Page 1

Nelson 1 John Nelson Dr. Bowden English 1102 30 March 2013 The Tumblr Files One of my favorite quotations of all time comes from Blood Rites, the sixth book in a series that you have probably never heard of. When asked what love is, the protagonist’s brother, Thomas, instantly rattles off, “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love always forgives, trusts, supports, and endures. Love never fails. When every star in the heavens grows cold, and when silence lies once more on the face of the deep, three things will endure: faith, hope, and love” (Butcher Blood Rites 161). It still gives me chills every time I read it. Thomas Raith is, of course, paraphrasing from First Corinthians, and, personally, I like his version better. His father forced him to memorize the passage when he was little. Why? Love is anathema to the incubi and succubi of the White Court. It literally sears them. The way Thomas describes it, his father was teaching him to avoid love in the same way that parents do when they “put those green yucky-face stickers on the poisonous cleaning products under the kitchen sink” (Butcher Blood Rites 161). Thomas, of course, does fall very much in love, which leads to a very messy subplot of my favorite book series: The Dresden Files. I fell in love with the series last summer, devouring the entirety of it (fourteen books and a compilation of short stories in total, so far) in just those few months. The aforementioned protagonist, Harry Dresden, has become one of my male role models. He is noble and chivalrous to a fault, and honestly, I have molded my entire code of ethics into something along the lines of, “what would Harry do?”

Nelson 2 I define myself as a nerd; I spend more time thinking about fictional worlds than I do about the real one. To me, reality is boring compared to the worlds of movies, books, and video games. I want to share in those adventures, not to go to work every day, and I am far from alone. Social media and blogging websites like Tumblr have introduced me to countless people who feel the same way that I do. Being called a “nerd” used to upset me, but now I just shrug and say “yeah, okay”. Obviously, the change is partly due to my growing up, but my experience is a microcosm of popular culture today. Where once people hid their obsessions in the closet, now they break them out and write blogs about them. There is an entire television show on BBC America, “The Nerdist” dedicated to nerd culture. Nerd-cult comics like The Walking Dead and The Avengers have taken the world by storm. Doctor Who has evolved from a sixties children’s show into a primetime television hit with an enormous following. I want to know what has changed. Why and how did a label that stood for a bunch of outcast guys with broken glasses become a cultural phenomenon? It is especially interesting to me because it happened primarily in my generation, within the last few years, in fact. I also want to know whether it is good or bad, I want to examine the pros and cons of the explosion of nerd culture onto the popular stage and to determine whether it helps or harms its participants. Until recently, nerds were looked down upon. On the surface, people disliked (and still do dislike) nerds because of their stereotypical lack of social skills. We admittedly come across as antisocial, unfriendly, and awkward and are sometimes simply unpleasant to be around. It does not help that we are frequently obsessed with subjects, be they computers or obscure tidbits of pop culture, that no one else really cares about. Delving more deeply, though, there are some deep psychological and social prejudices against nerds. Consider that the most common image of the nerd was as a badly dressed white man; women and non-white races were excluded from the

Nelson 3 group. Now, being excluded from a group of social pariahs does not sound bad until you examine the basis of the segregation (Kendall “White and Nerdy” 512). In the 1950’s, when the Oxford English Dictionary documents the first use of the term as an insult, white men almost monopolistically dominated the federal and social power in the United States (Oxford English Dictionary). The nerd, then, was like, as Lori Kendall puts it in her article “White and Nerdy”, a “gatekeeper”. He was like a socially inept Uriel guarding the social Eden with a flaming sword (or lightsaber?). The nerd served to protect, in some minds, the dominant economic status of white men (Kendall “White and Nerdy” 512). In some cases, nerds accepted this role, and that fact actually explains a modern phenomenon. Shortly after the release of Halo 4, a highly anticipated first-person shooter game from 343 Industries, in 2012, 343’s studio head and general manager, Bonnie Ross and Kiki Wolfkill, respectively, were interviewed by GameSpot. They were disgusted with the rampant sexism and racism that was prevalent over Xbox Live and the Playstation Network, two online gaming communities. In the interview, they stated that Microsoft and Sony should be cracking down on the slurs, and ended up winning support for lifetime bans from the communities (Abent). Looking at it through Kendall’s lenses, it makes sense why white men would be so horrified by the idea of women and non-white races in their games. Video games are traditionally a nerd’s pastime, and if the nerd is supposed to guard quote male chauvinistic power structures, he cannot possibly let other people in, not without a fight. A large facet of “nerd culture” consists of women, and “Girl Gamers” are frequently attacked for being fake, as if the mere act of a woman playing a video game is somehow personally offensive to nerds. It might actually be helping the nerd cause that so many people other than white men are seeking places in its ranks. Despite the ridiculous hostility toward girl gamers, the majority of

