Sunday, August 15, 2010

So Who Can We Look Down On? (more Scott Pilgrim)

 If you haven't read the previous entry with (Scott Pilgrim) in parentheses, then please, do.

There was a brilliant piece published on NPR about critics bashing the intended audience of the Scott Pilgrim film.  I read it before I'd really read any of the reviews of the movie, and it was an almost immediate call to arms of those who associate themselves with nerddom.

The author calls out movie-reviewers, such as this guy, who immediately show their bias not just against the Scott Pilgrim universe, but against nerds/geeks/dorks/fanboys/girls as a culture.  And he does it rather overtly to the point I'm really glad he got called out about it.

I had a facebook-based discussion with a friend about how, often more so than not, film critics are an elitist bunch.  This might not be surprising.  What is surprising, however, is that many of them are anti-nerd.

Say what?

Film critics are anti-nerd?  Aren't most film critics uber-nerds?  About the things they love?  Don't they worship at the altar of Woody Allen, or Wes Anderson, or some other equally nerdy dude?

Here's a challenge: ask a film critic what they think of Star Wars.  To me, this is the most over-arching cultural phenomena associated with nerds (geeks, whatev).  Not just the original film, but the franchise, and the mythology behind it.  The people who were at Celebration V in Orlando this weekend (I know a few people who were!).  The film critics who are among the geeks at Celebration V are the ones who run their own blogs, who happen to get picked up on the Rotten Tomatoes scale.  Big timers?  Not so much.  And even if the entire pool of film criticism isn't fully of big fat jerks, the jerky ones are rather potent.

The aforementioned jerks will roll their eyes when confronted with the Star Wars topic (or worse yet, a nerdfight about the importance of episodes 1-3 to the entire series) and go on a tirade about corporate marketing, how people who love such things are intellectually inferior, and about how much they hate so many other geek-ified, fan fiction inspiring items: Harry Potter, Nintendo nostalgia, Star Trek, B-movies, anime, etc.

Okay, I get it.  You don't want to read Manga.  Duly noted.  But who are you, geek who was forced by everyone in high school to sit at the far table, because you really didn't fit in, to chastise other geeks for what they like?

So, you like pretentious films by Danish filmmakers, some of which are misogynistic and downright terrifying?  Or you've seen every underground, indie-fart, no-budget film by the current class at NYU?  Or you only like action movies if they feature an all-Asian cast?

Why are those passions any better, or more legitimate, than people who like generally geeky things?

I guess I get it, to some degree.  I have been called a music snob.  I call myself a music snob.  Someone does need to keep an eye on popular music in culture, because sometimes, what we hear and how we hear it can have serious ramifications against the whole of society.  Like in Madagascar.

However, I'm getting to the point in my life where I'm able to ration out not just good from bad music, but that snotty attitude about what I like against what society is into.  I personally want to educate people about music.  Do you like Li'l Wayne?  I personally am not a fan of his, but don't worry about that.  I love Big Boi's new album, and I think you should really check out some old Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.  I know it's sort of a guilty pleasure, but I do love that T.I. song that Weird Al parodied.  Did you also know that technically, "Rapper's Delight" was not the first commercially viable hip-hop song, but was preceded a few weeks by the less popular and obviously less remembered "King Tim III (Personality Jock)" by Fatback Band?  The Fatback song is more so a disco song with some slightly cheesy rapping over it, but still.

This process is especially fun when involving younger kids.  They sure do act like they don't want to learn, but in reality, they walk away with something more.  Maybe a little less of their money will one day end up in Clear Channel's pocket and a little more in the drawer at the local record store, or maybe more of their hours will be spent at the library, listening to jazz as opposed to downloading whatever dreck is currently available on  Although it gets a little sketchy sometimes...I taught an 8th grade girl a few years ago who was eager to show off her piano compositions.  She was pretty good, and would also always come to school wearing black shirts featuring some of her favorite bands (mostly Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nine Inch Nails).  Based on her piano interest, I thought she would really love Tori Amos.  I just wasn't sure I wanted to be the one responsible for her blaring "Professional Widow" in her parents' house, given my position as her teacher.

Point being, my ideas on music are not only the fact that I'm a snob, or I take pride on the knowledge I've gathered over the years on both classical and popular music, but it's important to expose people to a variety of things.  I'm certainly not one of those classical musicians who dismiss anything popular - hello, I just wrote a three part blog entry about Beyonce & twee bands - but I think people need to be exposed.

And yes.  Movie critics surely do serve some purpose in society.  But for some reason, film people tend to take it to the extreme.  Have you ever nosed around IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes message boards?  Holy mongrel.  They are totally bonkers when it comes to their opinions sometimes.

So back to the original topic - anti-nerd film critics.  Sure, as mentioned, there are enough people in the world who will listen to only classical music (and maybe The Beatles) to continue to fund orchestras and public radio stations featuring only classical faire (and jazz at night).  But to be honest - those numbers are dwindling, and American orchestras are in serious trouble.  Why else would they try to reach out to younger audiences by featuring performances with Ben Folds and The Decemberists?

However, current popular music-hating snobs don't get regular weekly columns in most major American newspapers.  Anti-nerd film critics do, as witnessed above.

So what groups is it okay to look down on?  Aren't nerds of different subgroups just putting in place the same social hierarchies that made them outcasts in the first place?  Is that okay?  Aside from this hilarious chart, I don't really think it is.

Why do I love all nerds, even though I might not share their interests in things?  Why do I seem to, superficially even, gravitate toward another female in glasses or a dude in a weird, plaid shirt when I'm in a group of people I'm unfamiliar with?  (Note: this will happen to me very soon, as my week of professional development begins tomorrow...)  Because these things are hallmarks of nerddom.  And I appreciate that.  Even if I can't hold court with these folks, I enjoy being around them.

But why?

Because they are authentic.  Nerds very often, especially in large groups, have no ulterior motives.  The same unbridled enthusiasm that sets them apart from the larger, play-it-cool public cannot be faked.  Why would you want to fake enthusiasm for anything that would cause segregation from the general public?

How can you tell a nerd apart from the rest?  I think of it in terms of a rock concert.  Weirdly enough to bring up the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the same entry twice, but I saw them with a bunch of friends in 2003.  We bought cheaper seats, and I was totally That Girl at the concert, who wore an old RHCP shirt to the event.  Singing along and dancing, we were somewhat nerding it up.  But because we were in the cheap seats, in the upper bowl, we saw the token middle aged wealthy dude, dry-humping a blond during the show.  Obviously, someone only took some girl to the RHCP concert to look cool, and to make an overt show of sexuality in public.  It's kind of gross, actually.

There are people who like things, or proclaim a fondness for things, in the hopes of being accepted and gratified socially.  You can find them at honky-tonk bars, arena rock shows, and even bookstores and indie rock shows.  There are people who proclaim fondness for certain things in order to elevate themselves, intellectually and even morally.  And there are people who will unabashedly tell you that they love Chicago - like, the band, Peter Cetera and all.  Because they are nerds and they don't care who knows.

These are my people.  They like to be thought of as smart, and they are passionate about something in their lives.  I've pretty much been a nerd my whole life, and I accept it wholeheartedly.  I encourage others to do the same.

If you can give a reasoned argument as to why you don't like something, I can accept that.  I like discussions as such.  Even if you're a Twilight fan. 

If you consider yourself a higher order nerd, and think that your knowledge of Dogme 95 (or Sarah Records, or whatever) makes it okay to not only trash what people are truly passionate about but the people themselves, then you are a butthead and I don't want to be your friend.

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