So now we’ve got “Nerd Prom,” which is when the White House Correspondents get together for the White House Correspondents Dinner, featuring as the keynote speaker the most powerful man on the planet and all his courtiers. A room full of persons who can end the human race as a dominant species, eradicate the urban civilization of the past 500 years, start wars, enforce peace, listen to every phone call, read every letter, bestow unimaginable riches, take all you have, and claim authority over family, faith, and the nature of man — the very definition of the Nietzschean Will to Power — and what do they call it?
There is a certain appeal to “Nerd Prom” as a name: it’s short, it has basic meter, it seems harmless, it’s easier to say than “Dinner with People Who Sleep and Socialize Together At All Hours And Then Pretend to Cover One Another Objectively,” less alarming than “The Ruling Class And Its Propagandists,” and certainly less gauche than “Thronesniffers Unite!” It fits into Twitter (the Official Social Network™ of “Nerd Prom”) in a compact, hashtaggy fashion in ways that “Careerist Forced Bonhomie” or “Abandoning My Middle-American Values” does not. These cats know how to live by the promise of hashtag.
But its real appeal is what it conveys about the mindset of the clique in the room — the “nerds” of “prom.”
That mindset is this: It’s all a big joke, guys. You rubes out there in the sticks west of Fairfax, north of Bethesda, and south of Springfield may think the nation’s capital is a place of serious people doing serious things, and it sure can look that way. But we few, we happy few, we band of brothers who live in the town your confiscated cash built (wealthiest metropolitan area in the country, guys, and be sure to file on time please), we know that the metaphor for Washington, D.C., is less imperial Rome, and more middling public high school. High school wasn’t conflict free! Far from it!
The football team and the soccer guys didn’t always get along, the cheerleaders and the Interact Club were rivals, and if you haven’t seen the yearbook and newspaper staffs fighting over the layout boards, then I don’t care about your time in Anbar, you don’t know real human strife and suffering.
But at the end of it all, high school culminates in one great, affirming event that brings us all together, reminds us that we are all on one team, and gives us an evening of memories that will last a lifetime: prom. Some of us will even get laid, and these days, the choices attendant to that are the bedrock of human identity itself. “Nerd Prom,” then, reminds us of who we are, and who you’re not.
We are Washington, D.C. This is our prom. And if we choose to label ourselves “nerds” — the outcasts, the marginal, the lowest of the low — well, who’s to tell the courtier elite of the most powerful state in the history of mankind to not slum it a little? Or, as one of their number will inevitably tweet during “Nerd Prom” itself: #humblebrag.
Most of them have no idea what prom is like as an actual nerd. Prom for nerds is a horrorshow of fixating upon a young lady whom one wishes one was taking to prom, and then never summoning the courage to ask her, because one has never actually spoken with her, ever. And those are the lucky ones: the truly unfortunate do blurt out a request, are shocked to receive an answer in the affirmative, and then endure a tortured evening of sundered togetherness. She wants to dance, he wants to talk about the X-Men: she gets her way with others, he gets his alone.
Actual nerd proms are sad and pitiable affairs, a million splinters of lonely, frustrated, and dejected young hearts who spend the best evening of their teen years screaming Kraftwerk lyrics through hot tears as they drive home, alone, tuxedos not even slightly mussed, virtue not even vaguely disturbed, consumed with loathing and regret at knowing they know not what they’ve missed.
Maybe freshman year at Hampshire will be better, they tell themselves. Maybe I’ll start an election projection website.
This suffering, this trauma, this epic of degradation is a nerd’s prom. “Nerd Prom” is the cultural appropriation of the experience of the powerless by the powerful, not unlike Miley Cyrus’s appropriation of urban African-American culture, but without her sense of propriety, dignity, respect, humility, and restraint. And by God, they’re going to ride that wrecking ball you paid for through every traditional American institution they can find.
“Nerd Prom” consists partly of the same people who made the nerd’s life a nightmare passage through the teenage odyssey; and it is partly the turncoats who abandoned the nerd’s milieu for the table-scraps of popularity once standards relaxed upon entry into the adult world. And it is all exactly the sort of thing where actual nerds with valuable, economy-building skills and abilities are decidedly unwelcome.
But therein is the silver lining. The nerds who flunked at real prom were the genuine outcasts, through happenstance and their own fault. They were a despised minority, powerless and irrelevant in how much they cared about the oeuvre of Chris Claremont, Rob Liefeld, Gary Gygax, and Gene Roddenberry.
And the excluded class of “Nerd Prom”? Well. They’re powerless and irrelevant — or so the attendees at “Nerd Prom” think — in how much they care about the stuff of real American life, about democratic self-governance, about real policy and real consequences, about the dinner table, about their children, about their families, and about everything a grand court and courtiers do not. They may be despised, but something happened to the outré class between high school and adulthood: they went from minority to majority. And at some point, they’re going to realize it.