19 March 2012

Post 491: The Partly Cloudy Patriot

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell. ISBN: 9780743548137 (audiobook).

Sarah Vowell is a big old nerd. Nowhere is that more apparent than in The Partly Cloudy Patriot, and especially in the essay titled "The Nerd Voice" in which she states, "The internet is the nerd Israel, a place to speak and listen to spectacularly specific concerns." She of course read this to me in a 'nerd voice', of which she has been naturally gifted with, and that made it all the nerdier, my friends.

But she continues on in the essay to state that those specific concerns have a root in nerd culture for a very specific reason: they help nerds connect to other nerds. The internet has sort of made it easier to connect with people in general, and has even made being nerdyif not coolthen at least socially acceptable. Also, it is easier to blend in now that everyone uses computers and has some common internet culture (mostly in the form of memes).

Yet she goes on to analyze the failings of the Al Gore campaign in 2000, and suggests that if only he had hired Joss Whedon and had run his campaign like Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with her self-deprecating humor, he might have had a fighting chance. Since this is a conversation I could very much see myself having with a particular college friend turned author of lesbian zombie novels, I basically did a big old nerd laugh and shook my head, because, holy god, someone is nerdier than anyone else I know on the face of the planet. But she brings up another point, about nerds focusing on a specific topic and allowing that topic to guide their conversation to mutual interests, "Being a nerd, which is to say going too far and caring too much about a subject, is the best way to make friends I know."

However, there is an unspoken danger in this that she does not discuss. There is such a thing as being too nerdy, especially about a particular subject. While knowing a lot about any given subject can gain you a sort of nerd cred within your subject's community, outside of it... well, you just look like a crazy person. It's all good and well to know what that thing* on Jabba the Hutt's shoulder in A New Hope is called, but if you know details about its eating and mating habits, and THAT IS ALL YOU TALK ABOUT, you might just be going too far. The problem is not that you know this information; the problem is that you have no other areas of interest.

Making connections with people via specific interest is a good thing. It is perfectly acceptable, and let's be honest, it's a hell of a lot more interesting than talking about the weather. And you learn more about a person based on their preference of Captain Kirk over Picard than whether they like pizza or chicken fingers. Well, assuming you know what liking Captain Kirk even means as far as personality goes, but if you ask that question to begin with, chances are you do. But eventually you will run out of things to talk about. There are only so many variations of, "Gee, that was a great episode of Thundercats, didn't you think it was great when Lion-O spanked Vultureman? Also, Cheetara is totally doable." Talking about a specific subject will only get you so far, and it is difficult to go from acquaintance to friend when you are not willing to participate in additional interests. So, to my nerdy readers, it's great that you are into Subject A, there's nothing wrong with being fanatical about Subject A, but keep in mind, you're scaring off all the people who aren't into it. You may also even be distancing yourself from people who are into it by not asking Bob how his pet turtle is doing. Other than that, keep go ahead and dork out with your spork out. Public service announcement brought to you by the Council of More Socialized Nerds For a Better Tomorrow.

S. Krishna's review of the audio version is more or less in line with mine, except for the being able to get used to Vowell's voice thing, but They Might Be Giants and Stephen Colbert made up for it. The Book Lady breaks it down more by topic with brief excerpts, just in case you aren't sure if you want to read this already.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.
*I always want to call it a Kevorkian Lizard monkey lizard, which I know is totally wrong, but also kind of hilarious. Honestly, Kevorkian just sounds more sci-fi to me.


  1. While Al Gore may also have seen the softer side of Sears, his alternate reality vampire dopplegangar is nowhere near as sexy as Willow's.

  2. Well, um, it's kind of hard to compete with Willow.


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