By Kanika Kalra
When you think of the word “nerd” what’s the image that comes to your mind?
In popular media, a stereotypical nerd has very large glasses, braces, and severe acne. He will also be physically unfit, either overweight or skinny due to lack of physical activity.
Exhibit A: the 1984 movie Revenge of the Nerds. But that was more than three decades ago.
In 2007, we got The Big Bang Theory. These nerds were defined by their social ineptitude, high IQs, and an obsession with science-fiction and fantasy. And they were still not interested in outdoor activities.
For many years since its inception, “nerd” was a derogatory term used to bully the unpopular kids. People were afraid of being branded as nerds because to be a nerd meant being mocked and being excluded from social activities.
Today, however, “nerd” has a new meaning entirely. Nerds are simply people who are really, obsessively passionate about something.
You could be a science nerd, an art nerd, a history nerd, a video game nerd, a book nerd, a theatre nerd – anything! The word has shed all the negative connotations that were previously attached to it.
The tide has turned to the extent that today, people are claiming “nerd” as something to be proud of.
Comic book conventions that used to be a niche arena for the geeky kids have now become popular social gatherings. Today, everyone wants to go to San Diego Comic Con, but would settle for the local one.
Moreover, the popularity of the TV adaptation of Game of Thrones means that being obsessed with dragons is now totally normal. It’s not just that nerdy genres like science fiction and fantasy have seeped into the mainstream; being socially awkward is also being accepted as a charming trait nowadays.
With the popularity of You Tubers like Dan Howell, Phil Lester, and PewDiePie, being a socially inept nerd is now considered a cute personality trait.
Why Have The Tables Turned?
One of the reasons is technology. When “nerd” began being used as an insult, it was meant for kids who kept playing with their gadgets, could write computer programs, and were up-to-date with their tech facts.
Today, technology has become a mundane everyday utility. Since it has become such an integral part of our daily existence, we want to know more about it.
And this information is so easily accessible that anyone can root their smartphone today, and repairing your laptop is just a matter of learning from a YouTube video.
Similarly, another signifier of nerd status — knowing obscure facts about favourite subjects — has lost its currency.
The total number of Game of Thrones characters or the name of a constellation is only a Wikipedia entry away. From gadgets to social networks to video games, the decision not to embrace the newest technology is a choice to be left out of the mainstream.
Being nerdy is not something that makes you different. In fact, it is something that is inherently human – everyone’s nerdy about something – it is just that people are only now beginning to accept it.
There was a time when being a nerd meant being inferior in the social hierarchy. Jocks, those who were good at sport, or other socially successful groups, usually ended up winning.
But after undergoing three decades of social re-appropriation, the term “nerd” today applies to the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg – people whose imagination and grasp of the technical made them billions. This process of re-appropriation is common in our society.
Take, for example, the way many gay people have altered the meaning of the word “queer”.
It’s like many terms that were originally intended to offend, the team that was offended took it as its own as a badge of honour.
Is The Change Good Or Bad?
I believe this change is for the better, and it is here to stay. Because of this re-appropriation, people feel more comfortable expressing their enthusiasm over the things they are passionate about. The culture they love so deeply is finally getting the attention and acceptance it deserves.
But ever since this term has turned into a title to take pride in, the concept of “real” and “fake” nerds has emerged. It’s as if there are certain standards to be met – you are not a real nerd unless you watch a particular show or know every single detail about the latest smartphone in the market. Older nerds warn against the community turning inward with a “nerd pride” or “revenge of the nerds” attitude.
Sometimes, when something you love deeply becomes mainstream, you tend to feel as though it is losing its value and being cheapened by the masses. Trust me, I understand the feeling. But this attitude is demeaning, and can make the community steadily more homogeneous and exclusionary. There’s no club; there are just a lot of people who are excited about thinking, learning, joking and sometimes over-analysing things. The world maybe isn’t getting smarter, but it is trying to. And who are we to stop someone from trying?
Image Credits: Google, Pinterest
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