Hidden among my dad’s not-totally-legal collection of HBO movies recorded on VHS tapes, I discovered as a young teen the R-rated and quite inappropriate spiritual successor to Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds. Though I had been previously exposed to the nerd and jock tropes in television shows such as Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, they did not register for me as an antithetical binary until I watched the 1980’s film with its archetype brandishing.
Peter Parker acquiring his powers as Spider-Man is the quintessential nerd power fantasy. Here, Peter puts the school jock, Eugene “Flash” Thompson on notice. Tropes converge and make motif!
My obliviousness to the existence of the jock and nerd as polarities could have been attributed to the fact that I am “both.” As far as I can remember during elementary school, I was oftentimes the first person picked on teams during PE. No one could beat me in a sprint, and few were stronger. (Dodgeball was my game of choice, and imprinting contusions upon lethargic and stationary “players” was a vice I took pleasure in with the Grinch’s smile.) By middle school, I had lost the genetic lottery in terms of height, but I remained one of Alabama’s top athletes in track & field by running the 110m hurdles—practicing with only two hurdles on worn asphalt with the loose pebbles in my first two years, and with four hurdles in my final two years when the coach raised money to buy new ones because of my potential (and I never fell once)—and running a 4.46 40-yard dash. I dreamed of playing for the Florida State Seminoles like Warrick Dunn, or the San Francisco 49ers like Ricky Waters (I even adopted his number, “32”).
Before the digital age, there were variations of videocassette. Treat this like archival footage from 1930.
I would have played trumpet in the marching band, but very few individuals are given the opportunity play an instrument and football. Thus, I had to wait until the spring to play in what is called the concert band (unfortunately, only the marching band played at Mardi Gras or the Macy’s Day Parade). I was no Jack-of-all-trades, master of none there, either. I once achieved first chair and played in an honor band in which only the best in the county could participate after passing the sight-reading tryout. I would have joined the chess club, but they met during track practice. I am not about to dig through my archives to find my GPA, but it was good enough to earn a Presidential Scholarship at Tuskegee University, my alma mater.
In an act of self-defense, what was once under the umbrella of “nerd culture” has developed over the years distinguishing characteristics so that it could be looked upon as “cool” like the jock, resulting in solidarity in some ways and further alienation in others. Why do we have to choose?
Some might argue that there is a difference between between “nerd” and “geek”; to that I say nay, as they are interchangeable synonyms, and the gesture of separating them maligns those who “geek out” about “nerdy” things like AUTOCAD and UNIGRAPHICS, poetry and books—all of which I am vested (from least to greatest)…talking about rhyme and meter, (meta)(non)fiction that is not necessarily high-fantasy or sci-fi, either: Milton,Twain, Hughes, Faulkner, Giovanni, Orwell, and so on—not just Tolkien, Rowling, (Alan) Moore, and (Frank) Miller.
What I think of when someone says “crossover.” That “rapid…change in direction” is what happens when I play some StarCraft II after watching an NBA Playoff game.
I could not even begin to describe, cogently, my interests in comic books and video games—the kind of stuff that is now commonly discussed when “geek” is used even though I am vested in all of the above. I will say this: I had ongoing subscriptions to EGM and Archie Comic’s Sonic the Hedgehog, and had my high school girlfriend bring me her stepfather’s Maxim and Sporting News magazines—”jockish” material. I could rush through and beat a video game like Zombies Ate My Neighbors (Sega Genesis) on a two-day rental from Movie Gallery or Blockbuster, my friends calling me the “game master” because of my skill. I would use a VCR to record myself playing a game like X-Men 2: Clone Wars and give the tape to my friends at school so they could watch how I conquer a difficult section—”Let’s Plays” before YouTube. Before Todd McFarlane Toys raised the stakes on detail of action figure molds, I collected TMNT and Predator figures and played with them up to my college years when I switched over to Transformers Alternators.
Stock photo of TF Alternators as mine are currently in storage. Nevertheless, I own all pictured.
As cool as all of this might sound, it has been a difficult journey navigating between two worlds. I am often forced to “choose” between my “nerdom” and “jockish” interests. Readers who have been following Geeks Under Grace’s Geek Week 2016 series may have read Kelly’s contribution, “Level Up!” Therein, she describes her lament of growing up in an active family, and she would tolerate exercise if only to satiate her parents so she could get back to RAISIN POKEMANS. She would later learn how to combine healthy eating habits, exercise, and gaming to achieve a sustainable balance. In contrast, I come from a sedentary family, and my parents became concerned about my little brother’s weight, as a number of factors, including asthma, contributed to inactivity. So that it would not seem that they were picking on just one child, I, too, was forced into sports…and discovered that I was pretty good at them.
In my time, this was the pinnacle of “crossover” in nerd culture. I find myself functioning in different “universes” often.
Being forced to choose between going to track practice and hanging out with my friends at Cicis Pizza to talk about the latest episode of Monday Night Raw borders on cruelty, but adapting to my environment while remaining true to myself was one of those things in life that I had to do so that when I became an adult, I could “pontificate upon the merits of discoursing Žižek’s Lacanian methodologies in psychoanalysis” among bibliophiles, and “keep it real” when motivating individuals at work who have little to no college education—life skills that cannot be taught but only learned. Just the other day, I discussed with one subordinate how the Oklahoma City Thunder eviscerated the Golden State Warriors, and with another, that he needed to hurry up and get on DOOM before Overwatch launched. His reply (and my reaction):
Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.
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