Hip To Be Square: Nerds in Media Culture
Christine Quail / McMaster University

Steve Urkel

Steve Urkel, the Lovable Star Family Matters

From Revenge of the Nerds and Napoleon Dynamite, to Doogie Houser and Steve Urkel, the “nerd” or “geek” in American film and television has been a popular mainstay. Historically, the nerd has been constructed as an awkward, math-savvy, social and sexual failure. In most instances, nerds are assumed and shown to be white and male, with several exceptions, such as as Steve Urkel (played by Jaleel White) in Family Matters, and firmly heterosexual, though his shortcomings are often ridiculed as a sign of sexual weakness and homosexuality1. The nerd is culturally placed in contrast with a more athletic, socially skilled, sexually aware individual—the cool kid or jock, who demonstrates a hegemonic heterosexual masculinity. Such a dichotomy can be called the hip/square dialectic. This dialectic serves to construct both halves—the hipster and the square or nerd; without its counterpart, each looses its meaning. Thomas Frank2 argues that the 1960’s culture war’s hip/square relationship resulted in the co-opting of hip or cool in order to diffuse its potential transgressive political power, and transform hip into a consumer commodity.

We can witness the hip/square dialectic across television and film history in two ways: 1) the odd-couple narrative of the square and his/her friendship with a hipster (such as Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis); and 2) the antagonistic narrative of a square and his/her hip/cool competitor, the jock or popular kid (à la Revenge of the Nerds). However, in recent years, attempts have been made to cast geeks in a new light: “geek chic” and “technosexual” are labels that have been used to celebrate nerd identity. Marketers have capitalized on this discourse in order to sell techno-this and cyber-that. In essence, the popular discourse suggests that nerd is the new “cool”—that there has been a subversion of the hip/square dialectic.

Gillis and Krebs

Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs

Take the character of Seth Cohen (played by Adam Brody) on the hit youth television series The O.C. Cohen played the square to Ryan Atwood’s (played by Benjamin McKenzie) hipster in affluent Orange County, Calfornia. The show portrayed Seth as a geeky teen, but one who gains popularity as well as an attractive, popular girlfriend. In a Joel Stein interview with Brody, the two attempt to reframe the character’s nerd persona:

“Comic books aren’t nerdy. You’d have to be an idiot to think computers are nerdy. The nerd now is the Bush Administration-supporting, anti-intellectual dumb ass,” comments Adam Brody.

Whether that’s true or not, it’s clear the once desirable macho-jock type hasn’t got such pull. There’s a reason the Rock and Vin Diesel haven’t filled the gap left by Schwarzenegger and Stallone: nobody minds the gap. And in a world without heroes, as the movie trailer voice-over guy might say, the slightly awkward can be slightly cool.3

This transposition of nerd as hip, jocks and “anti-intellectual dumb asses” as square, attempts to refigure the concept of “nerd” by repositioning the old nerd as the new hegemony of cool, and by extension, cool masculinity. A similar inversion plays out in Apple’s Mac commercials that place the hipster “Mac guy,” a jeans-and-sneakers-wearing younger guy with a nonchalance that exudes “cool,” at odds with the square “PC Guy,” an older, anxious, pudgy guy in a suit. In this campaign, Mac as hipster/PC as square works to identify Mac with young, tech-savvy culture. Thus, we learn how computer-tech marketers are rebranding cool onto a traditionally nerdy persona. The technology associated with nerds is now seen as hip, as the semiotic codes of nerd have been switched.

PC and Mac

Mac and PC Address their Audience

If we believe Brody and Stein and Mac, then we should see a general cultural embracing of the nerd. However, if we examine a particular reality TV moment, the So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) second-season finale dance by Travis Wall and Benji Schwimmer (2006), we can interrogate another, less celebratory, representation of the nerd and its role in normativizing white patriarchal masculinity in commercial reality TV.

SYTYCD is a reality show where contestants compete to win a dance competition that will award them with a professional job in a top dance company. Throughout each season, the cast of “girls” and “guys” pairs up every week to perform in different dance styles. The lowest scoring dancers are ejected during the week’s second show. Of course, the couples are always male/female partners. However, in the second-season finale, we are treated to a reality TV “twist”—all four dancers must pair up with male and female partners. The two male finalists, Benji Schwimmer and Travis Wall, come to be known collectively as “Tranji.”

