Where were the nerds (or the tough questions) at the White House Correspondents Dinner?
Reading all of the self-congratulation and humble-bragging ironic-self-deprecation from the D.C. press hordes and hangers-on as they fêted the President and themselves on Saturday evening at the so-called “Nerd Prom,” a friend said to me, “Hey, people know that #nerdprom is actually San Diego Comic Con, right?”
The fact of the matter is that D.C.’s political class all but thrives on the idea that they were put-upon “nerds” in high school, because they excelled at Social Studies, got good grades and were in student government — though, as Salon’s Alex Pareene noted, “Most of them can’t do math, a fact that campaigns and politicians regularly exploit.” But the fact that they’d rather embrace the nerd-mantle as adults is a choice — one that many actual young nerds are denied and one made by the #nerdprom attendees, probably because the word “unpopular” is more accurate.
Not that this author was popular — the president of Students Against Drunk Driving and the school German Club hardly ever is, let alone a four-eyed brace-faced girl with solid grades. But there was a wide vale between popularity and nerd-dom, and just being smart didn’t automatically consign one to the nerd heap anymore than making a sports team automatically qualified one for inclusion in the Cool Kid’s Club.
I was reminded rather specifically of that after reading this article by “Susan of Texas” about Ross Douthat’s book, in which he described being unpopular at his expensive prep school before going onto Harvard where he was certain he would be finally be cool. But even as he declared himself less-than-popular, he still found time to malign the nerds: “[We] immersed themselves in right-wing ideology much as other, similarly geekish teenagers might lose themselves in computer programming, or alternate rock, or Dungeons & Dragons,” he wrote.
While I can only speak for my experience at a public school, the designated young Republicans or Democrats were not socially akin to the friends (and some now-ex-boyfriends) of mine who played D&D or (more often) Magic: The Gathering, the ones who were into professional wrestling or role-playing or first-person shooter games, the fellow be-pimpled masses who had Prodigy accounts and knew what listserves were in the dark ages of the early ’90s. The nerds were the kids who got shoved into lockers, called homophobic slurs in the hallways, who were often obliged to let the bullies copy their homework or tests, who spent recesses in the libraries and computer labs talking to teachers to avoid the jungle around the jungle gym. The politically-inclined might not have been the crème de la crème of high school society, but they sure as hell weren’t the nerds (and most of them, like me, probably went to at least one of their proms).
What the #nerdprom really is — besides often bereft of actual nerds — is a bunch of the self-described smart people from high school who get to invite the cool kids to prom, and have the cool kids accept, finally. And then those smart kids get to brag on Twitter, in photos and on their websites about how close they were to coolness.
In the mean time, if the time I was asked to cover it in 2008 is any guide, there were at least 2 professional signature-collectors working the Hilton Hallways with their “children” (likely not their actual offspring) to collect celebrity signatures for auction, several people complaining about being touched too much and at least one really odd photo opp of an American war-monger and a beautiful woman (like this one, of Padma Lakshmi and Henry Kissinger in 2008). But in between the pleasantries and cheek-kissing at your typical WHCD, there’s never a lot of time for hard questions.
[“Annoyed Girl And Boyfriend At Prom” on Shutterstock]