- A person considered to be socially awkward, boring, unstylish, etc.
- An intelligent but single-minded person obsessed with a nonsocial hobby or pursuit.
I know, clichéd to start with a dictionary definition (courtesy of dictionary.com), but it gets a point across. As a society it has been engrained into our minds that “nerds” are the weirdos who don’t have many friends and play Dungeons & Dragons on the weekends. We don’t like to label ourselves as nerds, as this stigma attaches to us and will automatically be demoted on the social ladder. Yet we surround ourselves with nerd culture everyday through TV shows and movies.
After reading “Why the Geek Community Hates ‘The Big Bang Theory” it got me thinking about nerd culture and how the media has shaped it. The article suggests that this specific phenomenon is only for a select group of people: nerds. The Big Bang Theory doesn’t portray authentic nerd culture. It makes nerds the butt of their jokes and caters the show to the mainstream, so much to the point where the characters have to explain their jokes in order for the general audience to get them.
But it seems like over the past few years the general audience has welcomed nerd culture with open arms. I argue that there has been a shift of nerd culture, from a more negative stance to a more positive, upsurge.
Urkel and suspenders and Firefly, oh my!
When you hear the word nerd, you automatically think of an image of a skinny, socially awkward kid who seems extremely intelligent. Society has created this binary of smart or dumb, nerd or jock. You can’t be both. The media—more specifically studio executives—have created these images and mannerisms of what a nerd should be. This idea of culturalism has long shaped our ideas of the “nerd.”
According to blogger Christine Quail, “The nerd is culturally placed in contrast with a more athletic, socially skilled, sexually aware individual—the cool kid or jock, who demonstrates a hegemonic heterosexual masculinity.” I feel like this negative representation really took off during the 80s and 90s. For example, the 90s sitcom Family Matters is probably best known for the nerdy character of Steve Urkel.
He is the epitome of nerd. He’s the annoying neighbor who can never get the pretty girl (Laura) and is socially awkward. He’s mainly there as a character for comedic relief.
In the case of the television show Firefly, it was canceled after one season. The reason: ratings. But the 2002 show was pitted to be a failure before it actually aired thanks to its TV network Fox. According to the show’s producer Chris Buchanan, “Instead of advertising “Firefly” as a space western or a gritty sci-fi show, the promotional campaign suggested that it was a wacky genre comedy— “the most twisted new show on television.” Fox didn’t take the show seriously, which could have reflected the feeling towards nerd culture of the time. Science fiction and nerd culture wasn’t seen to be something of the mainstream. Considering the cult following and multiple TV shows references after its cancellation, it seems like audiences agree that the show was cut too short and if given the chance, it would have become successful.
The rise of the nerd.
I don’t know what changed, but it seems like in today’s society being nerdy is considered cool. Everyone and their mother wishes that they could go to Comic-con or you can’t have a conversation without someone mentioning Netflix’s summer success, Stranger Things (I know I’m guilty of doing that). Nerd culture has become mainstream.
Shows like Community, Futurama, and Jessica Jones are challenging the ways in which we look at science fiction and nerd culture. Out with the Urkel looking characters and in with the more good-looking, yet still socially inept characters. Let’s look at the show Community (which seems to rivals against The Big Bang Theory in terms of fans siding on which show better depicts nerd culture). Many bloggers and Reddit users have argued that The Big Bang Theory is a show that centers its jokes about nerds. And although it continues to profit greatly, many people don’t like the show (i.e. the overuse of laugh track and subtle rape jokes). Community on the other hand (a personal favorite of mine, #sixseasonsandamovie) bases its jokes for nerds. Some jokes will go over the audience’s heads if they don’t know the original context to which the joke is being referenced to. Community is also special in the sense that it’s meta. The show spoofs different aspects of pop culture and TV (also known as pastiche).
And it’s not just TV shows. Movies based off of comic books are very popular in today’s society. Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and since then has released Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 (which became the highest grossing film in North America, raking in $764.4 million) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set to be released this December. And don’t get me started with Marvel Studios. They just released Doctor Stranger and are set to produce Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, and Captain Marvel (just to name a few) within the next 4 years. Nerd culture is finding a permanent home on the silver screen and TV screen.
Nerds rule and jocks drool?
It seems that contrary to what “Why the Geek Community Hates ‘The Big Bang Theory” is trying to argue, nerd culture isn’t just for a select community. And yes, I would agree that The Big Bang Theory isn’t funny and treats nerd culture poorly, but there are a plethora of other TV shows and films that are positively placing nerds in the spotlight. I don’t think it would be right for me to say that as a culture we’re slowly moving from the traditional stereotype of nerds that was created by a bunch of old, white studio. I do think that we are becoming more accepting of nerd culture and that’s pretty rad. Power to the nerds!
*If you didn’t catch it, the featured image is of Nerds candy….punny eh!
9 Ways Firefly Has Infiltrated Pop Culture [List]. (2012). Retrieved November 13, 2016, from http://www.thegeektwins.com/2012/06/9-ways-firefly-has-infiltrated-pop.html#.WCkMqXeZP6Y
CNN. (2014). The geek revolution has begun. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdmfS0WDiM4
Gilos, R. K. (2016). Marvel Studio Releases List of Upcoming Movies; ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy 2’, ‘Spiderman’, ‘Thor’, & ‘Infinity War’ On The List. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from http://www.newseveryday.com/articles/53071/20161111/marvel-studio-releases-list-of-upcoming-movies-guardians-of-the-galaxy-2-spiderman-thor-infinity-war-on-the-list.htm
Krantz, M., Snider, M., Della Cava, M., & Alexander, B. (2012). Disney buys Lucasfilm for $4 billion. USA Today. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2012/10/30/disney-star-wars-lucasfilm/1669739/
Lubin, G. (2014). It’s Amazing How Badly Fox Screwed Up Joss Whedon’s ‘Firefly.’ Retrieved November 13, 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com/fox-screwed-up-firefly-2014-9
McClintock, P. (2016). Box Office: ‘Star Wars: Force Awakens’ Tops ‘Avatar’ to Become No. 1 Film of All Time in North America. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/box-office-star-wars-force-852274
Nerd. In dictionary.com. Retrieved from http://www.dictionary.com/browse/nerd
Overview of Postmodern Television. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2016, from http://www.onpostmodernism.com/television
PBS Idea Channel. (2013). Is Community A Postmodern Masterpiece? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YanhEVEgkYI
Quail, C. (2009). Hip to be Square: Nerds in Media Culture. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from https://www.flowjournal.org/2009/02/hip-to-be-square-nerds-in-media-culture-christine-quail-mcmaster-university/
The Big Bang Theory is a show about smart people for dumb people; Community is a show about dumb people for smart people. (2015). Retrieved November 12, 2016 from https://www.reddit.com/r/community/comments/35mug3/the_big_bang_theory_is_a_show_about_smart_people/
Woo, M. (2016). Why the Geek Community Hates “The Big Bang Theory” [Web log post]. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from https://redditblog.com/2016/02/24/why-the-geek-community-hates-the-big-bang-theory/