Schwimmer and Wall

Dancers Benji Schwimmer and Travis Wall

The two dancers, both white, enter the stage when a school bell rings. Dressed as prototypical “nerds”—shorts, tube socks, strange hats, broken glasses, and very full backpacks–they bumble around stiffly. When the music comes on, however, they look surprised as they “catch” the beat by thrusting their pelvises, as the song “Gyrate” (by Da Muzicianz, featuring Mr. ColliPark) instructs them. They rip off their button-down shirts, lose the glasses, and transform into expert hip hop dancers. At the end of the song, the school bell rings again, and they pick up their backpacks and return to bumbling nerd status.

This “transformation” of the nerd4 reveals the racialized nature of sexuality deployed by the social construct of the nerd. The role of hip hop in this performance is that of a sexualizing force, as the title of the song “Gyrate” suggests. Moreover, the white nerds channel an imagined Black sexuality through the hip hop music and dance, instantly transforming themselves into spectacular attractions, displaying fluid, libidinal movement and cutting-edge dance moves. The awkward physicality of the nerd is lost to the mesmerizing street moves of the newly transformed hip hop wonders. Such a “transformation” reifies the hypersexualization of Black masculinity and “compulsory African American cool”.5 At the same time, we witness the desexualization of the seemingly impotent white nerd. In so doing, this dance also reifies what Vershawn Ashanti Young terms the broader double-bind of Black masculinity: dominant “nigga-gender” and its co-constructed and disavowed opposite, “faggot-gender.”6 Coined by rapper Ice Cube, who says, “real niggas ain’t faggots,” 7 this conundrum is situated around the hegemony of dominant physical heterosexual masculinity, with faggot-gender its intellectual, quieter, non-hegemonic masculinity that when constructed in a homophobic framework, cannot function as a legitimate masculinity.

Simultaneously, the Tranji dance reifies the erasure of Black academic success, as the racial dynamics at play force the denial of the imagined Black nerd. Through both the whiteness of the nerd and the myth of compulsory Black cool, a Black nerd is unable to remain “Black” while taking on nerd qualities. In embracing the “white” nerd culture, he loses cultural capital in Black circles for “acting white.”8 The white nerds return at the end of the skit like Cinderella after the ball, to resume their ostensibly sexless, cerebral lives.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCocfHexMRc[/youtube]

In this performance, humor de-politicizes the racial, sexual dimensions of the dance. In training and out-takes, both dancers play up their goofiness, seemingly in order to deflect the homophobic fear of performing as a same-sex dance couple. Schwimmer twice tells the camera that he’s going to show off his “sweet moves”—a phrase that was popularized by the title nerdy character in megahit film Napoleon Dynamite (2004), which includes its own cult nerd dance sequence. When choreographer Shane Sparks tells the dancers to move closer so their “butts touch,” they roll their eyes and actually move away from each other; when this clip is played for the audience, everyone laughs. Throughout, the audience and judges scream with glee while engrossing themselves in Tranji’s visual and kinesthetic transformation. Is the laughter based on the sheer physical awkwardness of the nerd (glasses, tube socks, heavy backpack, goofy facial expression)—a laughter that comes at the expense of the social outcast, a social outcast that simply does not fit the dominant culture’s ideal of masculinity? Or, is the laughter based on the fact that this is a fantasy—that it is impossible for a “real” white nerd to transform himself into a Black sexual being? Or, more insidiously, is the laughter and glee based on the titillating thrill of the imagined white transformation to Blackness? The desire to appropriate Black culture at will, in order to experience the media-represented notions of Black male sexuality, which is imbued with stereotypes long visible in American culture; a construct of sexuality that devalues and objectifies? In each formulation, we are left with a true appropriation, not a sharing of cultures born out of unity in struggle in Black culture and politics9, and the uneasy racialized hip/square dynamic.

Thus, this performance casts serious doubt on the transformation of the nerd into a hipster, and of the transcendence of the hip/square dialectic, and holds obvious implications for solidifying dangerous discourses of racialized and homophobic masculinities. The hip/square dialectic seems to be toyed with here, as in the other sites mentioned, with the potential to bring counter-hegemonic nerd identity into the fold, whilst never critiquing the dialectic or the oppressive discourses and material realities within which they work.

