Because they're at the bottom of the scale, nerds are a safe target for the entire school. If I remember correctly, the most popular kids don't persecute nerds; they don't need to stoop to such things. Most of the persecution comes from kids lower down, the nervous middle classes.The trouble is, there are a lot of them. The distribution of popularity is not a pyramid, but tapers at the bottom like a pear. The least popular group is quite small. (I believe we were the only D table in our cafeteria map.)
So there are more people who want to pick on nerds than there are nerds. As well as gaining points by distancing oneself from unpopular kids, one loses points by being close to them. A woman I know says that in high school she liked nerds, but was afraid to be seen talking to them because the other girls would make fun of her. Unpopularity is a communicable disease; kids too nice to pick on nerds will still ostracize them in self-defense.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Nerds 'R Us
I happened to catch part of "On the Lot" Monday night. "On the Lot" is a FOX network reality show for aspiring film makers, and is directed and produced in part by Stephen Spielberg. This week's task was to produce a one minute comedy film. Jason Epperson's entry, titled "Ghetta Room" was described as the story of a "nerd" trying to be cool.
The main character exhibited several traits sometimes associated with Asperger syndrome, including physical and social awkwardness, and misunderstanding of slang. The gist of the story is that he uses a popular expression inappropriately, offending an elderly couple and is subsequently evicted from a movie theater and into the street. There he is run over, killed and transported to Heaven, where he tries the same line again, this time forfeiting his claim to eternal salvation.
The studio audience found this quite humorous; the judges, however, were not amused. Each in turn gave the director a dressing down for mocking the "mentally challenged". All three judges (Carrie Fisher, Garry Marshall, and Brett Ratner) were clear in their criticisms: This would be funny if the character could be clearly identified as a "nerd"; it falls short of the mark and becomes offensive because the butt of the joke seemed to them more properly described as "developmentally disabled" or "retarded".
Well, at least it's agreed that ridiculing someone with a cognitive disability is in poor taste. Exactly what qualifies for exemption is less clear. Does it count if you have a disability that doesn't show? That shows part of the time? Should a person wear her diagnosis on a t-shirt? Does it depend on how able (or likely) he seems to retaliate?
In this case, the judges' opinions seemed to be based on how they perceived the victim's intelligence. Nerds are presumed to be smart, I guess, and thus have the resources to defend themselves.
Wondering what others might have to say about this, I looked around the web and ran into this essay by Paul Graham, titled "Why Nerds are Unpopular". A sample:
The need so many of us seem to have to distance ourselves from persons perceived as mentally retarded is deconstructed eloquently by Amanda here.
How difficult it makes life to need to draw these lines. Why not promote respect for everyone instead? It's a nerdy idea, I know, but I like it.