Several years ago, when my husband and I still attended the San Diego Comic-Con — back when it was more fun than exhausting — we would occasionally observe a couple pushing a stroller through the crowd, grim looks on their faces as the Red Sea of sweaty fanboys refused to part for them.
“They’re nuts,” I used to say.
It was time for me to eat my words when we decided to take our 3-month-old daughter to WonderCon Anaheim, the cozier little sister to San Diego’s towering pop culture extravaganza.
We booked a hotel attached to the Anaheim Convention Center, packed up the million items of baby ephemera required for an overnight trip with an infant, outfitted the little munchkin in a yoda hat stitched by a crafty cousin and made the pilgrimage to our favorite geek mecca. Our baby’s “Doctor Who”-worshiping aunt came along for moral support.
Soon I had become one half of THAT couple, maneuvering a stroller through hordes of spandex-clad superheroes, unidentifiable anime critters and hairy dudes declaring, via T-shirt, their allegiance to DC or Marvel. As the husband headed off in the direction of the Warner Bros. panel, the aunt and I waited for the exhibit hall to open and my tiny daughter got her first eyeful of the convention’s colorful passersby.
As Batmen in black body armor, Stormtroopers armed with blasters, gender-bending Thors and Lokis, wispy Elsas from “Frozen” and a guy painted entirely silver to look like a certain surfboard-carrying comic book character paraded in front of her, my baby’s eyes grew wide. She had entered a strange new world.
That’s when I got to thinking. Many parents want their children to grow up to be doctors, lawyers, ballet dancers, Olympic gymnasts or the president of the United States. Those pursuits are certainly admirable but when I think about my daughter’s future, I have a different fate in mind. I really hope she grows up to be a nerd.
I suppose the odds are in my favor. My little girl wakes up every morning in a house littered with the traces of her parents’ geekdom. Posters of “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” line the walls. Display cases full of Legos dominate the living room. Boxes of action figures are crammed into closets. Shelves overflow with books, many of them science fiction and fantasy. And on the mantle over the fireplace sits one of those fancy replica lightsabers, a cherished Christmas gift from dad to mom. In this house, Sunday nights are dedicated to “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones,” the latest “Star Wars” news is hashed over and then rehashed and though we’re not a big comic book family, you’d better believe we’ll be there Friday when the latest Marvel movie hits theaters.
Most of our friends are nerds, too. Unlike the stereotype, they’re not 35-year-old men living in their mothers’ basements, playing World of Warcraft and guzzling Mountain Dew. They’re well adjusted, intelligent, productive members of society who also happen to read feminist comic books, debate the merits of “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek,” play “The Elder Scrolls” online, re-read the Harry Potter books annually, line up at midnight for movies, countdown to the next seasons of “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” and get excited about Hayao Miyazaki.
These are some of the coolest, smartest, most fascinating people I know and that’s why I hope my daughter doesn’t choose to rebel against her nerd heritage in favor of a boring existence. Many people slog through life doing the bare minimum — going to work, going home to spend the night sitting in front of some reality TV show.
Nerds want more. They’re not satisfied with reality and the status quo. Their imaginations are always churning, always musing, always wondering: wouldn’t it be cool if … time travel was possible, vampires existed, the zombie apocalypse happened, there was life on other planets, some rich dude with a cave and clever gadgets could save society from the evil within or if a British time lord could alter the course of history.
Nerds are passionate and playful. When they care about something they really care. They don’t do things by halves. They’re obsessed and they want to share that obsession with you. They’re not content to just watch or listen, they want to live it, collect it, wear it on a T-shirt, write about it in an Internet chat room, join a club or — as evidenced by the number of people who indulge in cosplay at WonderCon and similar events around the country — transform themselves into their favorite characters.
Some would argue that such obsessions are childish, pointless and don’t make a difference, but the sheer momentum of nerd passion has turned comic book and fantasy movies into a billion dollar industry in Hollywood, resurrected cancelled television shows, united scores of disconnected individuals and, yes, even accomplished some good in the world. Take, for instance, The Harry Potter Alliance, thehpalliance.org, a self-described “coalition” of Harry Potter fans who have launched campaigns for literacy, equality and human rights around the world, donating books to impoverished kids, sending disaster relief supplies to Haiti, building a library and pressuring Warner Bros. about the use of child labor in the manufacturing of Harry Potter chocolates.
I’d go so far as to say that the world would be a better place if we were all just a little bit nerdier. I hope my daughter grows up to love a television show dearly, to take an enthusiastic stance when it comes to “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” Marvel or DC, to adore a movie so much she can’t stop talking about it, to create a costume so she can “become” her favorite cartoon character, to acquire a ravenous taste for books, especially fiction and fantasy. I hope she embraces and is embraced by other nerds as warmly as I have been embraced by them. If she can find it in her heart to do this, I know she’ll be happy.
Photos by Fawn Kemble