Image Credits:
1. Steve Urkel, the Lovable Star of Family Matters
2. Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs
3. Mac and PC Address their Audience
4. Dancers Benji Schwimmer and Travis Wall
5. Front Page Image

Please feel free to comment.

NOTES

  1. For a more in-depth analysis of nerd masculinities, see Lori Kendall, “Nerd Nation: Images of Nerds in US Popular Culture,” International Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, p260-283. 1999. []
  2. Frank, Thomas. The Conquest of Cool. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1997. []
  3. Stein, Joel. “Looking for Mr. Adorkable,” Time 169(17), p85. April 23, 2007. []
  4. For a discussion of transformation on reality TV, see L.S. Kim, “Race and…Reality TV,” FlowTV. 1(4). 2004. http://flowjournal.org/?cat=98 []
  5. see Ron Eglash, “Race, Sex, and Nerds,” Social Text 20(2). p49-65. 2002. []
  6. Young, Vershawn Ashanti. Your Average Nigga: Performing Race, Literacy, and Masculinity. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. 2007. []
  7. ibid. p. 60 []
  8. Tyson, K. and W. Darity. “It’s Not a ‘Black thing’: Understanding the Burden of Acting White and Other Dilemmas of High Achievement,” American Sociological Review 70(4) pp. 582-605. 2005. See also Eglash (2007). []
  9. See Bikari Kitwana, Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, and Wannabees. New York: Basic Civitas. 2005. []

29 comments

  • Evidence of the hip/square transformation in our culture is definitely mounting, especially within a media-related context. But what remains to be explored is the role that women play in this dichotomy, and what these changing labels mean to them in terms of gender stereotypes as well as general societal representation. For years, books, film and television have pit the cheerleader against the quiet bookworm, and for years, the cheerleader that has always come out on top. The classic “Sandy makeover” in film Grease exemplifies this point perfectly: forget your innocence and nativity, don a part of leather pants and you’ll find your happy ending. But recently, society offers a different take on the girl with the big glasses and frizzy hair: visible intellect, power and mobility. Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Willow clearly displays this with her ability to perform magic in times of fantastical crisis, as does Lisa Simpson, who proudly declares her love for school and often faces rejection from the popular girls. She offers wisdom and guidance to her family and constantly provides a moral compass for her less than righteous father. But perhaps the most interesting member of this group is 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon. A successful woman who, even as his underling, has effectively gone head to head with the most pig-headed of bosses, serves as a shinning example of the “unlikely hero”. As more women such as these pop up in today’s media, it certainly seems that a continued dialogue will be necessary to discuss this new brand of character, the “Female Nerd” in all of her glory.

  • What’s your take on Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy”? The racial coding vis a vis the hipster/nerd dichotomy is *huge* in both the song and the video.

  • Although I wholeheartedly agree that the hip/square dynamic has been moving and continues to move in new directions, I think there is far more to be teased out of the concept of “hipness” and the “hipster.” If we follow Norman Mailer’s essay on the hipster (associated with tje beat generation) as a White negro, we must acknowledge the important distinction he makes between being “hip” and being a “hipster.” The hip cats were black jazz musicians, hipsters were white intellectuals who hung around jazz clubs and took the same drugs as the real hip musicians. Thus a variety of distinctions emerge, one as I indicated between hip (negro) and hipster (white negro) another hip and square. The primary point I would like to make is that jocks are not hip. To the hip and to the hipster the conventionally cool jock or popular kid is just as square as the right-wing path follower or the chess-club, debate team captain.
    What this further indicates for me is that the axes of hip and square are also multiple. One of them is, as you’ve indicated, something more in line with historical notions of the nerd as someone who is ultra-white and then the hipster as someone successfully incorporates themselves into black culture. I would argue, however, that the hip-square dichotomy at work in cases like Seth Cohen and “Mac” are somewhat different. This notion of hipness turns more on the distinction of subcultural capital like that explored by Sarah Thornton. Both Macs and the indie rock, comic book hipster culture of Seth Cohen, as you say, do not reject nerd culture, they transform it or commodify it and turn it into a form of cultural capital distinct from anything like hiphop culture or the jazz culture which beats incorporated themselves into.
    There may be a useful connection between the two trajectories which move from square to hip, though I’m not sure what it is.

