I partially disagree with this article. As a definite nerd myself (how else do you define someone who reads Asimov, plays computer games, watches Ghost in the Shell, knows a vast number of dinosaur species by name, and dreams of visiting insect zoos?), and someone who grew up as a nerd in the 90s and early aughts, I experienced the world as it treated nerds then, and I think I’ve watched it evolve past that experience since. Today, there’s a really widespread nerd culture that permeates the central cultural discourse — our weird, SF and fantasy-suffused subculture has come to roost in the midst of pop culture.
Yes, nerds are still picked on in reality, and yes, much of the present infatuation with nerd culture is more concerned with the appearance of nerd-dom rather than the actuality, but while Friends aired, other stuff was happening, too:
- Anime broke out into the big time for kids with Adult Swim and other mainstream distributions
- Star Wars, Marvel, Lord of the Rings, and a dozen other “nerdy” franchises rose to prominence on the cresting wave of the last generation’s secret love for them, inculcated into their children.
- Most people (especially males but now, increasingly, females as well) became gamers to a greater or lesser extent.
- College-level learning continued its inexorable march across the demographics of Western Civilization in its quest to make an academic out of all of us (even those not particularly suited to the pursuit).
- 4chan, reddit, something awful, and other online bastions of kissless virgins became the primary producers of youth subculture.
- The Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and other like-minded mass media outfits capitalizing on the popular dissemination of academic topics as entertainment (infotainment as some would name it) became hugely popular.
If you were able to travel forward in time from the 90s to the late aughts, you’d think the nerds had taken over. In some sense, we have. Of course, whatever is mainstream is also soon the standard against which all weirdos are defined, so even as we speak new kinds of nerd (with, perhaps, other names) are being created out of whole cloth for the masses to misunderstand and disparage. But in general, here in America, there has been a trend toward intellectualism (or at least the appearance thereof), not away from it. This, to me, is stunning, since English-speaking culture has a long and storied history of anti-intellectualism predating this country.
Kim’s ass atop our news media pedestal is more a product of our postmodern, poststructural lack of principles — if we can’t agree on a heuristic for what constitutes news, then all the journalistic integrity in the world can’t stop someone looking to make a buck by redefining the rules to cater to our baser natures — and I would not be surprised to see someone write a response to this post arguing that Kim’s ass actually constitutes a newsworthy topic on the basis that it redefines standards of beauty. All the learning in the world doesn’t give you standards, ethics, morals, or wisdom.
We traded those out, for better or worse, along with religion and western chauvinism at the end of the last century, so we have to deal with stuff we don’t like using rhetoric . We have to accept the multitude of opposing, anti-intellectual voices in our culture, and engage them in argument, fully realizing that the conversation is inherently not going to take on the useful nature of a rigorous debate.
The real tragedy is to have a generation of truly educated people wasting their time and talent on irrelevant nonsense.