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Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities

For several days now, a small sector of the internet has been ablaze over the allegations of emotional abuse that actress/model Chloe Dykstra accused of her former boyfriend, media personality Chris Hardwick. If you have never heard of Hardwick, he was once a DJ at “world famous KROQ” in Los Angeles and co-host of MTV’s old show Singled Out.  He went on to become a semi-famous podcast and talk show host, creating a company called Nerdist Industries to produce his various pop culture media.

Dykstra’s accountof Hardwick acting like a controlling, manipulative aggressor in their three-year relationship mimics the stories of countless women who have lived through emotional or physical abuse. Thus, for those who have experienced or witnessed such abuse or who have worked with victims, her tale rings true. Hardwick, for his part, countered her claims, denying “sexual assault” (though not any other behaviors), deflecting her accusations with the inane comment that as a “future father” he does not condone the mistreatment of women, and shifting blame to the victim, labeling her a cheater who desperately wanted to be with him. His response only further supports the veracity of her claims, as it typifies the gaslighting attempts of malignant narcissists.

Many have discussed the above account within the context of our current #MeToo and #TimesUp era. There has also been talk about toxic masculinity. While these are all critical conversations, I think there are a few other lessons here that warrant dialogue when thinking about Chris Hardwick’s rise to power and his attendant “nerd culture”: the ubiquity and inflated significance of entertainment in our lives, the normalization of arrested development in too many adults, and the steep decline of priorities in and on our sharply deteriorating society and planet.

About ten years ago an acquaintance of mine introduced me to the term “adultolescence.” As he was recently divorced, had no children, and was not wanting for anything monetarily, he basked in reliving adolescent tendencies of embracing pop culture, faddish consumerism, and other trivialities as a middle-aged man. In short, he was clinging to the priorities of a teenager instead of adopting the wisdom and social responsibility of adulthood.

To be fair, few of us are above abstaining from entertainment and insignificant diversions; what is troubling is the merit these petty pastimes garner in our personal lives and in our larger society, and particularly among adults who should know better and do better.

Many people within the entertainment industry live in a bubble and grossly overestimate the relative importance of television, film, and popular music. In Los Angeles, a city full of homelessness, poverty, huge economic inequality, racism, environmental degradation, and toxic pollution, these vital issues are often only asides to anything Hollywood-related, anything profit-related, or more to the point, anything related to their personal accumulation of power, money, and fame for people in the entertainment business.

Chris Hardwick seems to be the embodiment of such Hollywood myopia, and this nerd culture that he is (or was) a part of seems to do little more than normalize the adolescent obsession over celebrity culture for adults who should have more meaningful priorities. Chris Hardwick has carved a career out of and become a multimillionaire through merely fixating on a particular slice of popular culture and entertainment trivia.

Conan O’Brien’s old late night show featured a segment with a puppet called Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Triumph would attend events, speak to people, and insult them. In 2002, Triumph spoke to adults camped out in line to purchase movie tickets to the upcoming Star Wars film. He clearly mocked the adults who were spending hours on the sidewalk – many dressed up as their favorite characters and possessing their favorite Star Wars toys – for acting like children. Now, as Comic-Con has morphed into a pop culture juggernaut, cosplay, gaming, toy-collecting, and entertainment fanaticism are accepted forms of adult behavior. Moreover, the internet and its chat rooms, message boards, forums, and social media have enabled the fixation on any subset of pop culture. It has normalized the obsession over any trivial television show, film, musician, performer, athlete, or star anyone could imagine. And this fanatical fandom is not just part of nerd culture; it is part of all culture.

What also comes with nerd culture and all of these other media-driven obsessions and fascinations is rampant consumerism. There is a prioritization of vacuous content over crucial societal issues, but there is also an environmental catastrophe of over-production and consumption of frivolous, useless items and endless technological gadgetry, the life-cycles of which contribute to resource depletion, pollution, environmental deterioration, and tremendous waste at a time when we now clearly recognize the disastrous effects of our throw-away society. It used to be that just Hollywood was so insular and myopic. The entertainment industry had no perspective and few moral values, but now nerd culture (among others) has spread that myopia about entertainment, and that vapidity, consumerism, materialism, and narcissism to everyone.

I’ve recently spent some time teaching elementary-aged children. The books they read, the social studies and science lessons they learn, still try to teach the morals we all learned as children – lessons like: it’s not what you have it’s who you are, be a good person, be kind to others, strive to help others before yourself, do no harm, do not waste, do not pollute, treat all others as you treat yourself, everyone is of equal value, etc. When I was school-aged, lessons like those are why most kids aspired to be firemen, teachers, nurses and doctors. Most of us valued service and professions that, at least in theory, were for the benefit of the common good.

Now too many of our adults are enraptured with themselves and their immediate superficial gratifications. We don’t live up to any of those deeper societal and global values. We’ve lost all perspective. The nerd culture enables this stunted personal and social development. The prioritization of entertainment media, social media, and celebrity is the major component of nerd culture and is far too prevalent throughout society, to the detriment of our social structure, our communities, and our environment. It is perhaps why so many children now aspire to be “youtubers,” why a misogynist former “reality” show personality is now President of the United States, why it may not be surprising that a man such as Chris Hardwick – whose adult life revolves around inane priorities – may not possess a healthy perspective on females or relationships, and why this essay will likely capture a larger audience than anything else I normally write about science, health, social issues, or the environment.

 

 

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Kristine Mattis received her PhD in Environmental Studies. As an interdisciplinary environmental scholar with a background in biology, earth system science, and policy, her research focuses on environmental risk information and science communication. Before returning to graduate school, Kristine worked as a medical researcher, as a science reporter for the U.S. Congressional Record, and as a science and health teacher. She can be reached at:  k_mattis@outlook.com.

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