Nelson 4 nerds seem to be willing to accept other people. In a way, the nerd explosion mirrors the Women’s Rights movement of the ‘20s and the Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s, though obviously to a much lesser extent. It consists of a group of people who feel that they are oppressed by society and who seek to improve their station. The nerd movement is more individualistic, though. When one boils it down to the core, nerds really just want to have the freedom to express themselves without the fear of mockery, and people can get behind that. “NrrdGrrl!” is a good example of both acceptance and of individualism. It is an online group of women who do not really focus on being nerds but instead on problems in American culture as a whole. In the words of Amelia Wilson, a NrrdGrrl! leader, the purpose of the group is to reach out to “any woman who has measured herself against the prevailing, confusing, impossible, societal yardstick and found herself coming up short” (Kendall “Nerd Nation” 276). It does not just have to be women measuring herself, either, it can be men, it can be non-white races, it can be anyone who does not feel accepted by a society with ridiculous standards of masculinity and femininity. It can be anyone with an “in your face stance towards the dominant culture” (Kendall “Nerd Nation” 276-277). A second component to people’s bias against nerds springs from another stereotypical facet of the culture: nerds as technological savants. According to Kendall, average people, especially during the early advent of computer technology in the eighties and nineties, were, and are, inherently uncomfortable with technology. It makes sense, when one realizes how many jobs have been replaced by computers and machines and how many stories are written about technology taking over the world. Nerds, then, are those strange people that are in cahoots with the computers. They blur the hard line between man and machine. It sounds a little ridiculous, but it is actually interesting when one takes into account the prevalence of technology in nerdy

Nelson 5 pop culture (Kendall “Nerd Nation”263). Nerds are archetypically science fiction fans, and how many sci-fi stories involve androids and cyborgs, life-like and living machines? There are countless examples, from the Star Trek’s Borg, to Lovecraft’s Mi-go, to Doctor Who’s Dalek (Lovecraft “The Whisperer in Darkness”). What is more unsettling than the idea of sentience surrendered to the machine? What about the reverse? In Mass Effect, an enormously popular video game trilogy from Bioware Studios, a major plotline revolves around the Geth, a cybernetic race created as laborers for the Quarian people. As a race, the Geth question the nature of their soul, or lack thereof, in a manner that is surprisingly deep for a video game. The quest is distilled into a single heart-wrenching question, “Tali’Zorah, does this unit have a soul?”, by a major Geth character as he dies (Mass Effect 3). So, it is safe to assume that many nerds, including myself, are fascinated by the idea of melding technology and humanity (the best ending one can earn for the Mass Effect trilogy actually DOES involve a total unification of life and machine). People are beginning to respect nerds more as they move from fear of computers to acceptance of them. Computers are now as normal to see in the average household as microwaves and televisions. With people living and working constantly in conjunction with computers, they no longer seem remotely alien, and therefore nerds seem more normal. It is hard to discriminate against the guy who fixes your computer when you know that, without him and without the machine, your business cannot function. Unfortunately, this also has a dark side. Part of the reason people seem to accept computer nerds more is because viewing the computer repair man as just another nerd allows people to feel better about the fact that they do not understand their own computer. They can “console themselves with the knowledge that “at least I’m not a nerd” (Kendall “White and Nerdy” 521). It also points back at people’s unease around

Nelson 6 computers. The nerd seems to have unlimited power over the machines, something that the average person knows little or nothing about. He has a power over society that other people do not. Luckily for the country, though, he is too busy off doing nerdy things. So people say “let him do his nerdy things and he will leave everyone else alone”. Besides, nerds are wimps, right? Imagine if someone had the strength of a college athlete and the intelligence of a computer programmer, he would be completely unstoppable! (Kendall “White and Nerdy” 521). People, whether they like it or not, are getting used to having nerds around. People are taking a moment to examine our culture and seem, as Doctor Who ratings suggest (7.45 million people watched or recorded last week’s episode), to be finding that it is not all bad (Doctor Who TV). So, the question is, is this a good thing or not? Personally, I find it wonderful that I can drop the titles Mass Effect or Doctor Who in general conversation and people at least know what I am talking about, even if they are not avid fans themselves. For many nerds, simply trying to communicate with people can be traumatic, as social awkwardness (and its accompanying anxiety) is a very real thing. I suffered from it all throughout middle school and the beginning of high school. I did not have a real girlfriend until I was almost seventeen. Again, maybe I just grew up a little, but being more accepted as a nerd (and meeting girls who actually LIKED video games) had to have helped a little bit. Thanks to the internet (created and maintained by nerds), people of all stripes, not merely nerds, have instantaneous access to each other. Other nerds are meeting people, dating, and getting married all because they both love Doctor Who or Halo. Increased acceptance of any kind creates an open world where not only Halo fans are accepted, but also countless other people, from homosexuals to gypsies. Nerdiness highlights and encourages this type of individualism. Like the NrrdGrrl! website states, nerdiness is for anyone who does not quite match up to

