Commentary

Hip to Be Square

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By Blair Jackson

After spending a few hours with the Amtgard LARPing (live action role playing) team in Fayetteville, I began to see the appeal in dressing up like a warrior (or ninja assassin or elf) and whacking each other with weapons fashioned from PVC pipe and foam pool noodles. Who wouldn’t want to unleash her inner child and inner badass simultaneously?

LARPing is not my first experience with RPGs (role-playing games). I have played most of the Final Fantasy series, and I was recently introduced to the hugely entertaining (and challenging) Elder Scrolls games.

When I was young, my grandparents worked in a small grocery store in Harrison, and I would sit, cross-legged on the floor, reading X-Men and Spider-Man comics. I remember sitting in the backroom of the store, reading an article about “Star Wars.” This was before access to the Internet, back in 1995 when magazines played a vital role in the cultural and social developments of pre-adolescents. I learned behind-the-scenes facts about the Huttese language and Anthony Daniels, who played the uptight yet loyal robot C3PO. (As much as I would like to be a Princess Leia or a Han Solo, I always secretly felt C3PO was the character I most resembled.)

I am not a “Star Wars” fanatic. I’ve never been to a convention, and even though I owned the newer movies, they were thrown in a drawer and watched only a few times. Cheerleading, boys and plans for college took center stage. Still, I’m nerdy enough to know what a Padawan braid is, and I know the pivotal scene of the first trilogy is when the escape pods are launched (in “Episode IV”) with the droids inside, and the storm trooper says those fateful words, “Hold your fire. There are no life forms aboard.”

To me, all of this is common knowledge, but I was shocked to discover a few months ago my own sister had never seen “Star Wars.” How was it possible? It is a mystery indeed. Long story short, I forced her to watch “Episode IV.” At the end, she said, “Why would they blow up that weapon? They should have boarded the Death Star, taken it over and used the weapon to secure the galaxy.”

“You’re on the Dark Side,” was my reply.

Nerds have traditionally been considered overly intellectual, socially inept people who are often obsessed with alternative hobbies (alternative to sports) and who cherish fantasy worlds in which they can play a noble (or villainous) role in a quest.
Paper and dice games, trading cards, RPGs, science and fantasy fiction, comic books — I’ve done it all, at least once. The real appeal, in all of my great nerdom, is all of these activities can be traced back to a more innocent time. The stories of the “Star Wars” trilogy, “The Hobbit” (1977 animated movie as well as the book) and “The Chronicles of Narnia” — all melded together to establish principles in my child mind that eventually blossomed into full-fledged values that, in the face of reality, often border upon idealism.

In my youth, I learned lessons from Jedi knights, Hobbits, wizards and even a talking lion (not the lame one from the “Wizard of Oz”). We journeyed together, in a time when my mind was innocent. I learned that Good inevitably triumphs over Evil, but in the end, all those who succumb to Evil or “The Dark Side” are human; and the tragedy of life is in Good’s failure to save these victims of evil.

I was one noble, pain-in-the-ass sixth-grader.

“Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Batman,” “Superman” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” have all been rebooted in the new millennium. Cinematography has introduced the cherished stories of my childhood to mainstream audiences, and though some may be bitter to see their favorites made accessible to the masses, it’s something for which I am grateful. The stigma of enjoying “The Lord of the Rings” has lessened significantly now that the major motion pictures are stamped with 17 Oscars-worth of Hollywood approval. I cannot attest to having read the trilogy — there is a great deal of Elven language, poetry and tedious battle scenes. “The Return of the King” was my brick wall in the marathon of J.R.R. Tolkein, but it’s on my bucket list to complete the trilogy.

There is some distinction between nerds and geeks, but to outsiders, members of the group are interchangeable. The geeks (science, math and computer nerds) are getting an especially sweet break. Thanks to the wonderful World Wide Web (ahem, thanks to other geeks), programmers and tech-geeks are in high-demand. With money comes power and influence, and from computers to televisions and game consoles, and from our social media outlets and our mobile phones, the geeks are paving the road of the future.

It is a sweet time to be a geek. Or a nerd.

Or just to be yourself.

I’m going to stretch out on a limb here and speak on behalf of all nerds: The great thing about being a nerd, about being intellectually astute yet socially naive, is we tend to accept people for who they are in all their idiosyncrasies. We believe in a world in which elves and dwarves (even Siths and Jedis!) can find common ground. That coming together, whether in trials that form camaraderie or the end of a battlefield of regret, is the drama of the human experience.
Sure, it’s a worldview fashioned on a fantastic hyperbole of metaphor, but it makes for one hell of a story.
Check out “2012: Cinematic Nerd Odyssey” on page 6.

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