Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Poor Misguided Fool - Starsailor (mp3)
Man's Gotta Do (Part I) - Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer (mp3)
Stupid - Toad the Wet Sprocket (mp3)
La-La - Ashlee Simpson (mp3)

Even if I wanted to, I couldn't deny having a fantastical love of the movie Revenge of the Nerds. That film gave awkward adolescents everywhere a ray of optimistic sunshine in what at times could be a life clouded with the feeling that enjoying the academic side of life was shameful or embarrassing. Although I attended a school where keeping one's nose in books was hardly odd, we were still in the South, where more than anywhere else, intellectualism has somehow been equated with nefarious behavior.

In the days of Sherlock Holmes, the hero was the smartest guy in the room. But on the journey "across the pond," booksmarts seem to have made a hefty portion of Americans suspicious.

This notion that our heroes are street smart, like John Wayne, while Lex Luthor was the valedictorian... taps into some primal American fear. It's surely part of our struggle to constantly ignore and downplay the problems in our educational system. Have we created a culture where we simply don't trust anyone smarter than we are because we just assume they're trying to pull a fast one on us? Or have the smart people pulled too many fast ones, thus justifying the suspicion? (See: Wall Street, 2008.)

Think I'm wrong? In my neck of the woods, you know the easiest track to becoming the principal of a school? Coaching. There's not even a close second. Coaches move up faster and more often than your bookworms. To be fair, part of this is about charisma. Coaches are motivational, and coaches manage people -- the players, other coaches -- as part of their jobs. But there are some seriously stupid coaches who have moved up the ranks, leaving the more intelligent, more capable nerds in their jock dust.

Why don't we admire intelligence the way we respect the ability to hit a golf ball or shoot 3-pointers or diagram little plays with X's and O's on napkins?

Put simply, someone significantly smarter than myself should be in the White House. And I don't mean Peyton Manning smart. I don't mean Emeril Legasse smart. I mean Harvard Law Review smart. I mean Top of His F%#king Class smart. Do I mind if he lacks personality? Hell yes I mind. I want charisma, too. It shouldn't be too much to ask that our President be the Uber-Nerd, the guy who not only proved superior in the academic realm but also earned respect from his peers.

Apparently, it's liberal to want your politician to be intelligent. And I'm not being snide or picking a fight. Compared to their competition, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are friggin' demigods of academia. Both were highly successful in school. Meanwhile, George W. Bush and John McCain fought to keep from failing. Bush earned the infamous "Gentleman's C" (as did Gore) at Yale, and McCain finished third from the bottom in his class at Westpoint.

Is it too much for me to ask that Republican intellectualism not begin and end with the likes of Karl Rove, the living embodiment of the scheming nerd puppeteer?

It's not a problem exclusive to conservatives. Too much of black America distrusts the educational system and isolates their academically ambitious. This distrust is just one of many factors in the cycle of poverty. Poor white America holds similar misgivings.

Meanwhile, immigrants from Far Eastern countries like India or Korea come to America, often in extreme poverty, and overcome their economic struggles and often many of their cultural struggles because they embrace the value of succeeding academically. It's a cornerstone of their cultures.

Is our Western Cultural dismissal of intelligence the chicken or the egg? Are the academically successful too smart to become politicians, too intelligent to put themselves through such a sewage system?

I've been in a school long enough to know that grades don't always equate with intelligence. Sometimes the smartest kids are bored to tears and too busy splitting atoms to give a crap about geometry or Gertrude Stein. Sometimes the successful student just cheats his or her ass off. All of my Marion County relatives are reminders that very intelligent people sometimes never get the chance to prove their academic potential. But I'm not talking about smart people who failed in school. That's a different post.

What should concern us is our distrust of smart people who succeed in school. We don't like 'em as principals. We don't like 'em as Presidents. We don't like 'em in a boat or on a goat. We do not like Nerds, Sam I Am.

This ending still gets to me. When Goose -- er, Dr. Green -- asks, "Why? Because we're smart?" I wonder how much has changed, not just in the last 20 years, but in the last century.


Bob said...

I guess from a literary standpoint, it could be the greatest line of all time, because when the frat guy says, "That's my pi/pie/pie/etc." after see the naked picture of the girl under the whipped cream, it has a minimum of three layers of meaning. Sheer genius, but then, what would you expect from nerds?

Randy said...

Good column. But since I'm a jerk that notices the slightest mistake, I'll point out that McCain went to the Naval Academy.