Nelson 7 society’s view of male and female, to the accepted definition of normality. As I mentioned, the first use of “nerd” as a label, Oxford claims, appeared in 1957 (Oxford “Nerd”). Think about what was happening in the 50’s. After World War II was over, traditional gender roles were reestablished. With men working and women maintaining the home, conformity took over. People were absorbed into suburban culture. Houses and business were taking on uniform appearances, and people simply wanted to blend in. (“The Culture of the 1950s”). Then the 60’s and 70’s happened, and people revolted against this perceived normalcy. In a way, the nerd movement of the 2000’s is very similar. Society has always developed its standards of identity (much like high school does), and nerds have always existed outside of it. Now, instead of being forced to dwell on the outskirts of society, nerds and other socially marginalized people are making their way back into the fold. Any movement that frees one group of people inspires others; in the 60’s, when African Americans started seeking their rights, homosexual people followed in their footsteps. Having more nerds in society also inspires people to think more, to care more about their education and about the overall intelligence of society. I do not mean to say that nerds are the only intelligent people in the world; that is certainly not the care (some nerds are actually quite dumb; recall the attacks on girl gamers). I only mean to say that even intelligent people have been guilty of supporting unintelligent things. According to the music charts from 2003, ten years ago, 50 Cent rapped his way to the number one spot with “In Da’ Club”. The second stanza of the first verse assures the listener that

Nelson 8 “You can find me [50 Cent] in the club, bottle full of bub/ Look mami, I got the X if you into takin' drugs/ I'm in to havin' sex, I ain't in to makin' love/ So come gimme a hug, if you're into gettin' rubbed” (50 Cent). The same chart lists Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know,” as the number one song of 2012. I pulled up the second stanza of “Somebody” and found that, “You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness/Like resignation to the end, always the end/So when I found that we could not make sense/Well you said that we could still be friends/But I’ll admit that I was glad it was over” (Gotye). I do not really like the Gotye song either, but I have to admit that it is an improvement (Borst). Music is not a perfect example, as Psy’s “Gungam Style” is currently the most watched Youtube video of all time. Even though I am being a bit satirical, it does illustrate my point (Youtube Charts). As with anything though, the pros have their associated cons. One nerd’s blog that I read insisted that, as nerds grow in acceptance, they condense their own identity more and more; they “keep trying to define the exact boundaries of their exclusive gated community” (Smith). The writer furiously states that being a fan of one thing that is considered nerdy marks you as a nerd, and therefore forces you to like everything else associated with the stereotype. He does not understand why “people who just want to be hardcore fans of some things without conforming to some standard of nerdiness about all things” cannot exist (Smith). Going back to the girl gamer example, he has a point. Some nerds essentially say that ‘we have always been white and pathetic, so, everyone else who wants to be a nerd better be the same’ (Smith). It is a common part of

Nelson 9 high-school stereotypes. You do not have to be a nerd or an athlete, but if you are, you had better act like one. On a more serious note, there is a significant downside to nerdiness that I have not yet pointed out. There are those few that entirely forget that the real world exists, as little as they would like it to. There are nerds that get addicted to games or movies and willingly depart from reality. I have personal experience with it. My aunt and uncle have been married for ten years. I grew up very close to both of them. My uncle is probably an even bigger nerd than I am. He loves online games and has never quite gotten over the fact that the 1980’s ended and that he is an adult. For the most part, it was harmless. We humored him a little bit whenever he would wax nostalgic or would do something ridiculous like watch a children’s anime or rent a Dodge Charger for a day. We recently found out, however, that he had been chatting online with another single woman from Arizona online for who knows how long. He had met her in one of his online games, and probably fell in love with her online character. My aunt found out about her, and now their marriage is on the rocks. He has claimed that he is bored with his life and with her. Now they will probably end filing for divorce because my uncle could not come to terms with reality. He and my dad also used to tell stories about a guy that they knew in college who succumbed to severe depression after his Dungeons and Dragons character died in a game. Even I will admit that I was depressed for a little while after I finished Mass Effect 3 the second time. I had connected so much with the story and with the characters that the less-than-perfectly-happy ending literally upset me. Horrible things happen when people disconnect from reality. Take, for example, last year’s shooting at The Dark Knight Rises premier in Colorado. The shooter, James Holmes,

