Opinionated Nerds

By my estimate, about 90% of the Internet is porn. 9% consists of nerds arguing with each other. The other 1% is social networking, news, email, and so on. These figures are completely unscientific. In fact, I made them up without doing any research. The funny part is that the porn doesn’t bug me all that much. When I’m not in the mood for porn, I don’t look at/watch it. The nerds, however, are getting to me. You will notice that this blog has an entire category for Nerd Rage and that “Doctor Who” is, if not my most-used tag, certainly in the top three. Then again, I didn’t start writing this just because I felt that my opinions need an outlet. Too many on the Internet do that.

The first example that comes to mind is the Nostalgia Critic, who is no regularly produces videos, but used to be just about the most popular amateur opinionated nerd out there. He had everything: a vast knowledge of geeky things ranging from Lord of the Rings to video games and anime, a brash presence with a snarky sense of humor, and most importantly, an air of smug superiority that assumed that because he had watched and read all of this stuff and knew how to operate a camera, that must mean that he was fit to review it. But despite his moniker, he was not that great of a critic. The point of criticism is to analyze something with an open mind, to try to understand what it was trying to do, explain why it does or doesn’t work, and then finally offer a subjective (some would say arbitrary) judgment as to whether it is worth anyone else’s time. The two biggest names in the history of film criticism are Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael. Ebert is a great writer and a great populist–not the deepest intellect, necessarily, but a fascinating and learned man whose enthusiasm and passion for his subject are impossible to deny. He can be really, really funny, too. Pauline Kael was witty, erudite, and elegant in her writing style. She could also come off as bitchy, trashing beloved classics from West Side Story to Star Wars and getting away with it because she was so fast on her feet. Personally, I just like the way that her books all had suggestive titles–I Lost It At the Movies, Taking It All In, When the Lights Go Down, you get the idea.

What I’m trying to say is that many of the nerds on the Internet have no idea what made Kael and Ebert good at their jobs. They know the words but not the music. While skewering Crash as one of the least deserving Best Picture winners ever, one critic whose work I generally enjoy admitted that he hadn’t seen Brokeback Mountain, the film that most people were rooting for that year. Why? That seems like the first thing you would want to do. No, I’m not accusing him of homophobia, just saying that  if you’re going to talk about something in a public forum, you should do your homework first. Curiosity, as I always say, is more important than knowledge, but too many of the nerds I read/watch seem to think that knowing something is the same as understanding it. The Nostalgia Critic, in my opinion, is often funny, but he also embodies the worst of the Internet: a fascination–scratch that, an obsession–with childhood. I don’t have much use for nostalgia, and I especially despise anyone who cannot step outside their comfort zone. The stereotype that all nerds live in our mothers’ basements and have no idea how to talk to women may be largely fictional, but it doesn’t mean that none of us live in an insular, hermetically sealed environment. I grew tired of Kevin Smith a long time ago for exactly that reason. We get it: you like sex, comics, and fart jokes. Now show us something we haven’t seen already. Please.

I meet a lot of people who are not as smart as they think they are. Intelligence isn’t just about knowing a lot of things. I don’t understand obsessive completists. I know one woman who hasn’t gotten into Doctor Who because she insists on starting at the very beginning and working her way through from there. Why? It’s not like there’s an overarching story. The characters are static (in the early years, anyway) and once you know the premise, you can jump in just about anywhere. So why torture yourself? The only reason, as far as I can tell, is to watch/listen to every episode (some of the early serials are lost, leaving only the audio) so that you can say that you’ve watched/listened to all of them. I’m no stranger to that, as I still remember suffering through the third season (fans call it the turd season) of Star Trek just so that I could say I’ve seen every episode. (It didn’t help that I had season four of The Wire–arguably the best season of arguably the best TV show ever–in my Netflix queue the whole time.) But that was only one season, and there was an endpoint in sight. Doctor Who has been around for almost fifty years. If your goal is to know everything that there is to know about it, don’t bother. It’s not possible. And even if it were, it would stop being fun long before you got there.

If we’re going to be antisocial virgins, let’s at least be reasonable about it.


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