Thursday, September 26, 2013

On the definition of a nerd and the permeation of nerd culture

  What is a nerd exactly in today's world? This a question I think has been floating around a lot now that nerd culture has become essentially mainstream. I've given this a lot of thought lately (as well as to the concept of a "nerd girl" and "love among nerds," but more on that in a later post). There is also this idea among some of the more old school nerds that the "new nerd" culture is kind of bullshit, I'm not sure if I entirely agree with this idea. I think what it ultimately comes down is the idea of feeling like the "other."
   It used to be that when you were a so-called "geek" or "nerd" it was a title of derision by people who were the popular kids. For a long time too, and not to get too heady, this was also considered a predominately "white" trait as well. Which is why so many minorities who were also considered nerds were also put down with the stigma of "acting white." So not only were these unfortunate souls outcasts in mainstream culture, but there was an undercurrent of racism running through it as well. They were in effect, double cast as the "other." Homosexuals were also tapped with the "nerd" or "geek" tag as well for a while, if not explicitly then generally grouped into the same "other" category. There was a time when being any of these things would have considered a negative by mainstream society, especially for pre-teens or teens.
  Middle school was generally the time period where the social dynamics started to play out of your favor. In fact most nerd obsessions start in the teen years as a sort of escape from the harsh reality of your days at school. At least that is the way it was for me.
  So what is a "nerd" or "geek" anyway? Well back in the day, generally speaking, even though the terms can and have been used interchangeably, a "nerd" tended to be someone who was really good at academics, and a "geek" was someone who tended to have a vast knowledge or some obscure thing or things in pop culture. Nowadays the term "nerd" tends to apply to both groups, and both groups aren't necessarily independent of each other. The word nerd tends to be applied to anyone who has an obsessive or extensive knowledge or something. Like really into the minutiae, and it doesn't even have to be something obscure anymore, though that still exists.
   But what about this so-called "otherness"? Does it still exist in today's world? And now that being a "nerd" and "geek" are points of pride, and so many people claiming nerdiness, who are the real nerds in today's world? Can someone rightfully claim to be say, a "sports nerd"?
   I swear when I started to write this I thought I knew the answers to these questions. And that was like a month ago. Now I'm not even sure what the words are supposed to mean. I mean I see myself as a nerd, I know I have a lot of friends who consider themselves likewise, but as far a what it means in culture at large? I think the way we use terms to define things like "nerd" has become so fluid that the word itself, like so many other words, does not mean anything on its own. The only meaning comes from the context in which it is used.
  I know I like to a certain extent the way nerd culture as become more accepted. I also know that I don't necessarily like the way certain aspects of nerdom have been appropriated to make money. I also know that in spite of our "otherness" nerds are some of the most judgmental people I know. So I'm throwing it to you folk. What is a nerd?

1 comment:

  1. I am sure if you asked a current middle schooler they would still say that "nerd" is an insult. I think these words are points of pride to grownups, who have matured and understand that those labels are silly and no longer care so much about fitting in. Or more importantly, they now have the self confidence to own their quirkiness rather than be embarrassed by it.