When Scott (Florida Geek Scene’s head honcho) asked me if I wanted to cover Nerdapalooza 2013 with him I was hesitant. While I consider myself a nerd (I like comic books, records, movies, etc.) I’m not sure a gathering of nerds, celebrating nerd culture, was something I’d enjoy. After all, I hate The Big Bang Theory and feel the state of nerd culture is very different from when I was younger, even delving into embarrassing territory at times. People that ripped on me in middle and high school for liking Dawn of the Dead now talk to me about their love for The Walking Dead, almost salivating over the best zombie kill that week. Things like that make me nervous, that these people that made fun of me and sometimes even punched me are getting their violent jollies through a television show about zombies. Has nerd culture become mainstream, with more people embracing their inner nerd, or have mainstream people just found another avenue of entertainment, bored with crime dramas and reveling in the violence that’s rampant in many comic book adaptations?
I took the press pass. I saw a few bands on the lineup that I was interested in (Marc With a C, Peelander-Z, They Might be Giants). I was curious what swag and collectibles I could find. I was also curious about the whole vibe I’d get from the festival, especially since it was held at the Orange County Convention Center, known for hosting Megacon and being a terrible place to find parking.
Arriving at around 11a.m. I found myself surrounded by bikers, all turning into the convention center. It turns out there was a motorcycle convention going on; it also turned out parking was cheaper if you were going to the motorcycle convention so when the parking attendant asked me if I was there for the motorcycles I dumbly nodded my head and smiled. There was also a convention for financial planners. I didn’t see one financial planner that I would trust with what little money I have.
My apprehension was somewhat subdued when I arrived at Nerdapalooza. While the vendor portion was paltry in comparison to Megacon there were a few cool tables. One table was selling stickers (I bought stickers for Katamari Damacy and Star Trek: The Next Generation), a few people were selling custom shirts, some people were hocking prints of their artwork (some was good, some wasn’t). I even saw people selling bongs and behind them was a booth trying to grab signatures for a medical marijuana initiative. I can’t deny the placement was funny.
I can’t remember the names of the first few bands of the day but I wasn’t very impressed. There were a few kids rapping about video games or something like that, a metal band that vaguely reminded me of Dragonforce but not as technically sound, then another hip-hop outfit that was better than the first one but they didn’t grab my attention for very long. Meanwhile, in one of the concert halls there was a big area devoted to foam fighting. I’d never heard of this—a group of people that beat the shit out of each other with foam swords and bludgeons. No head shots, though. I wanted to take part and I kept waiting for Scott so I could go all Spartacus on him, going first for the red and a kill and if I wasn’t lucky there trying for the yellow and a slow kill (if you haven’t seen the 1960 film Spartacus I highly suggest you do. It’s the first film where blacklisted author Dalton Trumbo used his name publically since the McCarthy witch-hunts). Unfortunately, Scott was late and a Tetris tournament sponsored by Bart was taking place in the near future. I never tried foam fighting but it looked fun. I took first place in the Tetris tournament.
One thing that bothered me was that for a nerd celebration I didn’t see one table selling comic books. It seemed like the festival was more about music and fashion. Maybe I’m just old fashioned and like reading a good comic book; maybe I’m a nerd with shame and can’t bring myself into the world of cosplay; maybe I have no relation to these aspects of nerd culture in the first place, myself a byproduct of my time, growing up without the internet and only receiving it upon entry into high school. What if I have no relation to these kids (and yes, many of them were quite young) and can never escape what it was like being a nerd in a less accepting time?
Whatever the reason for my trepidation one thing was certain: I didn’t feel like an outsider here. Most of the people I met were very nice, devoid of judgment and inviting. The foam fighters were extremely enthusiastic, trying over and over again to get me to suit up and battle a stranger. The people I saw fighting didn’t seem malicious and the victors didn’t gloat. It was fun, amongst friends, in an environment free of persecution. You could let your nerd flag fly proudly here and others were accepting and even encouraging. That’s pretty remarkable.
The bands I wanted to see were good. Marc With a C played his brand of almost power pop infused with nerd references very well and people went nuts for Peelander-Z. I didn’t stay for They Might Be Giants but I also had tickets for Alien at the Enzian later that night. When a good sci-fi film on the big screen calls I usually answer.
My favorite find of the day was a company called NerdTag, using a 3D Printer (or Makerbot) to print dog tags and key chains. I’ve been fascinated with this technology ever since I heard about it a few years ago and I’d never seen one in person. NerdTag’s captains, Mo and Lance, were great and really into discussing the pro’s and con’s of the technology, where it’ll take society, and it’s future applications. Seeing stuff like this at Nerdapalooza brought any of the potentially shallow ideas I had about nerd fashion being at the forefront of this festival to a grinding halt—here were two self-professed nerds using a technology in its genesis and bringing it to a gathering of the nerds, for both profit and education. Quite amazing. Click here to see a video interview Scott and I did with Mo and Lance of NerdTag.
Whenever I think about the current state of nerdom, about how I see the exterior aspects of it online and in person more and a decline in the intellectual portions, I have to remind myself that this generation of nerds is living in a different world. Yes, many of them participate in the solitary ventures I, as a nerd, enjoy: books (both comic and text), movies, video games, music (especially vinyl). However, they’re living in a time where these pursuits aren’t lambasted. I don’t think the days of nerd persecution are completely behind us but the tides of discontent for the more introverted of our society has subsided, allowing the once introverted to become extroverts with their interests, sharing them with the world and feeling less or no shame. Whatever criticisms I have about Nerdapalooza are worthless, as the best part of it is how nerds can walk with their heads held high in the second decade of the 21st century with less or no fear of persecution for their interests. I can’t deny the overt commercialism of nerd culture is somewhat bothersome at times, especially since mediums like comics, which were the realm of the misanthrope, the shunned, and the cynical, have entered the mainstream and are sometimes acting like complete whores (for an example, see how Image Comics and Robert Kirkman are producing countless trinkets for The Walking Dead and laughing all the way to the bank). Then again, I can applaud them for finally getting their big payday, reaping the benefits of their hard work and the hard work of countless artists before them that didn’t receive the same financial restitution (maybe they should go see the financial planners at the convention next door). Maybe I’m just jaded.
Starting out that Saturday with low expectations was great, as the reality of Nerdapalooza was much better than I could’ve ever expected. I had a good time; the people around me were having a good time. Not all the bands were good but the ones that were played their asses off, rivaling any band outside the nerdcore scene. I would’ve liked stacks of comic books to dig through while boring bands were playing but maybe I’m just part of a dying breed, a man sans Kindle and still buying hard copies of my comic books. Even though that’s probably true, the feeling at Nerdapalooza wasn’t one where that mattered—what mattered was that people were part of something they loved and were having fun.