The Morning News directed me to a “best of Craigslist” (Boston) essay about the difference between being “cool” in the US and being “mates” with fellows in Australia. Frankly, the essay confuses me. I think it is saying that living in an “advertising culture” makes American boys who get picked last on the playground grow up in to self-absorbed hipsters and geeks, whereas boys in Australia are all about selflessness and group membership.
Here’s a relevant excerpt:
When an American boy gets picked last at a game on the playground, he gives up on ever being selected by the other boys, except last. He retreats into self-pity and misanthropy. This is encouraged by the adults, especially his parents, doubly especially when his dad made the same choices about being picked last himself. This boy tries to create a new playing field where he is the top of the selection. Because he knows he cannot compete on the playing field, he tries to compete in intellectual pursuits, or in a fantasy world, or in fandom. He collects comic books, or plays Dungeons & Dragons, or plays video games. Maybe he learns science, or literature, or art, or music. It never occurs to him to strive to improve himself, to make himself an asset to the team that might choose him. It never occurs to him that a drama is unfolding on a level bigger than that of his individual ego.
Two notes so far: one, I think it’s kind of ironic that learning “science, or literature, or art, or music” don’t qualify as self-improvement. And two, I’m wary of the claim that parents encourage kids to eschew sports in favor of more isolating hobbies. As of 1997, 60% of American parents responded to a poll by saying that â€œif forced to choose, they would prefer their sons or daughters to make C grades and be active in extracurricular activities rather than make A grades and not be activeâ€ (Rose, Gallup, & Elam, 1997, quoted in Bishop et al., 2004).
When adolescence hits, this boy tries to be cool. He creates a new pecking order based around musical taste, or fashion, or obscure knowledge. He tries out for the school play, or joins the debate team, or starts a band, or joins the school’s literary magazine, and tries to win approval through his creativity and intelligence. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeking approval through these channels, but the boy still has a chip on his shoulder about rejection. He strives to create not merely a new selection where he is on top, but a new selection where the kids who are successful at the old games are rejected here. He seeks to be even crueler than he thinks those other kids areâ€”to cut them down before they can hurt him again. He doesn’t realize that being rejected from the alternative he has just created doesn’t hurt at all, really. His ego depends upon being top of some pecking order, even an imaginary one, and he will viciously defend his new status, especially by being cruel to those who are lower down on his new pecking order. He becomes an asshole, but it’s everyone else’s fault but his.
This confuses me because it’s somewhat related to the comments of some people I’ve interviewed, but still dissonant enough that it seems like we must not be talking about the same people or phenomena here. I’m especially confused because the essay seems to be suggesting that geeky social groups in high school aren’t real, long-term friends like “mates” in Australia, but that’s totally contradictory with my own experiences and many of those I’ve interviewed; I’m still good friends with guys I played Dungeons & Dragons with in eighth grade.
I’m fascinated by the apparent claim here that adolescent crowds revolving around misfit interests and oppositional to sports and popularity constitute and effort to affect coolness. However, I’m wary of the claim that this necessarily implies the denigration/subjugation of those “lower down on [the] new pecking order” as opposed to resentment of those higher in this order. I figured I’d throw this out there, though, in case this resonates with others better than it does with me. Thoughts?
4 thoughts on “Best of Craiglist: Nerds Are Jerks”
I think he is making an accurate description of what some people go through, but I doubt it’s the majority. It certainly wasn’t my experience… but I did grow up in a touchy-feely suburb so maybe I have a skewed view.
I wonder if this guy believes that all jocks/bullies in the U.S. are just ‘trying to be cool’ by overdeveloping their physiques in order to compensate for that time in second grade when someone laughed at the way they read a passage from Charlie and the Chocolate factory out loud in class.
My take: this is the male version of a high-maintenace girl.
>one, I think itâ€™s kind of ironic that learning â€œscience, or literature, or art, or musicâ€ donâ€™t qualify as self-improvement.
It’s not ironic, it’s contextual: art, music, and science (the three things highly correllated with the interests of the parents of autistic children!) don’t “make him[…] an asset to the team that might choose him.” Not saying it’s right, just saying it’s what the Craigslist poster is likely talking about.
>Iâ€™m wary of the claim that parents encourage kids to eschew sports in favor of more isolating hobbies. As of 1997, 60% of American parents responded to a poll by saying that â€œif forced to choose, they would prefer their sons or daughters to make C grades and be active in extracurricular activities rather than make A grades and not be activeâ€
Again, a bit of context shear here: the Craigslist poster is making an assertion specifically about the parents of nerds, whereas the statistic you cite is (presumably!) about parents in general.
Fair enough, though I didn’t mean to hide or ignore the writer’s intended meaning. I realize that the author had a very specific idea in mind about what “self-improvement” should mean; I’m just saying that the narrowness of this conception is contrary to how I think of self-improvement.
As for the bit about encouragement from adults: The writer does say “especially his parents,” but also says more generally “This is encouraged by the adults” (which adults?). The kids labeled as nerds in school are in the minority of students, and discouragement of nerdy practices from adults comes not only from parents (see Katz’s Voices from the Hellmouth and Milner’s Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids). I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as geeky parents and school administrators who encourage geeky behavior among their kids and students, especially nowadaysâ€”but if this writer is an adult now, I think it had to be a very rare phenomenon when s/he was a kid.
Comments are closed.