In days past, I would have been the first to admit that I had no idea what Doctor Who is, and why someone would like it. But these days, I feel much less comfort in saying this; because nerds have become cool, mainstream, and somewhat popular. But how can a nerd still be called a nerd, and nerd culture be characterised as nerd culture, if everyone has accepted it, including huge advertising and entertainment media firms? I mean, even celebrities like Katy Perry in her ‘Last Friday Night’ music video claim to be or to have been nerds, as if it is a status symbol.
Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks author Ethan Gilsdorf comments when being interviewed by Henry Jenkins, that the identity of being a geek or nerd can no longer be defined by the stereotype of a quirky, introverted person who has become isolated within society. Unashamed, overt excitement for an obsession, usually media of some sort, has become a hallmark of pop culture all around the world. For example, an addiction to the Sims 3 simulation game or the Call of Duty war games won’t classify someone as a geek or nerd. In fact, if you don’t know what these things are, you may actually be called a ‘hobbit’ (a word originally coined by Tolkien and used by nerds…irony) or someone may ask you if you have been living under a rock.
The Internet industry in particular, has absorbed them into a giant whirlwind of global culture that has redefined who they are and how people view them.
YouTube frees the typical nerd from social isolation by giving them a way to generate a sense of community with other nerds, e.g. the Curtis Paradis show, where Paradis flaunts his obsessive love for the Sims experience and communicates with other fans. Fan fiction has become an active industry whose back-bone is the giant web of geeks who produce this content, such as Bulbapedia where fans generate huge discussion and content about the world of Pokémon.
This trend, however, begs the question: are nerds really mainstream because of the entertainment industry and popular opinion, or are we conditioned to think this because the people behind the new technology and media, for instance, smart-phones, Xbox consoles and The Big Bang Theory, are nerds themselves and are, dare I say, taking over popular culture? It could be a mixture of the two. On one hand, these technologies that they pioneer or play with are giving voice to not just nerds, but all areas of society, so clearly they’re not monopolising the market there. On the other hand, nerds have been behind much of the media that pushes nerds into the general awareness of society and advocates ‘nerd-dom’, so it is entirely possible that this push has come from the nerds themselves.
So now that Xbox and the Fantasy genre have become main-stream, huge sweet spots for advertising firms to juice and for entertainment companies to play up to, do geeks and nerds really exist anymore? Yes, by the stereotypical definition they may exist as a minority, characterised by introverted behaviour and unwillingness to participate in usual social activities, but for the most part, it seems that the usual, television brand of nerd or geek has been either completely redefined, or this former minority is being celebrated everywhere. Go the geeks!