I found myself at lunch a few weeks ago with some fellow grad students in my department. The conversation was scattered; deadline woes, undergrads being frustrating, research setbacks, but then the conversation turned to sports. Suddenly everyone seemed in sync. Names flew to-and-fro talking performance in the previous weeks, statistics, and predictions for future play. I was not only lost but bored stiff. I longed to have a fellow comic nerd sitting at the table to lament the state of Fear Itself or compare titles of the new DCU. But alas, sports trumped comics yet again. It’s literally a story as old as time: people care more about sports than academic pursuits such as science and the arts (not that comics are ‘high’ art, but they are art). Even amongst my fellow scientists the general trend is to talk sports over other nerd trivia. It’s actually been something of a surprise how few interests crossover between the people I see expressing overwrought enthusiasm at every nerd tidbit which are completely ignored by my fellow scientists. It’s not that scientists aren’t nerds, but they just seems to have no interest in the ephemera we revel in. Which brings me to a feeling I often have as I move through life: I have no idea what “general interest” means.
It started in high school, where I was often supposed to write papers with in-text citations. This meant that whenever I wrote about something that was outside “general knowledge” I needed to provide a source for that information, otherwise I was guilty of plagiarism. I was terrible at it. I had no idea if something was known to the public or not. I thought every knew that Hermes carried a caduceus, that stegosaur spikes are called thagomizers, and that Thomas Jefferson thought mastodon teeth looked like breasts. I’m not trying to show off trivia, I truly didn’t know that other people didn’t soak in this nonsense like I do. Fortunately, professional science eschews this problem by making you cite EVERYTHING. It’s a habit I’m still learning, but I guess it beats assumption about what “general knowledge” people acquire due to “general interest.”
To me, comics are generally interesting, but to most they are not. The intricacies of beer are generally interesting. Science is generally interesting. But the older I get the more I realize I’m a nerd about uncommon things and to geek out appropriately I have to go out of my way to find a home for it. And I think that’s a huge part of what makes the internet appealing to most of us. Apparently, for I have no actual experience, there was a time when if you had an interest in a topic, you had to seek out actual people, or pay actual money to get a magazine to learn about the thing you liked and keep up to date with the happenings.
Yet the Internet allows for so much more. Scant years ago I remember thinking a podcast about comics might be neat. I knew about podcasting from a science journal I’d been reading, circle of life, am I right? So I searched around iTunes and found there were (and are) more than a few of varying levels of quality. iFanboy was the one that stuck, and now I’m part of the team. This all feels like such a radical departure from the way things used to be that I have trouble even contextualizing it. I find it all thrilling beyond belief, but generally interesting to the average person on the street? I lost that person as soon I mentioned podcasts.
And just when I think I have a pretty good handle on nerd culture, I find myself at a convention like NYCC. And it is there I am put to shame. There are video game franchises with hoards of fans clamoring about a trailer for the 7th game in a series I’ve never heard of. There’s an entire floor of anime and manga culture that I’m not ashamed to admit is actually frightening. It’s overwhelming to realize just how many people are interested in so many different things, it’s a wonder we can all keep speaking the same language. And then I remember there are people on the con floor perfectly fluent in Elvish or Klingon or both and I’m right back at square one.
For every nerd like me for whom science and comics are where it’s at, there are several for whom sports and comics are the be-all end-all. You just never know where someone’s passions may lie when they navigate away from iFanboy. Just last week I wrote a column on short attention spans and two iFanboy users discovered in the comments that they were both birders. Which brings me to you, dear reader.
Let’s use the comments below to break outside the bounds of our interests in comics. We’re all here because comics are great, but I’d hate for us all to think we’re as 1-dimensional as some of the more poorly written characters found in our books. So here’s my idea. In the comments, post 1 thing you’re interested in that isn’t comics but also isn’t something you’ve ever thought was “general interest.” And if you see someone with a shared interest, reply! It’ll flesh out the people behind these usernames and maybe add perspective to other comments we all make around the site. At the very least, it’ll give me a window into just what the hell “general interest” might be.
This week Ryan Haupt finds himself at the annual meeting for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Not a cosplayer in the bunch, but some might as well be Indiana Jones. Hear him talk about it in the coming weeks of the podcast Science… sort of.