Updated: Oct 8, 2020
Geek (ɡiːk/) noun: An unfashionable or socially inept person. A knowledgeable and obsessive enthusiast.
Nerd (nəːd/) noun: A foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious. A single-minded expert in a particular technical field.
Terms once used to describe the class know-it-all, the weird loner and that guy who still lived in his mum’s basement have been reclaimed as badges of honour by those who’s interests and obsessions don’t align with the average joe; The Marvel fanboys (we ouchea), the DC “ride-or-die”-ers, the Potterheads, the Whovians, the Trekkies, the cosplayers and that one guy that still plays Runescape! More and more people are embracing nerd culture, especially with things like social media and events like Comic-Con becoming beacons for them to discuss, share and celebrate Nerd Culture. No wonder everyone wants a taste of the nerd flavoured pie.
What is it that makes Nerds what they are? Simply put, it’s our interests and our obsessions that make us stand out from “normal” people. Sure a lot of comics and sci-fi that were seen traditionally as nerdy have become a lot more mainstream, they’re made to be more appealing to everyone, but only the Nerd will be able to tell you that there are over 30 members of The Avengers, and name most if not all of them! Or that Luke was meant to be the next Darth Vader but George Lucas thought that ending was far too dark for the series. We take our interests to the nth degree and turn it into obsession. There are just certain things that a Nerd will do that the average person would just consider ludicrous, like queuing up at 4am for a movie premiere for a quick glimpse at the stars that brought our favourite stars to life, or spending ridiculous amounts of money on memorabilia.
As much as there are many negative stereotypes of what a Nerd should be, it would be ignorant of me to dismiss the fact that there are many who are loners, who are that weird kid in someone’s class or that one guy in the office that doesn’t really talk too much. Or ignore the fact that many Nerds do face Bullying and social ostracism for being who they are and having interests outside the social norms. They find solace in superhero comics and sci-fi/fantasy/horror films/tv shows as they offer a form of escape from this thing we call life. Not only that, they offer great stories, life lessons and a way for people to connect. Nowadays the “classic nerd” isn’t the only type there is; you can be a nerd about knitting, beer, food, politics, gender theory or fashion. You can “geek out” over basketball, coding, writing, painting, gardening or home improvement. Name a topic or field of study, and there’s someone willing to call themselves a Nerd for it.
When I was younger, I didn’t consider myself as a nerd because I wasn’t some skinny, pimply looking, glasses wearing bookworm. I didn’t see myself as “uncool”, I didn’t fit into the forced stereotype of what a nerd had to be. I was just the kid that played with Yu-Gi-Oh cards during my lunch break. That wanted to catch all 150 Pokémon before anyone else did. Who would have heated discussions as to why Spider-man was better than Wolverine (he is). Now, though, I very much take pride in being a Nerd. I accept the fact that many of the things I have an interest in and love may seem childish or stupid to others but I honestly couldn’t care any less. I still am playing Pokémon well into my 50’s, my kids will share my love of cosplaying and my comic book collection will be so vast that I’ll need to keep them in storage: I plan on being a Nerd till I drop dead.
So why does everyone want to be a Nerd? Because being anything else is boring! Speaking for myself, the excitement I get for anything Marvel related cannot be beaten! Why not find something you love, that brings you comfort and obsess over it? Why not invest time, effort and money in things that seem frivolous to others but important to you? Life’s far too short to do anything else! The mainstreaming of so many nerd artforms (yes, they are art forms), has allowed for a whole new wave of Nerds to be born with established Nerds ready to welcome them, sonic screwdrivers in hand. But is mainstreaming a backhanded compliment to people who have been “nerding” for years? Nerds have been forever telling mainstream culture that the geeky things we love are awesome and that being a nerd is fun, and now that people are finding out for themselves that we were right and they’ve more or less stopped viewing “Nerd” and “Geek” as pejoratives, are we as a culture supposed to forgive and forget? Does being a Nerd lose its uniqueness and its character if everyone and anyone is now a nerd?
In a great analysis of Nerd culture’s fear of falsified fandom, The Mary Suenotes how Nerd & Geek culture is full of terms like “limited edition,” “collector’s items” and “exclusive prints,” and items like membership cards and fan pins that add to this sense of exclusivity. All of which contributes to a mentality of misinterpreted sense of ownership:
Like it or not, we think of our fandom as serialized and limited. We’re a possessive lot and it’s not entirely our fault. The notion of an imposter–someone who doesn’t truly care about the personal meaning and value of the items– is threatening to us because they may take from our precious, vulnerable pot.
We may like to view nerd culture as hidden paradise that existed until outsiders came across it, but the reality is, nerds weren’t the only ones consuming the countless nerd franchises that we’re so possessive of. But let me make a few things very clear: Being a nerd is not an aesthetic. It’s not something that you can pick up from a shelf and pay £39.99 for; big glasses does not a Nerd make. It is a way of life and a subculture that should be respected.
So to all the new nerds out there, still trying to figure out what exactly the Medusa Cascade is, I say welcome. And to all my day one Nerds, in the great words of everyone's favourite Vulcan, Live Long And Prosper.
Timi, The Nerd Council