It happens every day. Like so many fortysomethings who aren’t interested in having a heart attack and dying just yet, I take a pill to combat my high blood pressure. Unlike many of my peers, however, when I take this pill at the desk in my home office, I do so while surrounded by action figures. Rey from The Force Awakens. Soundwave from Transformers. He-Man and She-Ra. A small horde of characters from Japanese kids’ TV shows. I have gotten old, but I have somehow failed to grow up.
This is my life, but I can’t wrap my head around it. At age 41, I still play video games, regularly watch cartoons, and buy toys and collectibles based on movies and shows I enjoyed when I was six. The fact that I am a nerd at this age feels wholly unnatural, despite the fact I’ve never stopped being one. I’ve even parlayed this nerdiness into an almost 20-year career writing about nerd stuff, most recently as the editor of io9, Gizmodo’s site devoted to pop culture.
The fact that I am a nerd at this age feels wholly unnatural, despite the fact I’ve never stopped being one.
Despite this, I still feel like I’ve fucked something up, and badly. I always assumed I would become what I considered “an adult.” Certainly when I was young, I expected to get a conventional job and do serious things like watch the news. Even in my twenties and thirties, when I was still devouring comics and cartoons nonstop, I felt confident I would, at some point, leave it all behind to become a capital-G Grown-Up. Even though half my life is over — if I’m lucky and get to the gym more — I’m still, in the back of my mind, waiting for that moment where I put away all my toys and comics and actually become an adult.
I assumed it was mandatory. After all, every generation before me had left their childish things behind. When my dad was 41 (in 1992), he was the operations manager of a steel company, overseeing the tons of metal that went in and out of its giant warehouse. He spent his nights and weekends reading the newspaper and watching slow sports, namely golf and baseball. He was not still collecting baseball cards, as he did as a kid. When my grandfather was 41 (back in 1968), he was a civil engineer in Nashville and planned roads and highways all across the country and beyond. I don’t know what kids played with in the ’30s, but in all the years I knew him, my grandfather never went to the toy store to buy a new bag of marbles or brought out his old hoop-and-stick for a quick roll around the block.
Meanwhile, I remain worried that eventually some grown-up is going to notice that I’m still living my best sixth-grade life and stick me in an accounting department somewhere.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for my daily life to change, because then I’d miss out on the 40,000 or so superhero shows currently on the air. I wouldn’t have seen the ultimate superhero team-up movie and a new Star Wars film in the same week. I couldn’t read the glut of great comics out there, only some of which involve people in tights. I couldn’t be eagerly awaiting new Transformers and He-Man movies or new ThunderCats and She-Ra TV series or — wait. No. That’s something I was 100 percent also doing back in 1984. Which only further proves my point.
We are living in an unparalleled era for pop culture, where nerds and especially nerd nostalgia dominate entertainment.
I recently discovered that my generation, born in the late ’70s and early ’80s, trapped in some netherworld between Generation X and the millennials, had finally gotten its own name: Xennials, a name so terrible it should be illegal. Let me posit a new one: Generation Nerd. No, not all the people I grew up with are what most people would consider nerds. But many of them are buying toys, now for their kids, of the things they loved when they were younger. And then they’re taking those kids to the new installments of the movies they loved and getting them into the same series and characters they were into as kids — because, in some form, they’re all still available.
We are living in an unparalleled era for pop culture, where nerds and especially nerd nostalgia dominate entertainment. It’s fun and silly and terrible and fascinating, all at once… which brings us here. Welcome to “Nerd Processor,” a new weekly column here on Medium, by me, Rob Bricken. I’ll be using my 20 years of professional nerd experience (and another 15-plus years of amateur nerd experience) to explore, celebrate, analyze, and criticize all of this — the movies, the shows, the franchises, and the fandoms (both good and, unfortunately, extremely bad) that make up this renerdaissance.
Oh, and to make fun of it, too. Because at the end of the day, even if this stuff is a multibillion-dollar industry, it’s vitally important to remember 1) most of it is technically supposed to be for kids, and 2) a lot of it is very, very stupid. Nerds are programmed to get upset about the things they love, myself very much included, but we should never forget that we’re losing our minds about shit like what space wizards can or cannot do. (In space. With their space magic.)
Please join me as I examine nerd culture seriously and explain why none of it needs to be taken seriously, a job I’m delighted to do until I finally take that step into true adulthood. Because I can’t possibly still be a nerd when I turn 50. Right?