Welcome to the Geek
Just years ago the geek was a petty insult used to generate juvenile stereotypes. Today, this is no longer the case, which may be partly due to the effects of pop culture and media. It has just recently taken the world of film, news, and print by storm; evolving into its own state of being. With its growing popularity and following, it has begun to constitute questions surrounding how it’s represented. In order to answer these questions we must delve into the lifestyle and interest of a real world geek. Fortunately for you (the reader), I happen to associate myself with things geeky and beyond. Together we will view the wide range of interests, activities, and values of geeks presented in pop culture. Along with it the positivity and negativity presented and shown by the media when referring to geeks. Using some of today and yesterdays pop culture, we will peer into how geeks are being portrayed in media and the effects it is having.
Growing up in a small town, it was difficult to acquiesce with the stereotypes set in place. I felt the pressure of peers to follow in their interests or be left by the wayside. This created conflicts within me; my interests were not of sports, girls, or social activities. No, I felt the desire for technology. It was difficult to find others who shared interests, so I created a façade in order to fit in. However, as time began to pass, I found it easier and safer to reveal who and what I really was. I’d like to think pop culture played a factor in making this happen. Being a geek had become less negative and in return granted an opportunity for comfort in an otherwise reluctant stereotype. Progress is being made, yet some negative images and depictions remain in place.
Negative imagery related to geeks can be seen in movies, television, advertisements, and other forms of media. Unfortunately, these images have had a hand in shaping the modern view of the geek in today’s society. In these images geeks are often portrayed as socially inadequate and awkward, and all around irregular to everyone else in society. The way they dress, talk, and interact is suggested and applied to further progress the media’s illustration.
A prime example of negativity in pop culture towards geeks can be seen in a commercial created by Go Daddy. The commercial features a narrator (Danica Patrick), Bar Rafaeli, and Walter (Jesse Heiman). Bar appears as an attractive woman wearing a pink dress showing her near perfect smile. While Walter is a heavyweight man wearing glasses, a button-up shirt, and a tie. In the commercial Walter is busy typing on a nearby laptop while sitting next to Bar. While doing so the narrator introduces each character and labels both; Bar the “sexy side” and Walter the “smart side.” After the introduction of both, the narrator reveals it takes both sides to create a “perfect” website. Upon the end of the sentence both Bar and Walter stare into the screen, look to each other, and kiss. Upon exiting the kiss a text appears, stating “When sexy meets smart your small business scores.”
Go Daddy creates a multitude of questions from their character representations. Is it not possible for a website creator to be both “sexy” and “smart?” What makes Walter the “smart side” and Bar the “sexy side?” The commercial sets a standard that is irrational and unfortunate. It seems Go Daddy has used a number of preconceived notions in order to create identities for the characters. One of these notions uses the idea that Walter is not sexy. Thus Walter may be seen as less attractive and not physically desirable in comparison to Bar. Another of which is that someone who creates websites, can’t or doesn’t look like Bar. Why can’t Bar Rafaeli play the “smart side?” The ideals represented don’t do a great job of breaching boundaries placed by generalizations from the past.
While Go Daddy’s commercial presented a high amount of negativity in manufacturing an image for geeks, it offered one positive image. The geek kisses Bar, the “sexy side.” How often do we see the geek looking from afar, dreaming of one day kissing the attractive guy/girl. It doesn’t happen generally, at least not without overcoming obstacles. These obstacles often include either shyness or appearance. In films and television shows such as “Freaks and Geeks,” the geeks are smaller, less social, and awkward when put in situations involving other people (usually of the opposite sex). Where did this objectified ideal come from?
We follow the characters of Sam Weir (John Francis Daley), Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine), and Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr), all of which make up the gang of geeks on the show Freaks and Geeks. The show is set in McKinley High School during the 1980’s. Most of the time the geeks are wearing polo’s, button-up shirts, and/or sweaters. The show offers positive and negative images that mirror the real life geek during that time period. One of the scenes in an episode includes Sam and Neal arguing over who the real geek is, as though it is an atrocious title to carry. This may be because being labeled as a geek at the time had larger ramifications in society. Freaks and Geeks offers a great look into the difference of being a geek during the 1980’s compared to being a geek in today’s world.
