I've been a bit fascinated by the discussions about nerd culture (particularly Big Bang Theory) that have turned up recently. After reading a very good discussion of BBT vs. Community here and this most excellent rant by a real physicist about BBT here, I started thinking more about the intersection of modern nerd culture and television. Then today, I saw this question posed, so now I feel compelled to comment.
First, some background. When BBT first came out, I had many friends ask if I watched it and suggesting that it would be something I liked... 'cause, hey, I'm like a nerd and stuff. When I first checked out the show, I was appalled by just how wrong the characterizations of actual working scientists are. No wonder so few kids want to study science if this is how many Americans visualize scientists. But after some time, I became inured to the stereotyping, and just let myself enjoy some of the bright moments. I particularly like the acting skills of Simon Helberg. Some of the jokes are appealing, and, of course, some are lame and formulaic. But I have family members who enjoy the show, so I take what I can from it. Also, for many reasons now, I have Community on my "watch it some day" list.
I get what some people say about BBT being "black face" and how others say that is overreaching. Part of the show insults me, but I also have pretty thick skin. But whatever your opinion, what do you think of this... abomination? What else can I call it? King of the Nerds seems to take mocking nerds and the idea of nerds to *gasp* reality tv! The end is upon us.
I have a horrid fascination with this show, conveniently airing right after repeats of BBT so all the nerds watching can tune in for more celebration of their special nerd culture... wait. If BBT is black face, are these people Amos and Andy? Watching the roles to which each has been anointed, the cynic in me wonders if they are actors paid to take on the roles of such blazing stereotypes. Then again, I know quite a few people not quite that far removed and I also know whatever we're shown is only meant to sharpen the angles. I can;t be too offended, mainly because these kids look like they are not taking it too seriously and are having a good time. It's fun to hang out with other oddballs in a cool house with all sorts of cool toys and the opportunity to meet cool celebrities. It's like the Real World for, well, nerds - no need to be conventionally pretty, so long as several of those selected are "quirky cute" and a little awkward but not so awkward as to be unrelatable. Yeah, I know a few characters who would never be selected. So I can live with this horrid glimpse of stereotype... except for a couple minor details:
ONE: Has anyone noticed anything ... unusual ... about the nerd challenges? They're really not that hard. They have lots of cool gear to help and are encouraged to be creative, but the actual challenge is always something Joe Average probably can relate to. Even the quiz questions are only on nerdy topics, but not that difficult. Your casual Harry Potter reader probably could have answered two-thirds of the questions from the first show of the second season. This would be like having a king of the mathematicians contest and asking hem to solve algebra problems or do long division. I think this is a calculated move, because if we ask about the canonical symbolism involved in the lake surrounding Hogwarts, Jane Consumer is gonna switch to the Daily Show for her nerd fix. No, this is a show about nerds, not for nerds.
TWO: These nerds are just people. I watched season 1, and they absolutely voted the wrong way. The final two came down to one girl who was kind of mean, but who engineered every contest and charted every advantage and disadvantage she could tabulate. She played hard and calculating, but wasn't very likable. The other finalist was cute and stayed under the radar and rarely seemed to do much... but she was personable. So most players voted for her. Yes, the nerds acted just like 'mundanes' and voted for the cute, inoffensive player, rather than the one who really showed a lot of thought about the games.
THREE: I blame this modern, feel-good concept of "nerd culture". These kids are all young (mid-20s or so) and have grown up in a society that may not really embrace nerds, but no longer seeks to marginalize them. It's cool to be (a little) nerdy, and girls can wear glasses, and guys can be awkward. It seems far rarer to see nerds as utter outcasts who, if they are lucky, have two or three friends and a couple of teachers to support them. I am old and crotchety now, but I vividly remember being defended from being beat up on the bus by a girl... many times. I was constantly reminded how weak and pathetic I was. Until I went to a high school party and drank some beers, I had only a few close friends, mainly other outcasts. I was respected as a "brain", but no-one wanted to be my friend; I was socially unacceptable. Today, the climate seems much friendlier; nerds are still pariahs, but not-so-much untouchables. I think, too, with the interconnectivity, it's much easier to find others like you... a different rant where rather than branch out and learn how to fit into different groups, we become complacent within a small community and resist expanding outside it. But to summarize, KotN seems to show nerdiness as being fun and light, glossing over how hard many had to struggle. They have their own place in society, separate, but not as cool. These nerds can just be stereotypes, because that's all they need to be. None of them need to play basketball, learn martial arts, develop a fashion sense, speak persuasively, or date 'normals'. They are a culture until themselves and cannot mix.
There you have it; my first planned post to share. I hope it provokes some good thought and comments. If not, I'll just blame it being a socially awkward nerd.