  • Regarding The Rock, I’d say that he was terribly miscast at trying to be an Arnold-style action hero in the first place. It’s why he’s found a much better niche in children’s movies, etc., something to allow his humor to show through. It’s one of those cases where a big guy and former pro wrestler is immediately typecast, despite the fact that musclehead was never what made The Rock excel to stardom in the first place. Despite his cool factor, Rock (or Dwayne Johnson, as he now goes by) has a much bigger nerd factor than that!

  • I agree with how the stereotypical nerd can be transformed into “cool” or hipster because some of the things the typical nerds do can be seen as sensational. It is also interesting to see how the typical white nerd embraces black sexuality through their engagement in the hiphop music and dance culture because this depicts a transformation in the typical, general white culture. By doing so they lose their nerdy image and show that they can be “cool” in that light. It’s also nice knowing how technology is now seen in the sense of “cool” or hip because it’s generally associated with nerds. Due to its attractive high teach appeal, its image with associated with the nerd is changing. It is transforming the traditional boring nerd image into a traditional cool image of the nerd.

  • The commercial about Mac and PC, that this article mentions is a very good illustration of the evolution of the stereotyped nerd. It is agreeable that the “nerd” has transformed from that stereotypical “nerd” that PC represents to the hip “mac”. This transformation can be attributed to the way television portrays the “nerd”. For example in the Mac and PC commercial the Mac industry wants its viewers to identify with the character Mac, while selling a technologically advanced piece of equipment which would “stereotypically” be associated with a “nerd”. Technology’s compression of time space is used for promoting an educated youth simultaneously with consumerism, ousting the stereotyped nerd. It is becoming cool to be informed and possess the newest technology.

  • To me this also seem to have to do with the norms that each era promotes. There always is, in a given society, a “socially acceptable” type of character that tend to be depicted as an ideal.
    Jocks, cheerleaders, action hero and other alpha-males used to represent that norm, both because they reinforced a traditional definition of gender and because they were directly promoting mainstream consumerism (think sports car and pop music). Nerds were rejected and/or mocked by the cultural production of the time as being “loosers”, probably because they represented the exact opposite of this norm. Hence, nerds were intellectuals of undefined gender (thus unable to build a normal nuclear family) that did not seem to consume clothe or other social statu item, ever.
    Today, it is easy to see why advertisers and networks alike are suddenly depicting those former looser as the new paradigm of coolness. First, they now represent the ultimate consumer : they are the quiet and loyal buyers of anything remotely technological, plugged onto the internet in search of the latest upgrades available for computers, cameras, cellphones, netbooks, media player, etc. The amount of technology one owns and uses seems to be the new indicator of social status. And this status is usually high for those post-graduate nerds that are working in high paying jobs that grant them disposable income. They are the perfect target for commercials and the new great norm to identify with.
    Second, it seems to me that while they still aren’t synonymous with traditional family, they have become the last way for networks to show straight white americans on TV without loosing all edginess and coolness. When even Jack Bauer seems dated, nerds are the last chance for TV to keep having an overwhelming number of white, straight heroes on screen.

    I think nerd is the new black, and that everything remotely subversive about this social group is now gone.

  • This reminds me of the black/white binary that we learned about in class. One cannot exist without the other. White cannot exist without black and vice versa. In this case, a nerd cannot exist without a jock. It is nice to see that society is attempting to break the dominant ideology that one needs to be cool. With terms like “geek chic” and “technosexual” I can see how the media is trying to make geeks the desired stereotype. Since geek is almost synonymous with technology, the media is trying to make consumers buy more technology. It is interesting that in the case of geek vs. jock, the dominant ideology can be reversed. I wonder if this would work with other social stereotypes.

  • I think it’s interesting how the hegemony seemingly changes, but is still the same deep down. The whole “nerd” being the new “cool” really translates to the fact that computer technology has just become more of a social norm, so those who are tech-savvy aren’t looked at in as much of a negative light as they used to. Clearly, though, there are still people who are considered “nerds,” but it’s just become a different meaning. It all comes down to the sexualized characteristics, as Quail talked about, with the homophobic ideology being the basis of what’s “nerdy” and what’s “cool.” Being smart and smooth is the new “cool,” whereas awkward and stupid is the new “nerd.” No matter what, society is always going to find some group of people with characteristics that will be looked down upon in a subtle, hegemonic way.