When it comes to the educational skills represented by the geeks in Freaks and Geeks, the show characterizes the geeks as smart. They are knowledgeable in almost every aspect of school (excluding female anatomy). According to the educational journal, Nerds and Geeks: Society’s Evolving Stereotypes of Our Students with Gifts and Talents (2005) written by Tracy L. Cross, research has found that there is connection between positive educational skills and technology. Cross suggests that growing up, “immersed in technology,” has increased the learning ability, and in return has given a positive view to being a geek. Both the Go Daddy commercial and Freaks and Geeks feature the geek(s) using technology such as a computer, television, or game devices.
Technology is a prime aspect in describing a geek. It can be described as a hobby and an interest. One could say the level a person is enveloped in technology is related to how geeky that person is. Technology is not the only aspect though, and the television show The Big Bang Theory provides a great example. This sitcom includes comic books, sci-fi, board games, books, etc. All of which are also related to the image of the geek created by the producers. The Big Bang Theory offers a different perspective on the social aspect of the modern geek. An aspect I find to be a much more accurate portrait than either, Freaks and Geeks and the Go Daddy commercial.
The producers and writers of The Big Bang Theory create a prominently positive image of the modern geek. The characters appear to be in their late 20’s, and live in an apartment in Pasadena, California. Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) play the main characters, while their “geek” friends include Raj (Kunal Nayyar) and Howard (Simon Helberg). Many of the scenes are set in Sheldon’s apartment, with the characters watching television, playing video games, or surfing the internet a sizeable amount of the time.
I can relate to the characters of the Big Bang Theory well enough to find enjoyment in watching the show. As a geek I enjoy comic books, movies, video games, and virtually anything relating to technology. While there are many similarities, I can also find some differences between myself and the show. I’m not particularly fond of clothing relating to video games or comic book characters. Another difference is vocabulary used; the characters make constant references to sci-fi film and use a sizeable amount of scientific jargon. In a way, the producers create an image that science is geeky. I believe this is an accurate image as many of the factors of being a geek can be related directly or indirectly with science, however being a geek doesn’t necessarily mean you use scientific jargon.
What affects do these forms of media having on geeks in today’s society? Level of comfort is the first thing that comes to mind. The Big Bang Theory reaches such a large audience, not only in the United States, but around the world. It has created a centralized form of media in which geeks alike can refer to. Even those who watch purely for entertainment and don’t associate themselves with the term geek can gain an understanding of what a geek is. The Big Bang Theory has created a link between mainstream media and the geek. Becoming more mainstream through media has offered an opportunity for society to accept geeks as a legitimate identity. Acceptance offers an opportunity for geeks to feel comfort in a world of diversity.
Upon many revealing pop culture artifacts, I believe that progress is being made to normalize the geek. The Big Bang Theory provides a great example since it reaches such a large audience. The show mirrors real life geeks in a positive way; the characters do not alienate non-geeks and are not alienated in return. They have shown that there is a place among the rest of society for geeks to take. With so many different facets related to geeks, it has become easier than ever for a person to associate themselves without resentment. Even if you enjoy something as little as reading a sci-fi magazine, you can consider yourself a geek. By interacting with a geek or anything relating to geekiness, you can help evolve a stereotype into an acceptable image. While there is still progress to be made, I can safely say I enjoy being a geek in the world of today.
GoDaddy. “Bar Refaeli Kissing Jesse Heiman Go Daddy Perfect Match Super Bowl Commercial.” Online video clip. http://classroom.synonym.com/cite-youtube-commercial-mla-format-2262.html. Youtube, February 8, 2013
Prady, Bill. Lorre, Chuck. “The Big Bang Theory” CBS.
Feig, Paul. “Freaks and Geeks” NBC. 1999.
Cross, Tracy L. “Nerds and Geeks: Society’s Evolving Stereotypes of Our Students with Gifts and Talents.” Gifted Child Today. v28 n4 p26-27, 65 Fall 2005