It’s 2014. You know what a nerd is. Even with the days of floppy disks and pocket protectors long behind us, the stereotype persists: nerds are “supposed” to be dorks with a pocket protector and a comic book. So, now that we’re all on the same page, why do first person shooters constitute such a large chunk of the video game market? Why is television getting gorier? Why, For Pete’s sake why, does Thinkgeek.com have a department entirely devoted to the sale of “knifes, swords, and axes”? When and how did nerds develop this bloodthirstiness? Let’s have a look.
If you ask the media, it’s a moral panic. The internet is filled with plenty of diatribes concerning the “moral decay” that hyperviolent media allegedly instills in American youth- but as often as this is read as a new and troubling trend, it could merely be chalked up to the legacies of Scorcese and Tarantino (and besides, crime rates are generally falling). On the flipside, some would argue that the nerdy passion for armament is a logical endpoint of nerd culture’s infatuation with masculinity. Today’s Swanson-esque love of all things bearded and bacon-bit almost suggests a traditionalist backlash toward evolving societal roles. Finally, many critics feel that this is merely symptomatic of broader societal trends. The stock market is down and ratings for Doomsday Preppers are up! This movement towards guns could merely be a reflection of the pragmatism and pessimism of the American public at large.
Now, on the other hand, every high school cliché under the sun implies that this is a Revenge of the Nerds scenario; an individualist victimization complex fostered by years of jock ridicule and Dungeons & Dragons. Yet, this flies in the face of common sense: because if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that nerd-dom is no longer an underground counterculture. As Patton Oswalt stated in a Wired.com op-ed, “the topsoil [of geek culture] has been scraped away, forever . . . . It’s been dug up, thrown into the air, and allowed to rain down and coat everyone in a thin gray-brown mist called the Internet”. For better or worse, we live in the era of GeekSquad and Nerdfighter. Heck, Aaron Paul is starring in a movie based on a video game and The Big Bang Theory draws in millions of viewers!
There’s a lot of good in this. It’s undoubtedly encouraging to see intellectualism accepted and widely encouraged in American society (just as it’s encouraging to see Hollywood retiring the archaic notion that bookishness and literacy are mutually exclusive with having a life). As nerdiness enters the mainstream, antiquated notions of exclusivity and elitism are slowly fading away, enabling more people to enjoy more good things.
After all, it’s 2014, and nerdiness isn’t about brandishing the scarlet letter of 1337-cred and awkwardness- it’s about celebrating what matters. To quote Esquire’s Matthew Kitchen, nerdiness is “simply the inclination to obsess about [things] in the first place, regardless of the trends. The impulse to own and organize every single issue of The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t any different than the impulse to do the same with Lou Reed LPs, except that Lou Reed has always been considered cool”. This seems to leave only one conclusion- that as greater numbers of Americans associate as nerds, they bring the majority’s ethical failings with them.
Most nerds seem to think that violence is not an issue–and I agree that media violence is a symptom of social strife, not a cause. However, we are post-Trayvon Martin, we are post-Sandy Hook, and stubbornly refusing to have a discussion won’t get us anywhere. As nerdy facets of pop culture become more popular, they should be subject to the same criticism that traditional high art receives (to put that otherwise, “cause it’s a comic” or “’cause it’s fun” can not cut it anymore). Racism, homophobia, and sexism remain disproportionately prevalent amongst nerd communities- so, violence isn’t the only issue that nerd society continues to struggle with. There are plenty of problematic elements to owe up to.
As the author, I have no intent of making a conclusive statement on controversial topics such as gun control, censorship, etc. But, here’s my two cents: as a consumer, you should support culture that moves us forward. Try playing a game about flowers sometime. And, if you feel that your beliefs are underrepresented, if you feel that there’s nothing out there worth supporting, then keep with the DIY ethos of nerd culture and produce something yourself. The 21st century is a wonderful time for intellectuals, for geeks, for enthusiasts, and for fanboys and fangirls of every kit and caboodle to thrive. Let’s make sure that this is what counts.