  • With technology itself becoming more and more popular and significant in our daily lives, there’s no surprise that “nerdy” ideas are more accepted. But as mentioned above, there are still stigmas around a “nerd” personality. It feels as though nerd-like knowledge and activities are acceptable, even encouraged, as long as the person has a hip/normal side to them. I’m reminded of many of the characters on NCIS, especially Abby, who are surprisingly in touch with subcultures that are associated with nerds but still work in a Criminal Investigation Service, and it’s because they work together in such an environment that they become tolerable to the audience. The stereotype of the basement-dwelling, cheetoh-munching, custom-PC building nerd is still ostracized by Society, along with anyone that gets dangerously close to that stereotype. Anytime that someone like this appears in media, it is usually as antagonist (South Park: “Make Love, Not Warcraft”) or simply someone to be laughed at (Urkel, The entire cast of “The Big Bang Theory”). The dominant ideology is starting to include nerds, so long as they wear zippered hoodies instead of red suspenders.

  • It is interesting how older shows that were from the Reagan years had the dominant hegemony that nerds were a negative persona and it was better to be the jock or the prototypical cool or popular kid. Now within television the role of the nerd is expanding into a more positive image of people like in The OC when Adam Brody’s character does become popular and he does get the girl in the end, breaking the dominant ideology that all nerds can not be sex images. It also brings up the idea that is it better to be like a nerd, who is portrayed as really smart and kind, while the jock is portrayed as dumb and a jerk. Overall television is beginning to break this hegemony.

  • Old dominant ideologies of nerds were mostly white and male. According to this article, it is hegemonic that there is a binary between nerds and an athletic team member. Athletes need nerds to assert their popularity, while nerds need the approval of athletes to gain popularity. Not all sitcoms show white, male nerds. For example, in the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Carlton is crafted as the nerd while Will is cool and hip. Carlton’s character challenges the belief of white, male nerds by making race present. Will was not the jock stereotype, but he was everything Carlton was not. However, today’s sitcoms seem to embrace nerds like never before. I am a fan of THE O.C., no matter how many people bash the show, it kept me entertained. The way the show shaped Seth, the nerd, in contrast to Ryan Atwood, the strong willed outsider from Chino, helped viewers love Seth and see nerds in a different way. It is still hegemonic because if Ryan had never come to the O.C., Seth would have not been recognized for any of the things he gained as Ryan’s friend.

  • Over time I think people have come to be more accepting of the image of the nerd and people begin to associate it in a more “hip” sense. Nowadays with constant emphasis on these ideologies changing the title has more potential to allow nerds or anything nerd like to be seen in a more counter hegemonic view. However it is interesting how in the past hegemony was present in the view of masculinity through the jock where in reality the jock wouldn’t exist without the nerd, the two go hand in hand and without each other as the article states they loose their meaning. Over the years its evident in the media that the image of the nerd is taking a turn and showing viewers that it is possible for nerds to brake out of their shell and become more social. The article uses the character Seth from the O.C., which was a popular teenage drama show, as a prime example of how this change is occurring. The fact that Seth was able to brake away from his costar the “hipster” character by just playing himself allows for viewers to see that nerds don’t necessarily have to change who they are in order to be accepted. I think its very interesting how the whole idea of nerds is transitioning, such as with the mac commercials, presenting the nerds as hip and the jocks as the square replacing the old nerd as the new hegemony of cool or “cool masculinity”. Its fun and interesting how different time periods have different ways of looking at ideological views of common characters such as the nerd and I feel the mac commercials play a huge part in that because of the fact that their computer sales, especially among the younger ratio, is increasing.

  • While reading this article I found it interesting how the role of nerds has been changing in a period of time in the media industry. In the Reagan era nerds were portrayed on the television with the hegemony that in regards to popular opinion they were always considered losers and just a plain embarrassment, and it was better to be the jock or cool person. At this point in time nerds are now seen with a different perspective due to how television has decided to make them be seen. Television has changed nerd’s appearance to a more positive one, making them appear as the more successful ones due to association with the popular people. A good example would be Seth from the OC, being a nerd he still becomes popular, but only due to association, by having a popular girlfriend as well as a popular best friend. Now nerds are seen as the new cool, which explores the different phases that television has gone through in order to sustain an audience. Similar to the black/white binary that has been seen throughout many shows that represent how white cannot subsist without black, nerds also cannot subsist without the popular crowd. I also found it interesting how media is promoting technology by using these nerd stereotypes that are evolving into something completely different from before. Technology is now being seen as cool because technology use has been associated with nerds. Perhaps the most unique and funny point, is the theory presented that nerds overcome their roles by trying to embrace a dominant Black male sexuality persona.

