John McCain's School Days
So I had an epiphany the other night. It was during Giuliani’s speech, when he and then the whole crowd of jack-booted minions started laughing at the fact that Barack Obama has been a community organizer in Chicago, and then again when Sarah Palin started mocking that as well. The idea that is was laughable to give up a high-paying career to actually go and help people, to engage in community service and lift people up economically who had been kicked out on their ears when the steel mills closed—this was somehow a joke to the Republicans. They laughed at it and made fun of Obama for it, like they did his Ivy League education. And that’s when it hit me. All of a sudden I was back in the school yard at Riverview Elementary School, where I spent my last semester of grade school after my dad moved us the place where I’d grown up till then. I was being teased and mocked for the things I enjoyed, I was being beaten up and having my face shoved into a pile of dog shit.
That’s my epiphany. This whole republican vs. democrat thing is a high school conflict. It is the jocks vs. the nerds all over again. And it really became obvious with Palin’s nomination.
I suppose there is nothing new here. I am sure I’m not the first person to make this observation, but it all fits so nicely. Sports has always been a very conservative pursuit, but it is much more than that. Look at the way the republicans mock intelligence and denigrate education. Barack Obama has an Ivy League education and it’s treated as un-American. (George W. Bush had an Ivy League education too, but that was something he had to rise above). Barack Obama becomes a community organizer and it’s treated like a joke. It is far too brainy a pursuit. Brainy. Elitist. Football and NASCAR. It all kind of comes together.
In American Nerd: The Story of my People (a book that I didn’t particularly like but which made some interesting points), Benjamin Nugent lays out his angst-ridden childhood as a D&D playing nerd who was constantly harassed and bullied by the jocks of his school. He displays a lot of deep seated anger over how he was treated (and a lot of guilt over the fact that he abandoned his nerdish ways and assimilated in order to stop the beatings). Nugent traces a direct line from Tom Brown’s School Days, which he identifies as the seminal text in the jock/nerd divide, to the Columbine shootings, wherein two nerds finally snapped and took vengeance upon their thuggish tormentors. In Nugent’s angry world, jocks are ignorant bullies and nerds get picked upon for their intelligence. The jocks hate the nerds because they are different, but there’s more to it than that. Nerds value intelligence, something most jocks disdain, and the jocks hate the nerds for being smart.
Just like Republicans and Democrats.
And it doesn’t stop there. Look at the candidates themselves. A skinny, geeky black guy and a wonkish (student) government type on one side, vs. a real man’s man uber-jock and a beauty queen on the other. Seriously, read your T. Roosevelt: war is the ultimate sport, so McCain’s ability to kill people makes him a jock par excellence. Go further. Look at the difference between the two women who represent the Democratic and Republican parties. The one is a totally nerdy student government wonk. She wears those garish pantsuits. Remember back when she got hassled for the plastic head band she wore in her hair? She spouts of statistics and plans and policy as though they actually mean something and are not just a bunch of nerdy numbers that prove what a geek she is. Then look at the other woman. She is a beauty queen. She is true jock: a basketball player who was nicknamed “Sarah Barracuda.” She’s killed a moose. There is no question that this is the jocks vs. the nerds, and the Republicans have nominated the ultimate Jock and Prom Queen ticket (and if it’s true that the presidential election is just a popularity contest, how can they lose?)
But what made it really obvious, what showed clearly the jockishness of the Republican party and laid bare the simple truth of this election, was the rabid, frenzied laughter of the Republican crowd during the Palin and Giuliani speeches, the way the laughed at Barack Obama being a community organizer and coming from Harvard and actually trying to do something productive with his life. As they lapped up and chewed on the red meat the speakers were pitching to them, I suddenly realized that this was the same pompous crowd of popular kids and popular wannabes who stood around and laughed at the nerds on campus as they got tripped, bullied, beaten, stuffed into garbage cans and had their faces pushed into dog shit. This was the schadenfreude of high school kids, now grown and ready to stuff the Democrats back into their lockers with all their Star Trek memorabilia and twenty sided dice.
Of course, that also means that, in the end, the nerds will likely win. The jocks always end up working for the nerds sooner or later. It also means that Barack Obama must be great in bed. You know why. What the Republicans haven’t realized yet, and the Democrats have, is that we are living in a postmodern world. The old hierarchies of Jock/Nerd have disintegrated. Being nerdy is suddenly cool (I thank Bill Gates for this). And that gives the Nerd ticket a big boost come election day.
The nerds will have their revenge.