Geek Chic: How YouTube Has Made it Cool to Be a Nerd
I’m a nerd. I’ve read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban more than 40 times. I would rather go to a history museum - and not even a good one - than go shopping. I spend hours cataloguing my books and making sure its organized by author’s last name. I like discussing critical theory, especially Foucault and issues of power, over coffee. I watch Russian movies with English subtitles for fun, I have a T-shirt depicting Karl Marx with a lampshade on his head (A “Communist Party,” if you will), and my idea of a perfect date is a night out at Chapters. Oh, and I'm doing my Masters in Children's Literature.
My mom gets disgruntled when I acknowledge my nerdiness out loud, or when I declare that my dad is a geek. And understandably so - the word “nerd” was coined in the US in 1951, a derivation from “nut,” meaning “a stupid or crazy person” (Dictionary.com, for those who need sources). Wikipedia says this about it:
Nerd is a term that refers to a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities. It often carries a derogatory connotation or stereotype. The nerd may be awkward, shy and unattractive.Therefore, a nerd is often excluded from physical activity and considered a loner by peers, or will tend to associate with like-minded people.
But the truth is, the term “nerd” as a insult no longer holds much power. Sure there are still those who think “nerdy” is a negative adjective, but being a geek has progressively become, well, chic. And I think YouTube has a lot to do with this.
As an avid YouTuber - in the sense that I follow certain channels on a regular basis, not that I post videos - it’s becoming more and more obvious that there’s a community that’s grown out of this internet site. People who were considered “tech geeks” because they knew html and how to create websites and use new technology now have this outlet, this amazing way of communicating with the world, posting videos and talking about what interests them. And because those who watch it are nerds too, its become more and more evident that nerds exist, quite frankly, in enormous quantities around the globe.
Hank and John Green, two YouTubers who started a channel called the Vlog Brothers (www.youtube.com/vlogbrothers), have really revolutionized the term “nerd.” As a scientist and a novelist, both Greens acknowledge that they are massive nerds (Hank writes songs about anglerfish and John has a collection of first edition books about Siamese twins), and they embrace it. They love their nerdiness so much that they have created an entire community around it - Nerdfighters. (Nerdfighters are like freedom fighters, in that they fight for nerds and not against them).
What is so appealing about this nerd community - Nerdfighteria, as it were - is that it is all inclusive. In their FAQ video, John and Hank explain that if you want to be a nerdfighter, you are a nerdfighter. And that simple act of inclusion is what has made the social label that people want to be a part of.
I think my favourite thing, though, about the Nerdfighters is that it has allowed for a re-examination of what the term “nerd” actually means. In a video where John described his excitement about seeing the 6th Harry Potter movie, a level of emotion so great that he spent the minutes before it began jumping in his seat (he’s a 30-something year-old man), he said this:
“Because nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. We don’t have to be like ‘Oh yeah, that purse is ok,’ or like ‘Yeah, I like that band’s early stuff.’ Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. ... When people call other people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘You like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all, like ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.’”
And that’s it, right there. Nerdiness is being excited about the small stuff. You can notice the similarities between John’s definition and Wikipedia’s definition, except Wikipedia fails to recognize how awesome it is to care about stuff. Being a nerd, getting passionate about video games or dead poets or playing the ukelele, is living life to the fullest while you still have it.
YouTube has allowed people from across the globe to connect. What’s so amazing is that people who before felt marginalized by the fact that they, essentially, felt passionate about stuff now have a place to connect, to create dialogue, and to realize that being a nerd isn’t such a bad thing, after all.