Anghus Houvouras on the sad co-opting of geek culture…
Growing up, I was a nerd. An actual nerd. A computer loving, socially awkward small-for-my-age video game addict who struggled to fit it. This was back in the 1980’s when the computers were Commodore 64s and the video games were Atari. If I was a character in Revenge of the Nerds, I would have been Gilbert. Who am I kidding. I didn’t have an ounce of Anthony Edwards charisma. I was probably more akin to Lewis. Hold up. Lewis got the girl in the end, which rules out that comparison. I was never good at math and my grades weren’t good, so I guess that made me Booger.
At some point during the 21st Century, the words ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ migrated from social stigma to a badge of honor. I see so many people proudly referring to themselves as geeks. You would think that this societal transformation and mass adoption of geek culture would be a point of pride, but I struggle to identify with some of these popular online presences who use the word ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ with a smile on their pretty, picture perfect faces.
To go back to the Revenge of the Nerds analogy: I see all these Ted McGinley looking mofos calling themselves ‘nerd’ and it starts the bile churning. For example, let’s take a look at Evan Puschak aka The Nerdwriter:
Evan hosts a popular YouTube channel featuring video essays. He creates some interesting content and is skilled as a narrator, but on what planet does the person in the above photo get to call themselves a nerd with any sense of legitimacy.
Evan, you seem like a good guy. But let me clue you in on something: You’re not a nerd. You’re a charming Adonis. Calling yourself a nerd is a slight to every awkward, verbally challenged kid who was regularly tortured by their classmates. To see Evan refer to himself as a ‘nerd’ feels like the social equivalent of hearing a Neo Nazi refer to himself as a ‘Cultural Relations Expert’.
Then you have people like John Flickinger, another popular YouTube personality. Check out that photo. Does that look like the person that would have been on the giving end or receiving end of a swirly in high school? Oh, I’m sorry. He’s wearing a Flash T-Shirt, so OBVIOUSLY he’s a geek.
Look, I don’t know John, Evan, or any of the beautiful people who talk endlessly about pop culture while promoting Loot Crate wearing a distressed Star Wars T-Shirt. There could be perfectly nice people behind those pretty coifs and statuesque builds. But they’re not nerds.
Yes. it’s petty. Yes, I’m making a number of conclusions based on shallow observations, but being a nerd used to be something you earned. It was a right of passage. Hearing someone call you a ‘nerd’ back in the day didn’t make you feel good. But eventually you became comfortable with the idea as part of your identity. Much like Gilbert in the final scene of Revenge of the Nerds, you realize that what makes you different isn’t a liability but an asset. You become proud of being a nerd.
The problem with out modern pop culture: everyone thinks they’re a nerd.
Let’s clear a few things up right now.
1. Liking Star Wars doesn’t make you a geek or a nerd.
This is the biggest scoop of sand in my ass crack. I’m not sure when exactly Star Wars became associated with nerddom. It was the biggest freakin’ movie in the world when it came out. Everybody saw Star Wars. Most everybody saw it more than once. It was a four quadrant mega-hit and a cultural lynch pin. And yet, we have all these people who have come to believe that Star Wars is some kind of geek gateway drug. Liking Star Wars doesn’t make you a geek. It makes you a person born after the last half of the 20th century.
You know what made you a nerd back then: liking Tron, Krull, Dune, or Dragonslayer. Asking your parents to take you to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture and still thinking it was awesome in spite of how painfully boring it was.
Star Wars fandom doesn’t make you a geek. It’s the most popular example of a genre beloved by generations of film fans. Liking Star Wars is not something that makes you different.
2. Liking video games does not make you a geek or a nerd
Here’s another popular geek trope that has never been true. Video games were massively popular since arcades began to roll out. Everyone had a Nintendo and has played Mario Bros. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that has fans of all ages, makes, races, colors, and nationalities.
If you spent your lunch break trying to code a game on your school’s Apple IIc, you can proudly call yourself a nerd. If you skipped school dances because you wanted to beat Ultima, you could call yourself a nerd. Just playing video games makes you the majority of human beings on planet Earth.
3. Liking superhero movies does not make you a geek or a nerd
If your only exposure to the world of superheroes is the bi-annual Marvel movie or Netflix offering, you’re not a geek. If you actually read the comic books these stories are based on, you might be.
If you only read Marvel and DC Comics, you’re not a geek. If you regularly read a comic from Image, you might be. If you regularly read titles from Dark Horse, Boom! Studios, Alterna, Titan, or Valiant, you have a lot more credibility. Reading 2000 AD titles automatically qualifies you for legitimate geekery.
Geek culture has become a marketing concept. An idea that can be slapped on a t-shirt or made into a cute vinyl desk ornament. The ownership of nerdom has been co-opted by advertising firms and chachki manufacturers, boiled and reduced to fit in a polyethylene mold. There’s part of me that finds that both sad and insulting.
This was a title me and my friends earned through years of suffering. A word of disgust and scorn that we eventually were able to use proudly after we learned that it could be a point of pride (Thanks Gilbert).
And now it’s a convenient adjective used far too often by people who don’t appear to be geeks or nerds. A generation of fans who use the word but don’t even understand what it represents. The title of ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ was about being different; it was finding a part of your identity in counter-culture. It was about being ostracized for your love of books, games, or hobbies that others saw as unconventional.
Now, everyone claims to be a geek or a nerd which renders those words and the associated identity that goes with it moot. The moment you were able to buy your superhero t-shirts at Wal-Mart instead of the Comic Book shop, the concept of nerdom became irrelevant. Once San Diego Comic-Con became a corporate fueled trade show about NBC’s New Fall Line Up and the latest Young Adult movies, the idea of being a geek no longer exists. When an entire multi-billion dollar culture exists to cater to your every nerdy whim, the idea of being an outsider is rendered obsolete.
If everyone is a geek, then no one is a geek.
For an old school nerd like me, seeing my identity bastardized, homogenized, and adopted incorrectly by so many isn’t a point of pride. It makes me feel like an outsider.
How’s that for irony?