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From ironic to iconic

Steve Urkel coined the Urkel Dance on ABC’s Family Matters (Photo supplied)


The genius of the ensemble is perfect, if not intentional.

Thick-rimmed old-style glasses, plaid shirt with neatly pressed folded collar, letterman cardigan, high-waisted jeans, classic oxford shoes. No, not your hipster roommate—I’m talking about a real trendsetter. Think back—way back.

The name’s Urkel, Steve Urkel, and there was nothing ironic about him.

He was the ultimate TV geek, a symbol of nerdiness from his spectacle cords to his suspenders to his high socks.

But he was different from other nerds. Elbows out, he swept into rooms. He flaunted his glasses. And who could forget the Urkel Dance:

“If you want to do the Steve Urkel dance,

All you have to do is hitch up your pants,

Bend your knees, and stick out your pelvis;

I’m telling you, baby, it’s better than Elvis!”

He brought something irresistible to his persona, an unabashed aura of confidence for his fiercely geeky qualities. And it caught on.

While there was once a negative stigma surrounding the word ‘nerd,’ it has now become a selling point for popular culture. Cue Weezer, Zooey Deschanel and the cast of The Big Bang Theory. Nerds like Urkel became icons.

Hell, cue the entire hipster movement. A large part of it is based on an appreciation for awkward nerdiness and the glorification of our strange little selves—and mason jars.

The irony is that nerds are and have long been appreciated by popular culture. And it’s because they are so honest and true to themselves.

Isn’t your favourite TV character always the nerd: Bill Haverchuck (Freaks and Geeks), Duckie (Pretty in Pink) and Napoleon Dynamite— the ones who don’t get makeovers by the end of the movie?

We love nerds because we are nerds. We are a society of strange little creatures— each with our own weird habits and hobbies.

Maybe in schoolyard days we pinned these insecurities on others in an attempt to separate ourselves from them, the weirdos. For the philosophically inclined, you might call this Othering.

But it’s time now to reclaim your once fervent insecurities. Rejoice in the Trekkies and the gamers. Indulge in a comic or a costume and pull out the trading cards. It’s about appreciating your own little quirks and embracing them wholeheartedly, whatever they may be. Get your geek on!

Urkel’s loyalty and kindness eventually won over the hearts of everyone he met, including Laura, the object of his unrequited love for so many years.

I remember precisely the moment I fell in love with Urkel as a kid.

Stephanie had just discovered she needed to wear glasses. She was afraid of what the other kids might think of her and dreaded being called “windowface” the rest of her life. (Oh if she had only known where that trend was going!)

First Urkel shows her just how cool glasses can be. Then he tells her the trick is to always make them laugh with you before they laugh at you.

“And always remember, hold your head up high—otherwise those suckers will slide right off your nose.”

Katrina Pyne
Katrina Pyne
Katrina was Editor-in-chief of the Gazette for Volume 145 and News Editor for Volume 144.

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