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.

Jillz, Nerdfighter

Comments

Anonymous said…
Before I get started, I'm not pointing a finger at you, promise. Your post got me thinking is all...

Nerd-ocism is a trend. But the term is as shallow as any other, and people jump on the bandwagon. I'm not going to pretend there is one definition of nerd; it carries two connotations: sniffley, acne-prone, gamers who are afraid of the light of day, and argyle sweater, thick-rimmed glasses wearing, uni attendees. Honestly, I think a lot of people who call themselves nerds suffer from false modesty and want to hide their pretensious-ness. So they call themselves nerds because insecurity is supposedly the root of all arrogance. But sometimes, and asshole is just and asshole.

People don't want to be nerds anymore than they want to be preps or purple-people eaters for that matter, they want to be cool and trendy, which right now is anything that goes along with consumer created media (i.e the internet). Everyone is trying to outdo the next person with what makes them and individual, obsessing about the origins of X, Y, or Z and trying to accumulate as much knowledge or as many artifacts as possible, and saying that makes them a nerd, in the same way old school nerds (or dweebs, or geeks) used to collect magic cards, or stamps, or whatever.

The term nerd may have changed, but the people wearing it still look the same to me: they all want to stand out in the safety of the crowd.
Josh said…
I have to admit that I have a hard time avoiding becoming a smug nerd. I have more than once exited a coffee shop or bar after having a conversation about nuclear chemistry, or a debate about which living anthropologist is more awesome (Wade Davis is the correct answer, by the by), and passed a table discussing Edward vs. Jacob. Then I judged those people a little bit which is uncool, because I might have just pre-ordered Ke$ha's new album.
Jill S. said…
@Anonymous

Originally I had in my post a paragraph about the trendiness of being a "nerd." True, it's become fashionable to wear massive glasses that I mocked my mother for wearing in pictures circa 1985. But people who are socially awkward and spend more time with their XBOX than with other people don't associate positively with the term.

And I think you're right - people who call themselves "nerd" are the same as everyone else: they want somewhere to belong. And I don't see anything wrong with that. Rather than grouping yourself as a book worm or a computer geek, I love that this redefining of "nerd" allows room for anyone who really loves a non-mainstream something, whatever passion that may be. It's comfortable and easy, sure, but that's the point, isn't it? That we are individuals with our own quirks, but we need community. And I think the new-age Nerd gives people a place for it.
Anonymous said…
All good points, J. My problem isn't with people having friends or group identities, but that it too often seems disingenuous. Hopefully you know what I mean. People can call themselves whatever they want, but do it for yourself, not to gain some sense of false superiority. Buying into an idea not because it's you, but because it's cool. Again, I don't think this applies to you! You seem genuinely happy that 'nerd world' is a place where you belong, but many others use it as a way to be arrogant but charming.

Most people conform for the wrong reasons, is all I'm saying. But perhaps I'm just unkindly cynical!

Far too tired to engage in an eloquent discussion tonight. But I really like that your positivity contrasts my constant criticism. I like seeing things in new and more pleasant lights.

-Anon.

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