This week there was an article on Slashdot entitled Fond Memories of Nerd Camp. The referenced article is written by someone who went to a CTY summer program sponsored by Johns Hopkins. I took special interest in this article because, back in the day, I was actually invited to this selfsame program (such as it was back then) and did not go. I recall my Mom asking me very seriously if I wanted to go, and I said no. I think she was thankful, because my folks did not have the thousands of dollars it would have taken to send me. I read the brochure and saw all this stuff about academic enrichment and good opportunities and blah blah. Even at 13, I was able to decode that into: "spend three weeks of your summer getting your ass kicked in advanced math classes all day long by hypercompetitive Asians who are not only younger than you, but who were doing calculus in the womb. Then, when you get back, retake those same classes later with everybody else." Reading the brochure, I did not see this as a "social" or "camp" experience, but apparently it was (and has been) that for many kids. One thing that has developed is a large and ridiculously complex set of traditions, mostly cataloged here (yes, as nerds, they catalog all their camp traditions on a wiki). Interestingly, nearly nothing the kids write about the camp there (or elsewhere) seems to have anything to do with academics, which I find surprising since they are in class or studying something like 9 hours a day, five days a week. They might do better to just cut out the classes entirely. I am ABSOLUTELY FASCINATED by ersatz cultures, so I decided to research this world that I came so close to being a part of. I will ramble at length about my research findings under the spoiler, but I will not belabor this for those of you who just want to get right to the FOCUS. Spoiler My research has revealed to me that, at nerd camp, traditions are taken as seriously as nerds can take anything. The campers that really, really love this shit call themselves "traditionalists" and form their own traditionalist groups which are in charge of creating and promulgating traditions from year to year and session to session. One such group is The Alcove, which was named after an alcove where the group met in one of the dining halls. However, the hall has been remodeled several times, and the group has occasionally been required to meet near other unremarkable features of the dining hall. Other location-based groups have formed, namely "Teh (sic) Corner" (named after a particular table in the corner) and "The Booth" (named after a booth across from Teh Corner). I note with some wry amusement that I have observed this behavior (taking little mundane details of one's environment and inflating their importance greatly or taking group 'ownership' of them) in only two groups: CTY campers and prisoners. The camp now goes on at many sites around the U.S., and some sites are more tradition-bound than others. However, there are a few traditions that seem to be stronger than others. At each dance (which, according to reports, is just as awkward as you might imagine), there is a list of songs that must be played. These are the Canon, divided into the Lower Canon and the Upper Canon. Canon varies by camp site, and different sessions have different Canons. Certain songs have behaviors, dances, or callbacks associated with particular parts of them. Occasionally, songs are voted out of and into the Canon. A recent addition to one Canon was the Dr. Mario Dance, shown here as done by its proud inventor. American Pie, with extensive callbacks and behaviors (see here for a video example), caps off nearly every Canon, which shows that at least someone has some taste. However, Session 1 at the Skidmore site sneaks in I'll Make a Man Out Of You from Mulan afterwards for reasons that are too complex to explain to non-nerds. During Mandatory Fun (yes, they have this), one popular activity is having a Grass Orgy, where a large group of campers of both sexes lay on the grass, with one camper's head resting on another's stomach. On this matter, I will say only...um, yeah. In the early morning of the last day, the campers gather for a good-bye ritual known as Passionfruit or "The Passionfruit" which, as best I can tell, is mostly a bunch of sappy and faux-clever toasts with plastic cups of sickly-sweet fruit drinks that nobody in their right mind would consume voluntarily like Fuze. Anyway, all this is horrifying and interesting to me at the same time. My only camp experience was at sixth-grade "outdoor science camp" which was held up in the mountains for a week and was mostly harmless. At outdoor science camp, the first thing they did, practically before you even got off the bus, was start teaching everyone stupid songs and dances. I realize now that it's all a sort of weak mind-control meant to increase the rapidity of ingroup bonding. FOCUS: In the organizations you belong to now, or (especially) did as a kid, what role did these sorts of traditions play? What were some of your favorite? What were some of your least favorite? Did traditions and memes that seemed awesome and hilarious while you were involved in the organization seem cringeworthy afterward?