Today is the day after Super Bowl LI, and the past week or so was filled with, well, everything you imagine would happen in the week leading up to the Super Bowl: people predicting the final score, who would win, and a ton of dank memes.
But I got distracted by something else - a thought that has been forming in my mind over the whole year of 2016, and has been fed and nurtured for much longer than that.
And that is the danger of a jock culture.
You see, I have this theory about how to make our society a better place: what if there was a pervasive nerd culture instead of a pervasive jock culture? Allow me to explain.
First, I'm not saying that we need to get rid of sports - quite the contrary. Just as nerds have our games, shows, movies, and books that we really love, so also jocks should have their football, basketball, football (or "soccer" as Americans call it), baseball, pro wrestling - whatever your jam is. So this is not a call for the "end of sports" or the relegation of sports to the background (which, by the by, is what has happened to nerd culture for decades, but we're willing to let bygones be bygones on that point).
Instead, it's a call for a change in mindset. My primary problem with a pervasive jock culture in our society is that it institutionalizes and praises hatred. In the current culture you can demonize, slander, mock, and insult other human beings purely because they're fans of X Team. This is considered normal, and to protest it is considered "not understanding" or "being too sensitive."
But after forty years of sports overshadowing everything else in our country, this becomes more commonplace in other parts of culture beyond sports. It's been cool for thirty years to trash politicians, lawyers, doctors, groups and agencies we don't like, and pop stars. The result: hatred becomes normalized.
Which got me thinking: why don't I get the same reaction when talking with nerds? I mean, let's get real: nerds have opinions on things (tell a Trekkie that you hate Spock's hair and you'll get a reaction, guaranteed), but the reaction doesn't result in memes and insults on the scale of what we see in the jock culture.
Tell them that Star Wars is boring, that Firefly doesn't have good acting, or that Mistborn is for idiots, and they'll take a strong position against what you said. But you won't see the vehemence that is commonly (not just occasionally, but the expected reaction) displayed by sports fans. Why is this?
First, nerds have a central creed: everyone has their fanbase, and no one is required to be in every fanbase. Don't like Firefly? I don't understand why you wouldn't, but that's cool. You think that Star Trek has terrible dialogue and laughable special effects? I think you're being uncharitable to the 60s, but that's cool. You think Star Wars has terrible dialogue as far back as the original trilogy? I don't like the fact that you called out the cheesy 70s dialogue, but fine: we're still friends.
We're allowed to have our own fanbases, and not liking something is expected and allowed.
Second, nerds focus on connections, not rivalries. Whenever I have been in a Star Wars v. Star Trek debate, all of us have had something that we respect about both of them (mostly our love of space travel and adventure that radiates from both). By the end of our discussion no one has changed their minds, and no one is riled up.
Why? Because the "rivalry" (and really this is probably the only legitimate "rivalry" that you can claim in nerd culture, with perhaps the only other competitor being Marvel v. DC, but the result is the same) isn't that important to us. My friendship with a long-time friend is worth way more to me than winning a friend over to my side, or even scoring a burning point in the argument. I remember in the moment, even if subliminally, that I share a lot in common with this person, so "winning at all costs" is not acceptable. Dare I say, unthinkable.
And that forbearance - the desire to see someone else as a person that I want to have a good relationship with in the future - has the power to save our culture. But it comes from rejecting the jock culture and embracing a nerd culture. It's understanding that people will see the world differently from you - some of them will even reject anything and everything nerd-related - and that's okay. Because my connection with others is worth more to me than "being right" or "getting even with the other team."
So what do you say: should we try it? Try to replace the jock culture that has our society by the throat and replace it with a nerd culture that values people over differences? Would it be worth the hard work of reclaiming a cultural mindset?