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Possible revenge of the nerds

Is nerdy the new cool, or does pop culture still leave the real nerds behind? (Photo supplied by Warner Bros. Television)
Is nerdy the new cool, or does pop culture still leave the real nerds behind? (Photo supplied by Warner Bros. Television)

From The Big Bang Theory to the hipster across the hall, the image of the nerd has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years. The over-the-top intellectual was once an object of stigma, but the nerd has now been elevated to newfound status in popular culture. Much like other formerly pejorative terms now used in an ironic way, the eclectic and unique nerds formerly resigned to a life of disdain have reappropriated the label and wear it with a sense of pride.

The redefinition of nerd as cool is evident in the hipster revolution. Whether at a fair trade vegan coffee house, a farmer’s market, or an indie concert, in any urban centre you are likely to encounter hipsters. Ironically, the trend that developed as a response to the superficiality of mainstream tastes has become popular.

The style of the plaid flannel shirt and dark-framed glasses, along with the individualistic taste in independent music formerly ascribed to the nerd, is now mainstream and cool. Many large brand name stores such as American Apparel and Urban Outfitters have incorporated the thrift store hipster style into their selection of clothing.

Another aspect of nerd culture that is thoroughly endorsed by the contemporary cool kids is technological capability. Our generation is defined by its relationship to technology. We grew up in a period of rapid technological advancement. We developed and formed our sense of “i-dentity” concurrent to iPods, iPads and iTunes. In a former era, the Apple Genius type would be derided by society for their obsession with technology. But in recent years, they have acquired a newfound respect and admiration due to the significant influence of technology.

This new conception of nerd is reflected in such exceptionally wealthy, successful and admired individuals as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. These people are role models in innovation who have channeled their exceptional intellect towards incredible creative inventions. As technological attributes and skills gain value, those who possess those abilities become socially dominant.

Certain aspects of the appearance of the nerd have been widely adopted and the capacity to handle a gadget is viewed with admiration, but the passage of time may relegate our widespread acceptance of the nerd to a temporary phase. Society’s acceptance of the styles and skills attributed to the nerd doesn’t necessarily extend to the individual beyond those traits. In a superficial sense, we have accepted what was once considered unusual.

But the limitations of society’s embrace of the nerd and the likely transience of the phenomenon don’t detract from the positive benefits of the more open-minded definition of cool. In our modern moment, the nerds have taken their revenge.






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