  • Your article does a great job of summarizing the transformation, or may I say, the rise of the “nerd.” The most important point I grasped out of this article revolved around the idea of technology and its importance in nerd dominance. From what I understand, the idea of the nerd stems from a technologically inferior time. As soon as technology became important and popular, nerds became just a tagline and not a true source of identity. Since we are so dependent on nerds to help us with our daily lives the stereotypical vision becomes altered and less inclined to be seen in a negative light. In regards to the portion of the article dealing with Apple Commercials , I felt that there was another issue that may be overlooked. To me, the marketing seems somewhat subversive, in that the commercials are funny and entertaining, but they don’t really speak the absolute truth. Most PC users aren’t truly “nerds” or look like the Apple representation of a pc. It does without a doubt though show a hegemonic shift in power when dealing with the role of the “nerd.” The last thing I really enjoyed about the article dealt with white nerds channeling imagined black sexuality through hip-hop music and dance. Even though the comparison is rough, I still see a similarity between hip-hop culture and whiteness represented that speaks truth especially when seen in the context of a show like “Pimp my Ride.” This was something that was discussed in one of my film classes and I can see how it applies here.

  • George Semfield

    I found it very interesting how your article touches on the changing role of the usual stereotype of what we know as the “nerd.” Yes, you are correct, changes in the media towards the coolness of the image of the nerd can be easily seen. Take for example the pop culture movie Superbad. In the movie, there are three main characters, all embodied with nerdy personas and all are sexually inept. Yet through comedy and wild and whacky adventures they become cool to the audience, especially after successfully evading police, acquiring alcohol and befriending the girls of their dreams. When one first watches the movie, he or she doesn’t think they will succeed because of their nerdy image. Two of the main characters aren’t as nerdy as the third. The character Fogul almost seems to bring down the unwanted typical stereotype, that is the big glasses, horrible posture and full backpack that is the nerd, upon the other two characters. The movie suggests that we see people that hang around other nerdy people as also deserving of the nerd title. In this aspect the movie is very hegemonic. Yet where the movie succeeds is in the entirety of the story, how three seemingly nerdy kids come of age and become heroes in the end, which serves to de-nerd them. In this aspect it is quite counter-hegemonic, and reinforces your argument of the new cool in the mainstream media. However, popular stereotypes are hard to break, mostly because they have been around for song long. Take for example “Trekkies”, when people look at Star Trek fans, they automatically assume they are nerdy and obsessed, when in fact a lot of them actually have families and just follow the show as a pastime, purely out of love for the storylines. For example there are Star Trek fans who just go too far and immerse themselves in the cult following of the show by owning every action figure, poster, book and attending every single convention across the nation. Some even go as far as to dress like a commander of a star fleet ship and wear all the accessories accompanied with it; even calling themselves commanders or captains. Yet how do they differ from the rest of us? Star Trek to them is like a favorite basketball or football team to us. Don’t we wear sports apparel such as jerseys and baseball caps, which are considered acceptable in our society? So why can’t they do the same; albeit a bit wackier? However, one can’t deny the image that is brought upon Star Trek fans, and this is one of the reasons it is hard to shake the stereotype of the nerd in society.

  • Laila Bengharsa

    I would like to highlight the transition of geek to chic, best exemplified by the Mac phenomenon. The once overly exacerbated dialectic between nerd and jock seems to have been shifted to a more subtle dialectic, hip geek v. stereotypical geek, as mention in the article. The way these “nerds” have been represented in our media culture facilitated the ideology that the geek finishes last and the jock wins out. But in recent times, with the rise in technological advances, the geek is on the rise. It’s now considered cool to be technologically inclined. One’s hip factor is often judged by material things and possession of those items. It gives you a certain status. In the past, technology went hand in hand with the interests of the uncool. However now that the ideology of technology has shifted into the cool sphere, the nerd has moved up with it. This is made apparent in the Mac commercials. Justin Long plays the cool Mac guy and the antithesis to his hipster is the uptight PC guy. This rivalry between the two can be viewed as a rivalry between old geek and geek chic, and in each commercial geek chic always win.

