Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The importance of reference groups, or, Pon Farr seems like common knowledge to some of us

When I was an undergraduate, I found a t-shirt at the Kirksville, Missouri Salvation Army thrift store featuring a still from Amok Time, the Star Trek: The Original Series episode in which Kirk must fight Spock out of his Vulcan mating frenzy (Pon Farr).  Yeah, there's a reason people keep writing porn about them.  Anyway, I loved that t-shirt.  It was a color I can only describe as "ugly faded brick," but it had Kirk and Spock wrestling on it!  Together with my HighlandBarbarian!Duncan McLeod t-shirt, it occupied a proud, nerdy place in my wardrobe.

I have no idea what happened to it.  I'm pretty sure my sister took my babydoll tee with Hello Kitty and the British flag on it, but who would have wanted my Amok Time t-shirt?  Left with no other explanation, I like to think that it was appropriated by Starfleet officers thrown backwards in time, in need of period camouflage.

I was thinking about it today after a friend sent me a link to a video on Slate about how a recent Dilbert comic thrust Pon Farr into the top Google searches.  I think of Pon Farr on a relatively regular basis.  When I have a particularly vigorous workout, I joke to myself that I have the Pon Farr!  It seems like basic cultural knowledge to me, mainly because I have self-selected into an extremely nerdy friendship group:

chat shot

(Travis and I are also psychically linked, apparently.)

Nerdiness, like so many things, is all about reference group.  Another friend, seeing a car with an IMZADI license plate, could quickly label its owner as a "nerd" because she wouldn't go THAT far (although it then occurred to her that she was at least nerdy enough to understand the reference).  I personally like to compare my alcohol consumption to the Finns and my sexual history to gay men in the 1970s.  I come off very moderate in both respects.

My gold standard for nerdiness is my parents, and they set a pretty high bar.  My father and his high school girlfriend used to write each other notes in Elvish runes that they learned from the appendix in the big red faux leather edition of Lord of the Rings.  I was kind of surprised that he had to Google Pon Farr, but I guess he was never a big Trek person.  There are so many stripes of nerdiness, which is why it would be a mistake to assume any significant overlap between Dilbert readers and people familiar with Pon Farr.  (Personally, I don't particularly think of Dilbert as nerdy, even, though many others seem to disagree.  I guess I would place it a degree or two past Harry Potter, but that's not saying much.)

Of course, the best thing about the video is something that I heretofore did NOT know, being less than totally nerdy: there is a ladies' perfume called Pon Farr available for purchase!  How fortunate that I should discover this with numerous shopping days left before Valentine's Day... and that my spouse is also nerdy enough to know what Pon Farr is.

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