Let’s start with some context:
- Jay Maynard’s proposal for an Award for SF/F Storytelling, at Black Gate
- Catherynne Valente on “Cool Kids”
- Alexandra Erin on Weaponizing “Cool Kids vs Nerds”
Basically, Maynard believes that “those who recognize achievement in science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) have lost sight of the core question to be answered when evaluating a work in the genre: ‘Does it tell a good story?'” So he proposed a new award to recognize storytelling, with rules allowing a Judging Committee to “disqualify any work [up to three per category] they find to have an emphasis on other than telling a good SF/F story.”
I’m all for stepping up to create an award to fill a perceived gap. Maynard’s proposal led to a lot of discussion and debate, as well as a fair amount of criticism, particularly criticism of the proposed “trust levels” required to vote, and the Judging Committee’s role in arbitrarily disqualifying stories with the wrong emphasis. In the comments, Cat Valente proposed awards based on aspects of storytelling — best ending, best twist, best villain, etc.
There was more back-and-forth. Maynard commented, “I really do feel like the cool kids have swooped in and taken away my accomplishment,” and later, “Cat’s category list is unavailable. The cool kids took it away from the nerds.” Maynard went on to explain what he meant by cool kids in fandom:
Fandom has its nerds and its cool kids, too. The cool kids get invited to Worldcon parties and get nominated for Hugos (except this year, obviously). The cool kids get GoH invitations to cons. The cool kids have people squeeing over them whenever fans gather.
Both Valente and Erin pushed back against the Cool Kids/Nerd divide (linked above).
I think we’ve all seen some of what Maynard’s describing. Drop Neil Gaiman into a convention, and you get the rock star effect. People swarm Gaiman to the point that he can’t just enjoy a convention anymore. Or look at people like Seanan McGuire or Larry Correia, who get invited to be guests of honor at various conventions where they’re recognized and celebrated and, well, honored. We can all think of someone who, if we find out they’re at an event, we immediately perk up and say, “Oh, cool!”
But it’s not because of some high school nonsense, splitting people into cool kids and nerds. (Or Eloi and Morlocks, or whatever other disparaging labels are being used this week.) It’s because people like McGuire and Correia created art that other people really, really liked. And that’s awesome. Yay, art!
Jay Maynard is also known as Tron Guy. Because of the costume he created, he’s been on Jimmy Kimmel Live, South Park, and Tosh.0. That’s awesome too. Yay, art! But he feels like he’s one of the nerds, not one of the cool kids.
We’ve all felt out of place at a convention, or stood there wishing we could be part of a conversation without knowing how to join in. We’ve felt, like Maynard, that we were stuck at the nerds’ table, looking longingly across the
cafeteria bar to where the Cool Kids of SF/F are hanging out. We’ve felt awkward and out-of-place, we’ve said exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time, and we’ve felt like a complete ass.
That’s not about whether you’re a nerd or a cool kid. That’s part of being human.
Side note – is it me, or does Anakin look a lot like Heath Ledger as the Joker in that pic?
I get that a lot of us struggled growing up. We felt excluded, and we envied those who were more popular, more successful, more comfortable with themselves and their friends. Most of us continue to struggle. It’s part of being human. But this whole “Nerds vs. Cool Kids” thing is bullshit. It’s the same artificial and simplistic us vs. them, left vs. right, puppy vs. anti-puppy, Hero vs. Villain garbage that’s been poisoning people for ages.
There will always be small-minded people trying to divide the world into Us and Them. Some of these folks have found that dispensing poison earns them attention and followers.
That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to drink it.
Cat Valente is nerdy as hell. The last time I saw her, she was wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle backpack. Which was also awesome. She is nerd and cool kid and fan and celebrity.
So is Jay Maynard. Maybe not in the same way or at the same times or in the exact same proportions, but really, how boring would that be?
I hope Maynard and others find a way to remove the poison from themselves, and from their interactions with others.