  • Perhaps what we view as a nerd has changed. Many musicians have dawned “nerdy” styles of dress, such as Kanye West, who proudly wears knit sweaters, or Rivers Cuomo of Weezer who in the early nineties began the thick geek glasses trend that has grown so popular today. It takes more than an outfit to make a “nerd” though. Social awkwardness and intelligence used to be a requirement. Now, when I think of a geek, I think of Dwight Schrute from NBC’s “The Office”. His apparel and manner are those of a nerd, however, he lacks basic intelligence. Is he the “nerd” of today? Or do we still assign the word “nerd” to people who like comic books, or fanboys? Maybe we as a society have begun to embrace and value the intelligent members of society, accept their social flaws, and revere them because of the technology boom of Silicon Valley, the invention of the internet.
    Personally, I believe that television mirrors society more than the other way around, and that the age of the nerd has dawned. Boys and men whom are both physically attractive AND socially adept regularly will discuss traditionally “geeky” topics, such as comic books, sci-fi movies, and academics. There seem to be more nerds in the world, and more people who embrace their “geekdom”, and I believe that television is reflecting that, not the other way around.

  • The celebration of nerd culture originates from movies or shows the feature nerds as the underdog. America loves underdogs, and the “coolness” of nerd under dogs is celebrated through its embracement of hip hop culture. The “Nerd Day” label of celebratory spirit week functions focuses on the coolness of impersonating the uncool. By wearing nerd costumes, people use nerd culture to unify and celebrate.

    The immersion of nerd and hip hop symbolizes the way pop-culture reforms the underdog into one who is lagging in social skills and sexuality. The use of hip-hop and nerd culture in “so you think you can dance” transforms the nerd into a cultured figure who is know socially unique. The media uses elements of black culture such as hip-hop, to integrate sexuality and culture into the stereotypical caucasian nerd’s persona.

  • Christine,

    I found this article to be quite intriguing, the hip/square dialectic has interested since i first saw Urkle’s nasally laugh on family matters. This article reminds me of a story i heard on This American Life on NPR, in which the questions was asked “when did the nerd become cool?” There is the stereotypical nerd with broken glasses taped together, ill-fitting attire, and a crackling pubescent or nasally voice. No one seems to want to be this nerd–unless they are going to a high school stereotype theme party. Then there is the hip/trendy nerd, that seems to have replaced the muscled, deep voiced action hero we see in movies. Take for example the latest addition in the Die Hard series. Here we see Bruce Willis, reflecting the old hegemony of manhood—strong, bold, and seemingly impervious to being killed. Then on the other hand we have Justin Long—who also happens to be a Mac—the tech-savvy/hip guy who ultimately saves the day and gets the girl over the rough and ready cowboy type—yippy kay yay mother fucker!—Willis’s character reflects. It still makes me questions the topic you brought up when discussing SYTUCD. Nerds are fighting a battle between the stereotypes of a socially awkward, easily made fun of character and the hip/trendy tech savvy “technosexual”.

  • I agree that the “nerd” image is becoming more popular. It is interesting how they always have a jock or “cooler” person in contrast with a “nerd” to make their differences stand out. I guess they are trying to say that a nerd is just easiest person to pick on. But it seems that in this era, we always try to find a new way to stand out, and maybe it is to be the stereotypical nerd? Which is ironic because if a “cool” person dresses as a nerd, then he is just a cool guy trying to be a nerd….
    In the end, I think everyone is a “nerd.” For example, somebody who always tries to dress the nicest is a shopping nerd or a person who plays basketball all day is a basketball nerd. And because everyone is a nerd, who doesn’t want to side with the nerds on TV?

