In "The Nerd Voice" from The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell says something like (I'm paraphrasing because I don't have my copy here with me and so can't quote it verbatim, as I prefer to do) that being a nerd--which means caring too much about a particular topic--is the best way to make friends that she knows of.
I have spent the last few days at the Slayage Conference held in Barnesville, Georgia (there's a whole long story as to why it's being held at such an out of the way location, the short version being that a college here offered to host it), indulging in nerdiness, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. I am currently operating on less than five hours of sleep because I stayed up way past my bedtime last night to drink cheap beer and discuss, among other things, whether or not the cruelty of "Hell's Bells," the episode in which Xander jilts Anya at the altar, was necessary or not--I argued that it was really awful in that he not only broke her heart but humiliated her, and someone else argued that it was that extra element that made her reenroll as a vengeance demon, which made all these other plot twists in seasons six and seven possible yada yada yada. The thing is, this was an extracurricular discussion: this was after a full day of organized panel discussions of the Whedonverse. This was a conversation where people took of their shoes and sat on beds and talked informally about text and subtext and so on and so forth in BtVS and Angel and Firefly/Serenity--as well as other things. There was a discussion on Harry Potter, but I'm not really into that and so could add little to it, and as for the Jane Austen hints I dropped, everyone else was content to let them lie on the floor among the bottlecaps and carpet lint.
Vowell is right: being a nerd can be a good thing, and if you find a community of nerds who share your passion, you're probably going to feel at home. Though it's odd what does and doesn't overlap: there are all these people here who love fanfiction, and I find it less compelling than a hangnail. As for Firefly/Serenity, I can state with serenity that I have yet to succumb to its charms. But I also haven't found a single person who shares my passion for nonfiction, and I've met only one Janeite.
Still, it has been great. This is not so nerdy that people dress up like characters or try to stake each other. OK, Friday night we passed out the lyrics to "Once More with Feeling" (BtVS's musical episode, in case you didn't know) and had a singalong, but we don't want to BE anyone in the Whedonverse. Believe it or not, for most of us, it really is a serious intellectual enterprise: why does pop culture matter? Why does THIS pop culture matter? How is narrative constructed in television? How do constraints like an actor's schedule influence things like plot lines? Why do people stay loyal to shows even when they end up with plot arcs everyone hates (the introduction of Dawn and the death of Tara being prime examples)? Joss Whedon is a self-avowed feminist and a devotee of comic books; how does this intersection of interests play out in his work, and what does it tell us about genre studies and about gender?
There are two sessions left, and after that, I get to go back to my hotel, maybe end up at another party and maybe just sleep heavily.... Tomorrow I get to do the air travel thing, which I loathe, but I suppose it beat driving all the way from Pennsylvania to Georgia. Anyway, the main thing is, if you ever get a chance to attend a conference like this, do it! It's part of what makes being a nerd truly worthwhile.