Nelson 10 apparently believed that he was the Joker from The Dark Knight, a Batman movie that came out a few years ago. When they called his phone, the voicemail sounded “guttural” and “freakish”. The police had to disconnect booby traps before they could enter his house, wherein they found Batman memorabilia stored with guns and ammunition. When he appeared in court, Holmes was sporting a hairdo disturbingly similar to Heath Ledger’s Joker (Esposito, Date, Thomas, Ferran). Obviously, there was more at work here then sheer nerdiness. James Holmes was a nutcase; but, according to Ben Gates, “One step below crazy, what do you get?...Passionate” (Turteltaub National Treasure). We nerds have always known for being passionate about our given obsessions. It is a line that devotees of any kind have to walk. It is okay to love the English language, but it is weird to sleep with the Oxford dictionary; it is okay to love Harry Potter, but you have to realize that magic is not real. There are lunatics and obsessives in the nerd culture, it is true, but people like James Holmes and like my uncle exist wherever you find people. Most nerds, though, are simply in love with a fictional world. They know that it does not exist, no matter how badly that they want it to. Wherever you find people, there are outcasts and there are celebrities, and a nerd is just another person that needs to find his or her place in the world. In the end, nerds are becoming more accepted because everyone is becoming more accepted. In its brief two century-long existence, the United States has become the model of a melting pot society, not only by race, nationality, and gender, but also by the people within those broad categories. Homosexual and heterosexual, religious and secular, Republican and Democrat, and even athlete and nerd; people are people. Nerds have come a long way since the 1950’s, and I conclude that it is a very good thing that we have. It demonstrates increased tolerance on the part of society, and a victory on the part of an underdog; it paves the way for other groups of people to make their stand against

Nelson 11 collective social discrimination. In the words of Molly Carpenter, bringing us home with another Dresden Files quote, appropriately enough, “This is the post-nerd-closet world, Harry. It’s okay to like both” (Butcher Ghost Story 431).

Nelson 12 Works Cited Abent, Eric. "343 Industries cracks down on Halo 4 sexism - SlashGear." SlashGear. 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. Borst, Bob. "Billboard Top 100 Songs of 2012 - Year End Charts." Bob Borst's Home of Pop Culture and Web Development. N.p. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. Borst, Bob. "Billboard Top 100 Songs of 2003 - Year End Charts." Bob Borst's Home of Pop Culture and Web Development. N.p. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. Butcher, Jim. Blood rites. New York: Roc, 2004. Print. Butcher, Jim. Ghost Story. New York: Roc Hardcover, 2011. Print. Bioware; Mass Effect 3. Lead Writer: Mac Walters. EA. 2012 "Charts - YouTube." YouTube. Google, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2013. "Doctor Who Series 7 Ratings Accumulator (2013) | Doctor Who TV." Doctor Who TV . Doctor Who TV, 14 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Apr. 2013. Esposito, Richard, Jack Date, Pierre Thomas, and Lee Ferran. "Aurora 'Dark Knight' Suspect James Holmes Said He 'Was the Joker': Cops." ABC World News. ABC, 20 July 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2013. "Gotye Lyrics - Somebody That I Used To Know." MetroLyrics. MetroLyrics, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2013. "In Da Club Lyrics." MetroLyrics. MetroLyrics, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2013. Kendall, Lori. "Nerd Nation: Images of Nerds in U.S. Popular Culture." International Journal of Cultural Studies 2.260 (1999): 260-283. Google Scholar. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. Kendall, Lori. "‘White and Nerdy’: Computers, Race, and the Nerd Stereotype." The Journal of Popular Culture 44.3 (2011): 505-522. Google Scholar. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.

Nelson 13

National Treasure. Dir. Jon Turteltaub. Perf. Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha. Walt Disney Home Entertainment; 2005. DVD. “Nerd” Oxford English Dictionary. Galileo. 25 Mar. 2013 Smith, Jim. “Nerd Culture and Other Geek Fallacies." Mightygodking. n.p., 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. "United States History - The Culture of the 1950s." Country Studies. U.S. Department of State, n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

The Tumblr Files