Saturday, January 19, 2013

Nerd is Cool...For Now.

Cringe! Exhibit A of "psuedo nerds"
Many people will tell you this whole current trend of nerd being the "new black" started when the Big Bang Theory became popular. I disagree. I saw the ripples forming  at the turn of the century.

It was July something 2000 when I saw Bryan Singer's X-Men film (I saw it a couple of weeks late because I had to read the novelization first.Typical). I'll never forget how impressed the younger me felt walking out of that theater. It wasn't what I was expecting and by the reviews I could tell it wasn't what anyone else was expecting. It was cool. It took the spandex and superpowers and made them stylish and grounded, sure there was a bit of a corny factor but it wasn't cringe inducing. It was a good movie, geeks were happy - and get this - the normies were talking about it too! The chunky kid that used to steal my cool pencils and milk money was talking about Wolverine!

Since then I watched closely and saw tides rising. More superhero movies followed, Harry Potter made reading cool for all age groups, Peter Jackson's LOTR was on the horizon and fantasy novels came back to the forefront. People were really becoming interested in the things I've been interested in my whole life, even if it was only for a little while.

Then something even weirder started happening. People were flocking to Comic-Con. Waves of people. As shows like True Blood and Dexter and movies like Twilight (especially Twilight) became popular  people were making a big effort to make it to the cons to see their heroes. Just as nerds have been doing for many years before - only it wasn't something to make fun of anymore. Comic Con was serious business now.

It was the best of times, and the worst of times. It was the golden age of nerd. These people who might have previously laughed at the idea of 20 something year old men and women spending a month or two putting together a costume now found it kind of interesting. They wanted to do it too. They wanted to stay and soak up this nerd culture.

Sure, on both sides there were people who didn't understand the other team. The seasoned nerds didn't fully trust these new converts. The neophytes didn't get why some of the convention veterans weren't embracing the newcomers with open arms. The lack of communication, I believe led to what follows. We're getting to that.

In the meantime something separate but equally important was happening in the gaming community. A powerful wind was blowing as playing video games socially became a big part of American culture for teens and young adults. WoW, CoD, Halo... these games were blowing up due to the social implications they brought with them and it was cool to be a gamer. The Gamer Geek was born.

Why did this become a "thing"? The upper left was serious, the rest were parodies.

Like the Comic-Con example, many of the gamers who felt marginalized, the ones who had previously been shunned for their love of gaming were wary of the noobs. The newcomers wanted to jump right in and be accepted without being tested first, or learning about the ways of the gamer lifestyle. They only knew what they saw in the media since the grognards wouldn't teach, them they fed into the stereotypes. And the cycle continued. The winds continued to howl.

Fast foward. Now The Big Bang Theory comes into the picture. And for the record, I like it. It makes me laugh more than not, and I can relate to many scenarios.

All kinds of people are watching this show. Bazinga! shirts are selling like hotcakes. It blends pop culture with nerd culture, both surface level and sometimes touching upon the more obscure. But at what cost? Many critics blame the Big Bang Theory and Chuck Lorre for perpetuating stereotypes, for making the social awkwardness and nerdy traditions of the four guys the punchline of all the jokes. It makes the viewer who identifies with those characters rather than Penny, by proxy, the one who is being laughed at.

All of these events have helped shape this whole "nerd is cool" thing we're experiencing in the present time, and for the most part I'm enjoying it. I was always one to feel like I didn't fit in wherever I was. I had a lot of nerdy hobbies and I was self-conscious of being judged for them so I always tried to keep my power level suppressed. But now I feel like I can go out wearing a Nightwing shirt and not be judged for it.

 But I fear it's not going to last. I feel the storm coming.

The communication breakdown I mentioned earlier along with the new adopters taking in only the surface level, stereotypical qualities associated with nerdom, but not getting to the deeper essence of it gave rise to the Psuedo-nerd and Geek-Chic. It became a fashion statement and a social thing more than anything. Like in the picture at the top of the post, (a Google search will turn up literally thousands of similar photos) it became more about the irony of seeming to be a nerd than actually enjoying the hobbies of a nerd. Creating a further divide.

Then to add to the trouble we have shows like King of the Nerds. I cringed hard when I watched the trailer and all through the first episode.
Who is the target demo? Nerds or the people who tune in to laugh at them?
This won't be the end of it. More nerdsploitation is on the horizon.

Again, I can't say it's all been bad. It's been great, especially for some talented, deserving authors like George R.R. Martin.Not to mention the success of the Dark Knight Trilogy, the Avengers and all the films that lead up to it. Those films, I think,  wouldn't have worked in another time and place and it's thanks to the nerds, neo-nerds, psuedo-nerds and non-nerds that it happened. But like every fad it will come to an end. The howling winds and the rising tides are forming a Tsunami.

When it hits there will be destruction on both sides. Some people will rise from the wreckage wondering why the heck they bought those oversized non-prescription glasses and suspenders in the first place, while others will slip quietly back into the shadows to enjoy their hobbies in peace.

But after the storm clears I hope for the dawn. One good thing I see is that society is leaning towards tolerance and acceptance more than ever. I hope that when the clouds part being yourself will be the new trend. Being an individual will be fashionable and respectable. There won't be a stigma where people feel like they need to try to become something they're not. Jocks and geeks can coexist.

Maybe I'm hoping for too much.

Only time will tell.

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