate Frank Zappa; these are the only opinions worth respect anyway, right? Perhaps so, or perhaps not, but what I can say for certain is that it behooves no one to hate the player. Nerds as a people need to adopt a healthier outlook on our cultural goods: we need to see them not as things that make all those other fools wrong, but the things that make us special. The cool kids got to have their fun, but leave the swords and spells and blaster rifles to those of us who’ve had the proper training.

Now Reading
An Open Letter to Pop Culture Nerds