Is America Experiencing a 'Revenge Of the Nerds' Moment?
When I was a kid, I remember watching the 1984 movie "Revenge of the Nerds" and laughing at the ridiculousness of it. I understood it on a kid's level as a comedy. A few years ago, I re-watched it and understood it on a different & deeper level.
I saw understood it as two factions: First, the 'Nerds'. They were the social outcasts. Not all of them were techie-smart types, some of them were just socially awkward. One of them was portrayed as gay but never fully acknowledged because of the times.
Then there were the 'Jocks' or the socially acceptable bunch. The movie was very extreme in their behavior but ultimately, everyone accepted that they were mean and nasty toward the nerds. Administration & Coaches allowed it by saying "oh you guys..." as the Nerds suffered.
In the first half of the movie, the nerds just couldn't get a break and they were attacked for literally no reason. It was almost like a rightful passage to torment the social outcasts instead of leaving them alone. In the end, the nerds got their revenge.
The nerds gained confidence but also lowered themselves to engage in a bit of meanness themselves. They got their revenge & we cheered for it (understandably). So what does this movie have to do with today?
Occasionally I watch Tik-Tok videos of people who hold extreme viewpoints, look wildly different, and behave strangely. Often, I watch these videos on mute because I'm watching their mannerisms. Some, you can clearly tell they are a bit 'off' but some are just awkward people.
I know these types of people. I went to school with them and I was friends with some of them. The emo kids. The goth kids. The band geeks. I knew these people and was cool with them. They were just different, as was I. They were just looking for a friend circle to belong in.
In Revenge of the Nerds, they came together by force in a way. They had no choice but to unify over being outcasts. Today, it appears like the outcasts have a way to unify through varying types of ideologies. The goth kid in the 90s is today's pansexual dragon-self kid.
We all want to belong to some sort of group, even if it's an obscure subculture. There is nothing wrong with this as long as it's a healthy type of unification.
What's the major difference between the movie and today? The outcasts have a megaphone called the internet.
Because of the internet, we are exposed to these socially awkward 'outcasts' more than we were in the past. They say outlandish things on social media, it spreads like wildfire and we all react to it. Years ago, they had no real avenue for this type of attention & were ignorable.
So, the question is...what's the revenge? Well, I believe most outcasts don't actually like being outcasts. However, they aren't willing to conform because they aren't good at conforming to the norm (otherwise, they would). They want to be accepted without conforming.
We are always hearing buzz words like 'destigmatize', 'normalize', 'inclusive', and 'reimagine' because they want to get rid of the outcast label. They don't want to be seen as strange, they want the strange to become normal. They want that line to be gone.
The problem is that getting rid of this line is impossible. We may slowly accept certain things but there will always be a line. The line doesn't disappear, it just gradually moves yet even though it moves, this is still not enough. This 'problem' makes them angry.
Their revenge comes in the form of weaponizing empathy to attempt to force this line's removal. We feel for them but we still don't want to get rid of this line.
If you listen to some of them, they have a strong contempt for 'society' & anyone who doesn't accept them is a bigot.
They feel as though they were forced into being outcasts and they despise being in this position. They've also accepted being socially awkward as being their personality rather than a lack of a skillset. It's something you can easily develop with practice.
Many of them are angry, resentful, and possibly feel powerless being in the 'outcast' mold. It's understandable but much like the movie, in the end, some of them may feel the solution is to become the vengeful people they despise.
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This is an important article. It describes something I've seen up-close as the founder of an online magazine that refers to "square pegs in round holes" on its mission statement. I used to think that a friendly way to refer to healthy quirkiness, which certainly exists! There are people who don't fit the mold, but make it work for them. Take Steve Jobs and the famous Apple ad with this spirit. You have to take your weirdness and make it your strength. You have to figure out how to make it work for both you AND for the group you belong to!
Obivously, most of us won't be a Jobs-like visionary success. But people who believed that, with a bit of self-reflection and practice, they could be a big fish (or just a happy equal fish!) in their small pond were only a bit more than half the people who gravitated to a "square peg in round hole" message. A significant minority were those you describe here. They too often want the world to change to fit them -- to tell them they're already fine as they are. And they get angry if you suggest maybe they could develop themselves. (I realized could make a lot of money telling wounded outsiders they're great just as they are....)
I started a magazine on that theme because my dad grew up in poverty and my mom moved every year or two as an army brat, and that led them both to feel like born outsiders; they were both bright but didn't fit in with the smart, middle-class kids, and didn't know how to help me do so, either. I'm glad I didn't come to believe that being an outsider was my "identity." I definitely felt like a square peg in a round hole in high school, and I felt sad about not finding where I fit. But finding a tribe of people who felt threatened by my trying to explore and grow out of that was not helpful in the least.
You have to believe you CAN change, of course. This seems to be the key dividing line between those who cause the trouble you're referring to, and those who actually are great people -- fun characters who bring a lot to a relationship, even if they still have some skills they're working on building. And it's work to keep the former from taking over the community I'm trying to build and scaring out the latter.
And when it comes to the entire Internet, there's no moderator doing that work.