Rise of the (Nerd)Machine
by Karissa Barrows
What an honor it is to write an “official” blog post for The Nerd Machine! This has been a fantastic community to be a part of for the past year and a half. I’m glad I can give to it on a broader level. TNM has exploded from a small community of less than 4,000 to nearly 20,000 registered members and countless more visitors in that same amount of time. NerdHQ, in its very first year, was lauded as the number one thing to do at Comic-Con, and this year (which I will be attending – EXCITEMENT!!!!) promises to be even bigger. Comic conventions in general have exploded as well, despite some of them (*coughSDCCcough*) moving away from the true nerd/geek culture to popular culture, TV, and movies. It can, though, be argued that the level of adoration these pop culture icons experience make them legitimate additions to proper nerddom, especially since a lot of it is now rooted in all things geek (hello, huge and successful influx of comic book movies). New conventions are popping up all over the place thanks to increased demand, NerdHQ included, and I think it’s safe to say, overall, that the Nerds have fully taken over.
Not that many years ago, the punk rock, rock, and athlete subcultures ruled the media. Popular music was harsher and less intelligent, with fewer exceptions to the rule than today. The big movies were action-based, with little to no root in comics, video games, or sci-fi. The idea of “nerd” and “geek” was misunderstood, and typically only those that fit the classic stereotype – big glasses, pocket protector, socially awkward, high-water pants – were labeled as such. Completely not the case today. It’s hard to say exactly what set off the shift from the brawn to brains mindset in the media. Perhaps the former finally lost its limited appeal in a society that is always looking for more, and society found far more in embracing the inner nerd inside us all. Thanks to the complexity of doing so, embracing your nerddom is now the truly understood status quo that only a few stuck in the 90s feel the need to ridicule. Whether they do this to make themselves feel better, because they’re jealous, because they just were never looking for more, or because they just don’t understand what being a nerd is all about is a moot point – they haven’t changed. What has changed, however, from the era of the “stereotypical nerd,” is that the “outsiders” aren’t chastised, or outcast, or teased, or anything of that nature by those that have. If they aren’t left alone, they are assimilated into the nerd culture by TV shows and movies like The Big Bang Theory, Chuck, Iron Man, Harry Potter, Sherlock, Doctor Who, and the brand new biggest movie of all time – The Avengers. (Bless you a million times over, Joss Whedon. May Firefly live forever.) The latter especially drew in the nearly all of the non-nerd stragglers, breaking every box office record in the books (or at least seeming to).
My theory is that the very ideal, the philosophy if you will, of the nerd culture – to be yourself, for yourself, and love what you love well – is what draws everyone in, regardless of their specific interests. It’s exhausting to try and be something you’re not, which is what consumed much of the 80s and 90s after the counterculture of the 60s and 70s fell out. Everyone wanted to be accepted and tried incredibly hard to do so, often forgoing or hiding interest in some of their most beloved hobbies that weren’t considered “cool” by the media and the socially powerful minority. Anime, which is awesome, was not something you admitted to watching, but now, Toonami is being resurrected because of demand and almost all regular cartoons have a Japanese look and flair to them. Video games were not things you spent all your time playing if you are a girl, whereas it was typically acceptable for guys to play them so long as they weren’t crazy RPGs. Now, if I do say so myself, I pwn pretty regularly on Modern Warfare 3, and am obsessed with Kingdom Hearts, Guild Wars, and the Mass Effect series. Comics and the Harry Potter books were things you read in your room, not in a Starbucks, plane, or classroom. Now, books like that dominate book sales everywhere. Star Trek and Star Wars fans battled relatively in secret before, and now have been united by George Takei against the abomination that is Twilight to save the sci-fi genre. You rarely talked or heard about any of the above in public, but I’ve had passionate conversations with big groups of friends in the middle of a college campus about Harry Potter theories, the actual first Avengers and later additions, the latest updates on Kingdom Hearts 3, and the like. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve convinced people to watch Doctor Who if they haven’t already, and they’re all just as hooked as I am now.
Celebrities who embrace the geek culture, such as Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day, or our very own Zachary Levi, are met with more enthusiasm than the typical “big stars” like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, or Tom Hanks, because they not only embrace the things we all know and love, but they embrace each personality of those that love them since they’re all nerds themselves. Cosplay is huge now (I’m thinking of doing it at SDCC this year – anybody want to tackle some Mass Effect with me?), and those who have been doing it for years are not only making real money off of it, but are becoming celebrities in their own right. Simply, people finally get what it means to be a nerd, I think realizing they’ve been nerds all along. They feel it’s acceptable to be themselves, and to love what they love with due enthusiasm, and they’re loving it. That old powerful social minority with very narrow acceptable interests has fallen out of power and everyone can fully embrace the awesomeness of being the nerds they’ve always been. Not even two years ago, in an effort to create a place for all these people, this online community blasted onto the scene as a network for any and everyone – since, as Zac has said before, “everybody is nerdy about something.” Friends, relationships, charity events, and business opportunities only scratch the surface of things you can find here. Most importantly, you’ll find acceptance here for being just who you are, and for loving what you love well.
Welcome to the Machine.