The Other N-Word

When I was young, my friends and I would spend lunch break in the library. Why the library? Because it was the safest place in the school. The one place we knew we wouldn’t encounter ‘Them’. In the library we could discuss role playing games or look at comics or discuss sci-fi movies / books / TV shows without fear of judgment, harassment or even abuse.

See, it wasn’t uncommon for any of us to be physically assaulted, have our very expensive books or treasured comics taken away, thrown around and belittled in public while we futilely pleaded for mercy or assistance. While different bullies may have different styles or different motivations for bullying, the one thing they shared back then was a socially accepted segregation against those who participated in ‘bookish’ hobbies and were so preoccupied by these hobbies that they suffered at other endeavors, like sports, fashion or dating. Society was against us. We were outcasts who didn’t fit in and those who did had no interest in understanding our point of view, or finding out why we loved these hobbies so much. This obsession became a self-perpetuating cycle after a while as the shunning would push us farther away and deeper into the fantasy worlds we created on Saturday nights around the dinner table, or the heroic action world between the covers of our favorite comic books.

Complaints only led to further humiliation as this was long before the ‘war on bullying’ so we were more often than not told we should “try harder to fit in”. Usually we found little solace even at home where we would be encouraged to go outside and play or told the games and comics were bad for us. But we endured, like everyone else. School can be a tough time and kids can be cruel, but we grow up, we forgive and we try to move on.

These days I have school age kids of my own, and our home is an environment where fantasy, science-fiction and super hero worlds collide and are common conversation. I’ve noticed that the idea of being a nerd is no longer a shameful thing. The word isn’t being thrown around the schoolyard as an insult, it’s a compliment. Our hobbies that once banished us to the library are now multi-million dollar industries and everyone enjoys them without shame.

Today, nerd culture is everywhere, with celebrities coming out as being D&D players and comic book fans and million dollar reboots of classic sci-fi titles. This next generation will grow up knowing what a d20 is for and that it was totally Peter Parker’s fault that his uncle Ben died. They will drop Tolkien and Star Wars quotes in the same conversation without fear of it going over anyone’s heads. With a heavy rotation of Conan the Barbarian and Blade Runner in the background, these kids are poised to make the nerds into the cool kids on campus and the whole world is turning into that Saturday night dining room table.