Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I'll Be Whatever I Wanna Do

I kind of miss when geek culture was the outlier.  Being a nerd was supposed to be denigrating.  These used to be derogatory terms.  We hushedly reappropriated every slander thrown at us.  And in our campaign to become comfortable with ourselves we made everybody else comfortable with us, too.

We enjoy graph jokes
That said, I am a fan of geek chic.  I like that my point of view and my interests are now being represented in popular culture.  But have we become too accepted?  When I bring up, in passing conversation, that I am a big ol’ nerd almost everybody comments that so are they.  They know exactly where I’m coming from.
That’s my problem with this whole phenomenon.  They don’t.  They haven’t spent years obsessing about pointless minutiae.  They didn’t memorize the arbitrary yet (sometimes) steadfast rules of fictional universes.  They never got in a fight because someone thought they were weird for liking Pokemon at fifteen.  They’ve only now discovered the joy of geekhood.

It is a good thing.  Everybody should share in our culture.  It’s fun and it’s humorous and it makes you feel better about life.  But it’s also been taken advantage of and fetishized.  In ways that, as I see it, aren’t for the better.

The Big Bang Theory, for instance, is one of the single most insulting shows to all of geekdom.  It is a show born of market testing.  They studied demographics, sliced and diced us up and took our habits and our interests while completely disregarding our natures.  What else can be expected from the creators of Two and a Half Men?

Being a nerd and watching the Big Bang Theory is like being black and watching the House of Payne, or pretty much anything Tyler Perry does.  Sure, you can take a gander across the pond and bask in the brilliance that is the IT Crowd.  It is a very fair representation, though granted a very over the top and absurd one, of nerdhood.  Pretty much any nerd can claim themselves to be either a Moss or a Roy.  But that hasn’t had nearly the level of financial and popular success that Big Bang Theory has.

Zooey Deschanell’s entire career is another good example of the dangers of geek popularization.  She’s created a persona for nerds all around the world to lust after.  She’s taken the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype and added nerd.  It isn’t an honest portrayal of nerd, it’s really just more of the same, but also she wears gawky glasses sometimes and is annoyingly awkward.

Zooey Deshanell's real life equivalent

Not that I don’t enjoy her work, it’s just another example of how someone took a traditional product, slathered a thin veneer of nerd over it and sold it to the masses.  This is how nerdiness has become fetishized.  Being completely socially unaware used to be an ostracizable offense.  It didn’t used to be okay to be completely miserable at interacting with people.  Now it’s considered cute.  Sexy, even.

Which would be great for me if I hadn’t spent years working on my social skills to the point where I now excel at social interaction.  Now that I’m not awkward anymore awkward is in.  And therein lies the issue.  When we were kids, hell, even just a few years ago, being a nerd was like belonging to our own little not-so-secret society and our crummy lives had been the hazing ritual.  We were inductees.  Now everyone’s a member.  And these new folks never paid the toll.

The popularization of geek culture is a good thing.  The benefits to culture and society outweigh these minor frustrations.  It’s nice that I can have an in depth discussion about Futurama or quantum entanglement with a random stranger at a bar and feel accepted, even appreciated, and receive some genuinely insightful input.  I guess I just feel that the real geeks out there deserve a little more credit.  We were here a long time before you all realized how fun science and superheroes and cartoons could be.  Not to sound like some annoying hipster,  but we were weird before it was cool to be weird.  I just don’t want that to be forgotten.

And as a point of fact I’m totally a Roy.