A few days ago I saw a good friend of mine. Over a glass of wine we chatted about anything and everything, and as we tend to do we were constantly busting chops and playfully mocking each other. We went back and forth with some of our old classic taunts, but one phrase of hers struck home in a way that hadn’t occurred to me up until that point.
She called me a “Nonconformist-Conformist”.
Now to her this has always meant that I tend to be, admittedly, a bit of a hypocritical pop culture snob. To be more specific, I generally think I’m not going to like a given movie, book, etc. just to be contrary to popular opinion, only to find that I enjoy it once I bite the bullet and see what I’ve been resisting (for proof of this theory one need only look to my article about Chick Flicks). Since I admit that there is some validity to her point of view I laughed off the utterance while the conversation faded into other directions.
However, later in the night the phrase got me thinking. A Nonconformist-Conformist isn’t just my friend’s way of calling me snooty. In a deeper sense it can be used to describe all of my fellow geeks.
I broke the phrase down into what the words actually meant, and came to see that a Nonconformist-Conformist essentially is someone that balks some traditional mores while accepting others. In other words, it’s the person who says that they don’t care for the mainstream while embracing counterculture whole hog.
And isn’t that what every geek essentially does?
Think about it… what is geekdom if not a fanatical love for that which others shun while simultaneously shunning what others embrace?
We love wrestling but don’t watch football. We won’t go to clubs but we’ll get together with friends for a night of drinks and gaming. We listen to indie rock and laugh at people who dig on pop music. Ultimately, the world we exist in is defined by what we will and will not do or take interest in.
Of course this is not a negative thing. To the contrary, this form of self-identification is a means of declaring ourselves as unique while simultaneously helping us to find an all-important peer group to join us in our interests. It’s a means of both finding a place in the world and thriving within it.
Here’s the rub though: being a Nonconformist-Conformist tends to mean a silencing of that which falls outside of the social group one accepts, for both good and ill.
For instance, if you get me started on anything having to do with Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy I will readily discuss in detail anything about the series. Whether it be obsessing about the intricacies of previous performances, speculating about how The Dark Knight Rises will end, or simply debating the merits of this series over previous incarnations of Batman on film I’m ready, willing, and able to rant about it all. However, if you even mention the Twilight series to me I’ll glaze over and shrug my shoulders in cold indifference.
Now, my embracing of a super hero and rejection of sparkly vampires holds no bearing on my day-to-day life. Instead, what it does is further my identity as a Girl Among Geeks rather than a Girlie Girl. Inherently I find value on both an internal and external level by doing so as this gives me my own identity to run with, but on the other hand it means that I am rejecting other interests to such an extreme that it casts me outside of other peer groups. It’s a form of isolationism as much as it’s a declaration of identity, making being a Nonconformist-Conformist a double-edged social sword.
This is not how I have to be, though. There is nothing to say that it is not only possible but quite potentially beneficial for me to spread my wings a bit and start to move beyond the comfort zone of the social group that I have chosen. I can come to find value in elements of art and society that I don’t normally adopt in order to broaden my horizons.
So now comes the tricky part… how do I simultaneously represent myself as a proud Girl Among Geeks without continuing to be a Nonconformist-Conformist? I think for me this is going to mean spending a bit more time outside of my geek shell, and allowing the interests of my more mainstream friends to trickle in. Maybe going to a few less indie movies and a few more chick flicks and listening to a bit more Lady Gaga and little less Guster will be good for me, and will hopefully broaden my frame of reference when I look at the world around me.
As a geek I’m sure I will get way too technical and studied about this endeavor, but since that’s a part of my geeky self that I adore I won’t fight it. If anything this personal, social-scope-enhancing experiment of mine may mean that I will deepen my current identity while I add to it.