The Rise of Nerdom
By Jonathan Salas
I don’t quite remember the year, and I don’t remember the month, but I do remember the girl, the tree, and the book. This was the beginning of one of the greatest romances in my life. No, I do not mean the girl, nor even the specific book. But rather, I remember the rise of my inner nerd. Because little elementary school me didn’t always play kickball or tag. One of my favorite activities was to sit under a tree with my good friend, Grace Kenny, and read Harry Potter aloud to one another. At the time, we were considered nerds, which had quite the interesting connotation, since one of the most known nerds at the time was Screech from Saved by the Bell. Whenever I would bring up my favorite superhero, Captain America, everyone would roll their eyes, and say that I should spend my time doing something ‘more worthwhile’. Now, it is commonplace for a friend or family member to ask about not only Captain America, but about a myriad of topics that would be considered ‘nerdy’, such as superheroes, technology, or even video games.
So what happened? Well first, what is a nerd? The dictionary definitions are not kind, but I think that the best definition comes from Zachary Levi himself, who said that a nerd is anyone who is passionate about something, meaning that you could be a nerd for video games, comic books, or, like my accountant brother, spreadsheets. I believe that this is why what is traditionally considered as nerd culture has become so much more popular. If you see someone who is passionate about something, naturally, you are curious. Well, if she loves it so much, there must be something to it, right? And that passion spreads, and with that comes a feeling of interconnectivity and community. If I go onto a forum, I can talk with thousands of like-minded individuals and discuss ideas theories, and any other topics. This, I believe, is a key factor in the continued spreading of nerd culture.
Another important factor to be considered, as addressed above, is the media portrayal of what is considered nerdy. To cite the example above, it was commonplace for the nerd to be the under foot character, always number two to the protagonist, but never quite having the charisma to be there himself. Then, quite possibly one of the largest steps for the nerd happened on August 10, 1962; the publication of Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy #15. Marvel’s Amazing Fantasy was a comic book that did not enjoy the success of many of their others. In fact, the line was cancelled, and so Stan Lee decided to take a risk with the last issue, #15. What if a superhero were a bit insecure? What if he were a bit nerdy? What if he had financial struggles, and made him easier to relate to? At the time, this idea was ridiculous, but now, Spider-Man is a superhero with whom almost everyone is at least semi-familiar. This comic and the character of Spider-Man was more relatable than any hero had ever been, which helped not only to connect with audiences not typically seen in comic book stores, but it also made it ‘cool’ to be a nerd. After all, who doesn’t want to be like Spider-Man?
Fast forward to 2007 to what I believe to be one of the greatest portrayals of a nerd in any medium. Not only a nerd, but a member of the Nerd Herd, an ultra-intelligent person who loves computers, video games, and doesn’t know how to talk to women; in essence, the perfect nerd stereotype. I’m talking, of course, of Chuck, starring our Nerd 001, Zachary Levi. Chuck is the perfect portrayal of a nerd, and not only that, but a great representation of how society views nerds. Without giving any spoilers, the titular character, Chuck Bartowski, is a man who is working a bit below his potential, but mostly because of his lack of self-confidence. However, when it comes to video games, computers, and movies, he is a confident connoisseur, and throughout the series, the confidence spreads to other areas of his life. As a protagonist, he is lovable, funny, and relatable to audiences of all types. This, of course, is only one example of a show with a protagonist that would be considered a nerd, but it is a poignant example of how far the media has come in portraying those of us that might be a little socially awkward in a better light.
So, what does this mean for the future? It means that nerd culture will continue to become more and more prominent in society, as seen by the colossal success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And it will continue to grow because of the amazing work of organizations like The Nerd Machine, that helps spread this passion with charitable events such as Nerd HQ. As this Nerdom continues to spread, the mutual interests will continue to foster a sense of community throughout the world, and we will all be a community full of nerds. So, come in, be passionate, because here in the Nerdom, there are no judgements, just fun, fan theories, and cosplay.