    Hope I didn’t offend anyone for calling everyone a nerd

  • Throughout the years, we have seen the development of such hegemonic characters as the “nerd” and “jock”. Generally, they have been portrayed as polar opposites; one being the masculine and socially talented individual while the other represents the ridiculed, intelligent student. One obvious representation of the nerd cliché includes Steve Urkel. Recently, however, we have seen a transformation in such persons, and an entirely new cliché has been created.
    The hipster Seth Cohen on the O.C. has displayed a hybrid personality; the intelligent, comic book reading, hipster with a beautiful girlfriend. This image has accelerated in popularity in pop-culture, giving rise to Justin Long’s career. This new found, popular hybrid has destroyed social norms and created an almost perfectly lovable popular culture character. It broke the barriers the hegemonic norms set in stone. But is this the exception? Is this the personification that denies hegemonic personalities?
    It seems as though a new hegemonic being has actually been created, the in between. It doesn’t go against the idea of hegemony, it simply extends such definitions. It also has no specific definition, it is merely a person with qualities represented by both sides. The nerd who has no social deficiencies and can beat you in chess. The jock who happens to be really, really good at math. The beautiful blond in the debate club. It has become the mostly ubiquitous image in modern advertising and feel good movies.
    There still exists the classic “nerd” in a lot of comedies, just like the “jock” has permanently made its place in cinema. No matter if it’s a classic “nerd” or the hybrid, the jock is seemingly always the enemy in every display. Suffice it to say, Americans have fallen in love with the modern take on “nerds” and their dually talented natures.

  • I think the stereotypical nerd can be and has been transformed into something “cool” because of the media. The media dictates many ideologies to society. It influences the way many people think. Because there are many films and TV shows that show these “nerds” as becoming cool, I think it changes the ideologies that society believes in. The ideology about nerds changes just like ideologies about other groups of people do. The African American stereotypes have changed many times in the history of TV and continue to change. Likewise, the role of women on TV change back and forth from objects to subjects and being contained to being free. One show that comes to mind is Beauty and the Geek. That show had these “nerds” pair up with beautiful women. They were there as a team but to win were supposed to teach each other what they knew. This TV show tried to prove that the nerds were regular people with different qualities, prove they weren’t hopeless. The nerd character has been influenced by the popular media, however it seems that past ideologies always still exist, but instead of dominating they are somehow off to the side in the back of your head.

  • The hip/square dialect is something I think is unavoidable when it comes to maintaining the integrity of both the nerd and the jock. They share this kind of relationship where one fails the other is able to pick up and almost over compensate for the both of them. Whether the dumb jock is playing every sport imaginable and has every girl after him while the socially awkward nerd is able wiz in all academic realms except woodshop of course. They share a relationship because the extreme that one has is always made more evident by examining the fact that the other falls short. In transitioning the concept of a nerd into a consumer commodity there’s a need to take away all those negative aspects once associated with nerds like social and sexual failures while still holding on to the charm that makes nerds so lovable to begin with. The fact that most of us have always been able to identify with a nerd before we were able to identify with those idealistic heroes made famous by Schwarzenegger and Stallone makes it easy for consumers to see the nerd persona as something that they want to buy into. Perhaps this is way oversized glasses has become such a phenomenon and being smart is such a sexy and well sought after trait. Switching the semiotic codes and making nerds cool by definition is evident by the technology that everyone identifies as cool and people like the Geek Squad completely embracing that idea.

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  • What the article points out here, of the typical “nerd” in media culture, is spot on and continually rising. There are specific actors out there that constantly embody the typical “nerd” role in all of their films i.e. Jesse Eisenberg, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. All of these actors embody this role and as the article puts it undergo this “transformation” to societal norms of masculinity. Take for example Jesse Eisenberg’s role in Zombieland. Eisenberg’s character arc does not come full circle until he learns to be a zombie killing bad-ass like his counterpart hipster/jock played by Woody Harrelson. He must throw away his well thought out list of rules and learn to live in the moment to get the girl and well… survive. Thus leaving us with the hegemonic idea that to be nerdy is not necessarily surviving.

  • Though the nerd has become more “hip,” I believe that when used in TV shows, for the most part, they are still the person of ridicule. One laughs at them, not so much with them, due to their awkwardness and outcast status. Not saying that one would do this in real life, but the natural tendency for the viewer is to laugh at them. I think of shows like Family Matters or The Big Bang Theory, where the nerds are often the object of ridicule. These characters receive praise when they act more normal or more suave, but when their nerdy person is in full gear they receive little sympathy.

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