Geek culture is no longer an underground world of wonder. In fact, it’s become so mainstream we have to wonder if the nerd bubble has burst.
I hope you’re sitting down for this. Preferably in that life-sized Tardis in your mother’s basement.
Because you’re about to receive some tough love. You’ll be angry at first, but then you’ll do some sort of Vulcan mind whatever-it’s-called on yourself and see the light.
So here goes: The Hollywood execs who “glorify” geeks on “The Big Bang Theory?” They’re mocking you all the way to the bank.
The latest bikini-clad starlet extolling the virtues of “World of Warcraft” in Maxim? She’s never heard of that game. And she’d spray your eyes with mace if you so much as gave her a look — unless she was getting paid to tolerate you at Comic Con, whose East Coast version kicks off Thursday in New York.*
You are no more the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Stephen Hawking than your basketball-playing classmate was the next LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant.
The tide has not shifted. The geeks have not inherited the earth.
All that’s changed is this: The establishment has realized that embracing you in big, public ways is more lucrative than making you the butt of jokes.
In the 1980s, there was a clearly demarcated social caste system. Anyone who has lived through that period or watched a movie or TV show from the Reagan years knows that. You had your jocks, your burnouts, your nerds and what have you. The lowest rung was usually reserved for the “scumbags” or whatever your school hierarchy called the scruffy kids from the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. The nerds weren’t at rock bottom — but they were pretty close.
Exhibit A: “Revenge Of The Nerds.” Yes, I know the nerds got their revenge. It’s right there in the title, Poindexter. But when the film was over, kids didn’t want to be Skolnick. Pocket protectors weren’t suddenly in vogue in the suburbs.
Exhibit B: Every other ’80s movie.
Exhibit C: Moving right along to the ’90s. If you’re a dude, you did not want to be Screech. You wanted to be Zack Morris. Secretly, you still do.
Exhibit D: You laughed at Steve Urkel, not with him. Urkel himself even had enough of the suspenders shtick and created a new persona. You remember Stefan Urquelle, don’t you?
Commerce aside, wasn’t one of the major hallmarks of nerd-dom a sense of outsider status? But when the mainstream embraces you, the movement is over. Some examples from the music world: When The Black Keys started playing arenas named after banks — and who could blame them for cashing in — listening to them no longer scored you cool points. When your mother hummed Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” while dusting the house (sorry, Mom), Jay could never be street again. Ever.
No less a geek authority than Patton Oswalt saw the nerd bubble bursting as far back as 2010, when he said he got out before it was too late.
“I’m not a nerd,” he wrote in a piece for Wired four years ago. “I used to be one, back 30 years ago when nerd meant something. I entered the ’80s immersed, variously, in science fiction, Dungeons & Dragons, and Stephen King. Except for the multiple-player aspect of D&D, these pursuits were not ‘passions from a common spring,’ to quote Poe.”
Writing in The New York Times’ “Room For Debate” last month, Purdue University doctoral candidate Fredrik deBoer made a somewhat different point than mine. He says that “by any rational measure the geeks — fans of comic books, science fiction, video games and fantasy — are utterly triumphant,” citing the genres’ media dominance and the billions of dollars made from them annually. But what he’s irked about is the geeks’ insistence on continuing to play the victim despite what he calls their current “overdog” status.
Despite deBoer’s assertions, on this planet, the Leonards of the world do not get Penny. The Screeches do not get Kelly Kapowski. They never did, and they never will.
The Comic Con hotties are going home with investment bankers and professional athletes, not anime bloggers and code jockeys. Coming to terms with that doesn’t make you any less of a person. And you’re smart enough to know that.
Michael Lello is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.
* Editor’s note: Whether this makes us geeks or not, TheBlot Magazine will be out in full force for New York Comic Con, so be on the look out for our coverage later in this week.