UBCon: A Societal Reflection

On April 16, 2012

I didn't dress up for UBCon - UB's own massive anime/gaming convention - this weekend. I didn't even know it was going on until I saw some Facebook statuses and tweets on Friday night. But when I strolled into the Student Union to get The Spectrum ready to print this rainy Sunday morning, there were dozens of people donning dozens of quirky costumes, consumed by character, galvanized for a day full of festivities.

Is...that...Ash Ketchum? Making out with Zelda? At college, you get used to seeing some pretty strange stuff, but this was a new level of curious. I didn't recognize most of the outfits, and when they asked who I was dressed as, I looked down at my shirt and tie and muttered: "Clark Kent."

I was an outsider. Here's the strangest part of it all, and what sparked this column: when I was standing in line at Tim Hortons, scanning the bizarre crowd, and listening to the "nerdy" conversations, I spotted something that made me feel at home: a kid holding a basketball.

I sighed, relieved: there is a normal person. I'm not alone. Then I got to thinking: why do I think this kid is normal? What if he and I are the peculiar ones? Certainly, to this crowd, we are pretty weird.

When I surround myself with sports guys like me, it's easy to look like I know what I'm talking about. Those are the things I like, the things I grew up focusing on. Meanwhile, the kids at UBCon grew up on comics, video games, and cartoons - and there is nothing wrong with that.

Why is it OK - or, I guess, more socially acceptable - that I always had the NBA, NHL, MLB, and NFL standings memorized when I was a kid? Does that make me a nerd?

To some extent, I think it does. But in society's eyes, I am a dude, and guys are supposed to care about sports.

I played into the stereotype when I watched a meaning Raptors-Celtics game Friday night instead writing my Criticism paper. I played into the stereotype Saturday when I played football with my friends instead of cleaning my room. I played into the stereotype today as I flipped through Sports Illustrated with The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton sitting on my floor.

So who is to say that I'm more socially normal - or cooler - than the kids who show up, outfits and all, to comic-cons? And why am I so socially conditioned to cringe when I see a large group of people that look different from me?

Maybe it's because we like feeling accepted. And when we're surrounded by a huge group of people that don't look like us, well, we don't feel accepted.

Did you know that people who feel rejected are likely to have shorter lives than those who feel accepted? It's scientific fact - their immune systems break down and they're prone to severe depression and anxiety. I'm not saying all "nerds" feel rejected, because I know that's not the case. But I'm guessing that if we continue to propel these social theories of what is cool and what is not, we're headed down the road to alienation - if we haven't reached its apex already.

I found some fascinating analysis on psychologicalscience.org:

"Exclusion isn't just a problem for the person who suffers it, either; it can disrupt society at large...People who have been excluded often lash out against others. In experiments, they give people much more hot sauce than they can stand, blast strangers with intense noise, and give destructive evaluations of prospective job candidates. Rejection can even contribute to violence. An analysis of 15 school shooters found that all but two had been socially rejected," according to the website.

So when we call someone a "nerd," we are essentially calling them weird, and when we call them weird, we are essentially saying they aren't like us, and when we say they aren't like us, it all comes back to haunt us.

In my opinion, nothing positive will ever come from making fun of someone else. Do you feel good about yourself after you demean someone? I know I don't.

I've wanted to write on this topic for a while, but it's such a slippery slope. I tried to write on how girls always hate on others girls for the worst and pettiest reasons, but that could be interpreted as sexist. And now, as I try to grasp this particular social divide, I could look like a typical jock "bro" asshole.

Here's where the circular mocking starts: It's easy to get full of yourself when you accomplish something, and in college, it's pretty easy to accomplish stuff: get an A on a paper, get a promotion for your club, run train in intramurals. It's a simple theory: when you get full of yourself, you automatically get lower on others.

And when you get lower on others, you belittle them (whether you're conscious of it or not), and when you belittle them, it will come back to bite you, one way or another.

We will not progress as a society until we accept that it is never all right to feel above someone else just because that person is different.


Email: aaron.mansfield@ubspectrum.com

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