An Open Letter To The Precocious Freshman In My University Film Course

Look, I know who you are, okay? You were the nerd in high school, and now’s your chance to remake yourself, turn your life around. University is a land of opportunities, and doggone it if you aren’t gonna seize that day. (And yes, don’t worry, everybody gets your reference. You really don’t have to explain it! Dead Poet’s Society is a Robin Williams movie.)

I get it. You were a nerd, the one everybody found annoying but managed to find it in themselves to tolerate, out of — pity? Second-hand embarrassment? I know you, man. In 9th grade, you wore a bow tie to school every day and just waited for people to ask you what the deal was so that you could oh-so-relevantly talk about how much you love Doctor Who — “not the reboot, though,” of course, even though you would never have heard of the old stuff if you hadn’t watched David Tennant gallivant around in his dweeby little trench-coat for three years. Sometimes, I’m sure you got impatient and couldn’t even wait for people to ask you about the bowtie (because at some point people learned not to ask if they wanted to avoid a ten minute soliloquy about the humanity of the Daleks), and you probably started off one of your many comments in class with “You may be wondering why in the world,” — a rehearsed chuckle here — “I’m wearing a bowtie to school today; well, there’s this show — it’s British so I wouldn’t blame you for not having heard of it — ”. And nobody had the heart, or the courage, or perhaps the brains, to tell you that yes, actually, everybody knows what Doctor Who is, we just also know that it’s bad.

See? I told you I know who you are. In 10th grade you joined the debate team and became best buddies with the two other seniors with neckbeards who joined the club hoping to “come out of their shell” so they could, and I quote, “pick up chicks” on the weekends. You did well in debate club, I’ll admit, because you do have a talent for empty rhetoric. Anyway, the three of you skipped class one day to go to the comic book shop downtown, because some new issue of some DC comic was arriving in short supply and you needed to be able to say that you got it in its first run. That was your first time skipping class, and I’m sure you felt so guilty that you told your mother first thing when you got home, and she didn’t mind, but you still insisted on personally apologizing to each and every one of your teachers, none of which noticed your absence or cared.

I know you, man. I have friends who used to be you, too, some of whom still are you sometimes. I understand it — the need to be recognized, and not only recognized, but acknowledged. Do you care if that acknowledgement comes in the form of half-baked responses to your intendedly comedic little outbursts in class? Either the answer is no, or you’re much more oblivious to human behavior than someone who prides themselves as much on their “intelligence” as you do should be. In 11th grade, you discovered Tumblr after years of simply surfing the gif archives of Joss Whedon productions on 4chan. You also joined the chess team, DECA, the Physics Association, Key Club, and the school newspaper. You ate lunch with your government teacher every day, because even though you joined all these things to make friends, you still didn’t really have any. People were starting to give you a wide berth in the hallways by now — enough of them had had classes with you to have a sense of what to expect. Your Quentin Tarantino t-shirt and long, black, faux leather trench coat did nothing to help your situation, but it never occurred to you that you might be the problem. Your mother kept telling you how people were intimidated by you; that they could see, just as surely as she could, how wonderful and successful you were going to be, and that it scared them. Unfortunately for everybody, you believed her.

In senior year you pulled back a little, finally starting to realize the gravity of your situation. You talked a little less in class now and instead of sitting in the front row, sat in the middle or so — close enough to curry the teacher’s favor but not so close that the others had grounds to call you a nerd to your face. You poured yourself into the academics and started researching universities tirelessly. Every day the mailbox was stuffed with another two or three pamphlets from schools all over the country — because, you realized, the farther away the better — and you’d spend your afternoons reading them and sorting them into yes-maybe-no piles. Graduation came around and you made it through uneventfully. You were almost valedictorian, you tell yourself, if it wasn’t for that Chelsea Winston who took just a few more IB or AP classes than you did. Whatever, you think, it doesn’t matter. I got into the University of British Columbia — one of the top 40 schools in the world, no less — and in a few months I’ll be gone. You’d never have to see the faces of these mediocre, un-achieving sheeple ever again. In university, it will be different. In university, I’ll be a new man, and people in university will recognize me for what these people could never see if it smacked them in the face with a mint-condition original copy of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.

I told you. I know you. Sometimes, I catch myself being you. Sometimes I think of a potentially witty comment to add to the class discussion, and re-word it in my head a couple times before I feel like it’s the perfect balance of relevant, funny and intelligent. For me, though, by the time I do all that, it’s no longer relevant, and like any self-respecting lecture-goer, I, as they say, put a sock in it. And this is where the similarities between us end. I do not, after I have thought of my witty comment, then rehearse it in my mind for several minutes before then shouting out to the classroom whatever it is that you’ve so cleverly come up with even though the subject has long since moved on. I do not, after that, either expect a response from my classmates or a metaphorical pat on the back from the TA — but you, sir, you do. I don’t presume to know whether you find yourself funny, but I know, with the certainty that a fisherman knows whether he’s caught a big one, that you are not aware of just how uncomfortable you consistently make the rest of the class feel. I know this because I try to believe in the inherent goodness of individual man, and so I have to believe that if you knew the effects of your constant barrage of irrelevant and nauseating outbursts, you would have to put an end to them, because if you knew what you were doing, and you continued to do it, I would have no choice but to believe that you were Evil.

This letter is not to berate you — no, as much as it may seem like a very long-winded and, frankly, excessive way to tell you just how much I dislike you and find you and your kind to be the most irksome types of people on this good earth, that is not the intention of my writing this. I’m simply telling you, one university student to another (because I know that that will give my words so much more weight to you) that everybody — your classmates, your roommates, your TAs, the people you latch on to in each of your lecture halls — all of them think you are as annoying as I do, and if they don’t, they are you, and so this letter is to them as well.

I’m not sugarcoating this because I know you’re an intelligent person, and you can handle it. So, in the simplest terms possible, here’s my request: just think about what you’re going to say, and ask yourself if it’s concisely and intelligently related to the subject at hand. Then, ask yourself if what you want out of saying it is for people to laugh and think “Man, that guy’s pretty funny!” Then, honestly, regardless of the answers to those two questions, your next step is to shut up. Just do it, just shut right the fuck up. If you want people to think of you as a frustrating little louse on the head of higher education, don’t take my advice. But trust me, I know you, man, and just shutting the fuck up is your best bet.

Sincerely,

An asshole who has learned to channel their need for validation into a better medium

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