The Woes of Nerd Culture: Attitudes and Misrepresentation

Being a nerd is awesome. You get lost in fascinating facts or fiction that would be considered merely trivial to others. But it’s fun to get invested in something you like, whether it be media like Star Wars, Game of Thrones or something more academic like history or science. However, being a member of this culture can be quite strenuous for a number of reasons, the main one being how this culture is perceived and represented through media.

When someone thinks of a nerd, usually the first connotations that spring to mind are socially awkward people who are unsuccessful in all fields other than the focus of their nerdiness. The word nerd strangely enough came from a Dr. Seuss book (If I Ran the Zoo) but it became popularised in western culture from the 60s onwards, eventually taking on the above connotations. Since then we’ve seen literally hundreds of examples of nerds in fictional media.

However the problem is the way nerd culture is often portrayed. Nine times out of ten the culture shown is one of social ineptitude. It’s redundant to call that a stereotype but it’s when the nerd’s only characteristics are the fact that they’re socially lacking is when it gets annoying. Identities aren’t limited solely to an individual trait and the same rule applies to nerd culture. You can adore Star Trek but also be good at sport. You can love partying but still occasionally play Pokémon. Nerds come in all forms and aren’t inherently shy or awkward. Hermione Granger is bookish but is also courageous and caring. Peter Parker is academic but can also be a cocky show-off. These are examples of nerds done right. However, too often we see nerdy characters reduced to one dimensional personas and it’s incredibly irritating.

What’s even worse is when media tries to use one’s nerdiness as an excuse. There’s this disturbing mentality in media that someone can bully or victimise friends and strangers or, in more extreme cases, act racist, homophobic or misogynistic, and because they are nerdy and were likely victimised themselves then they get a free pass. The Big Bang Theory in particular is astonishingly guilty of this. There’s a fantastic video on YouTube titled ‘The Adorkable Misogyny’ that dissects exactly why this ideology is broken, with Big Bang Theory as the case study. Essentially, being a nerd becomes a scapegoat for immoral, nasty attitudes and behaviour which is fundamentally wrong. No matter what you identify as, it’s not an excuse for being horrible to others, even for the sake of comedy, and seeing so many examples of this shows just how poorly nerd culture is being represented.

But, to be brutally honest, we nerds don’t exactly make it easy on ourselves. Nerds continue to be shown in these ways partially because of our own behaviour as well as assumed stereotypes. Many of you will have seen those recent videos of Rick and Morty fans swarming McDonalds and throwing overblown tantrums because they ran out of or didn’t have Szechuan Sauce. They are disgusting displays of entitlement but they are not the only case of this. Virtually everywhere you look on the internet, comment sections for anything even marginally nerdy like trailers or shows are flooded with vindictive arguments between people trying to make their opinion look like the supreme one, whether it involves Christopher Nolan fans, RWBY shippers or quarrelling over whether Force Awakens sucked or not. If your opinion differs even remotely you get treated like scum due to some misplaced sense of superiority. It’s a toxic side to nerd culture and sadly, because their voices are usually the loudest, it tends to be the only side of nerd culture an outsider sees, when it honestly isn’t like that. Most of us are decent, ordinary people.

So, what’s to be done? For nerd culture to be better represented there needs to be improvement from both parties. Writers need to do more to craft nerdy characters as real people rather than make the assigned stereotype their entire identity. It makes for more interesting characters. Simultaneously, those who embrace the nerd culture have to be more open minded and less malicious to those who disagree with whatever nerdy belief they have, whether it’s media or academia. It’ll make seeing more of these archetypes less likely. Being a nerd is fun and you shouldn’t have to be sorry for enjoying the things you enjoy. Be proud of your inner nerd – just please don’t be a dick about it.

[Calum Cooper – @calumthefilmguy]

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