“Who’s the nerd now?”

From Outcast to Social Norm: The Evolution of the Nerd

Picture a Nerd. What do you see? Pasty skin, thick glasses and a pocket protector? Maybe you imagine someone who is socially awkward, keeps to themselves, or possibly someone chilling in the school cafeteria enjoying a competitive game of Magic the Gathering. Imagine these stereotypes while you still can, because they are being revamped, updated and upgraded. Popular media, fashion and social popularity have enabled nerds to transform into something beautiful and desirable. Nerds are evolving – becoming a social norm in today’s popular culture.


“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…“  (Star Wars, 1977.)

Take a look back to the beginning… How are nerds so different now, compared to how they were in the past? What has enabled them to evolve into something so popular, so fresh, and so sought after? It’s best to take a gander in Popular Media, starting with Revenge of the Nerds.

This is a movie that fulfills all nerd stereotypes. Revenge of the Nerds is a film that strives off the segregation of nerd vs jock. The Freshmen hall is taken over by a group of jocks who accidently burn down their own home, leaving the unfortunate Freshmen body left to live in the College Auditorium. The class is asked to join fraternities, so they can relocate. All students find a fraternity, except a small group of students, who are segregated as nerds. This movie reflects the change of how we view nerds in popular culture. The nerds fight back and form their own fraternity. They develop the courage and power to be proud of what they are and the media loves it. This movie has all the college humor; from panty raids and booger jokes, to underage drinking and sexual misconduct – but it revolves it around a group that is less than popular: Nerds! Revenge of the Nerds kick-starts the beginning of nerd popularity and nerd pride.

Gibert: “I just wanted to say that I’m a nerd, and I’m here tonight to stand up for the rights of other nerds. I mean uh, all our lives we’ve been laughed at and made to feel inferior. And tonight, those bastards, they trashed our house. Why? Cause we’re smart? Cause we look different? Well, we’re not. I’m a nerd, and uh, I’m pretty proud of it.”

The popularity of this movie encouraged more and more nerd Protagonists in the media. A more recent and comparable example, The Big Bang Theory, is an extremely popular sitcom about nerds, just being nerds. This show survives on continuous cheesy geek jokes and fulfilling stereotypes. It’s a show about a group of nerds who don’t have to get cooler as they get older; they are already kings by being nerdy as ever. These nerds are funny, smart, and cool! The show sells so much merchandise; how many of those “Bazinga!” shirts have you seen floating around? The audience loves the lives these nerds portray, making nerds more and more popular. The more popular the nerd becomes, the more the nerd population will grow. Soon, the nerd will become just like anybody else: Normal.


“In my mind, a nerd is someone who is passionate about (and very good at) something – be it math, Irish literature, D&D, botany, whatever. Somewhere along the line, this changed to being part of a certain culture, watching this TV show and wearing that type of clothing…”  (Westcott, 2012.)

As the popularity of “nerditude” increases, we witness the lowering of the nerd bar. “Recently, the number of Hollywood celebrities who claim to be or have been nerds has skyrocketed.” (Hwang, 2013.) Nerds have been becoming so popular and so cool that celebrities want to be them. Celebrities have no fear of being ridiculed by fans because nerds have become so socially acceptable. Take a look at fashion. “Revenge of the Nerd fashion reflects the times we live in.” (Vogue, 2015.) Overall, fashion expresses what’s “popular.” Thick, black framed glasses are being worn on the red carpet. Nerd culture sells. We are experiencing the rise of “fake nerds” and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The more the nerd, inside and out, becomes more socially acceptable, the more the nerd becomes a social norm.


What is this image trying to sell? We learned earlier in our course how to analyze advertisements. This is very straight forward. Thick framed glasses, goofy bowtie t-shirts and cardigan sweaters are in. Nerds are sexy, and Forever 21 knows it. It’s time to make profit on what’s popular. We also learned about the influences that advertisements have on us. Fashion is an identity. If looking like a nerd is in fashion, why wouldn’t you want to look like one? This model is clearly attractive, even when wearing an attire, that in the past, was considered not so attractive. This further encourages the idea of nerds becoming a social norm.

“Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one…”  (Charles J. Skyes, 1996.)

With the rise of the internet and advancement in technology, all due respect goes to our nerds. “That’s the only way that the world can solve its big problems: by mainstreaming oddball people and ideas that might have been shunned in a prior generation.” (Hwang, 2013.) We need brains to help us with technology. It’s as if the roles have switched; instead of being attracted to muscles, we’re attracted to that big sexy brain. Instead of watching football, why not try watching “Lets Plays”? Instead of organizing strategies in sports, why not organize strategies in “Larps”? Lets Plays are videos on Youtube of someone playing through a game. A Larp is Live Action Role Playing; so a bunch of people get together and act out DnD related activities with foam weapons and fun costumes. Larping has become so popular there is even a website, www.larping.org that allows you to search for local larping communities; and trust me, there are a ton.  How fun is it to dress up as your favorite video game or comic book character and meet up with like-minded people at organized events such as Comicon? These are examples of nerdy things that are becoming more and more popular. This is the rise of nerd culture.

How do the nerds feel about all of this attention? If nerds are becoming mainstream, are they no longer special? There’s this thing called Nerd Pride that has also developed with the growing popularity of nerds. Nerds have fought against popular culture for many years, lost many battles, and have now finally won. New nerds keep popping out of the wood-works who have never had to deal with nerd prosecution. These “fake nerds” are those who think nerds are cool and so desperately want to be nerds. “Singles on dating websites define themselves in their profiles as “nerds” and “geeks” – in a positive way.” (Westcott, 2012.) It is a known fact, due to Nerd Pride, that nerds get highly irritated by the increasing amount of “fake nerds.”


This rise in popularity has allowed nerds to have their very own holiday: Geek Pride Day, May 25th. This day was chosen to coincide with the first Star Wars Film, which was released on May 25th, 1977. It is a world-wide celebration of nerdom; where you can celebrate anything and everything worth “geeking” out over. Tech brands go nuts using this day to increase sales and advertisements. There’s money in nerds, whether it be from fashion or technology – the growing acceptance of nerds is income.

“As more and more people become enthusiasts, traditional “nerd” and “geek” interests – Star Trek, comic books, anime, video games – are moving into the mainstream.” (Westcott, 2012.)

The idea of the nerd has evolved. Past nerds were socially awkward and afraid of being outcasts – while present day nerds are sought out and viewed as attractive. Being a nerd now is mainstream. Movies that have been making the most in box office have been comic book and video game movies. There is a ton of money in the video game market. The more nerds, the more profit. Nerds are no longer side characters, but main characters in media. They are the protagonists, the heroes. They inspire the rise of the internet. There are many people who are calling themselves nerds, because they so desperately want to become nerds.

Why does this all matter? It’s proof that society is changing, adapting and evolving. Society is growing and essentially becoming more “open-minded.” Those who were once ridiculed are now honored. Gender roles have been switching, advertisements are focusing on improving the world rather than selling something, and social identities are adjusting. Nerds are evolving and becoming a social norm, and that is amazing.  Nerds may not be enjoying the rise of the “fake nerds,” but they are definitely appreciating the social freedom popular culture has given them. The rise of nerds in the media has granted them power; but the more nerds become mainstream, the more they become just like everybody else: A Social Norm.


Works Cited

Edmundson-Cornell, Harry. The Big Bang Theory and Geek Culture. 4 Jan. 2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2015. http://sequart.org/magazine/38229/the-big-bang-theory-and-geek-culture/

Fox, Jessie David. The Evolution of the TV Nerd, From Potsie to Urkel to Abed. 12 March 2013. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. http://www.vulture.com/2013/03/evolution-of-the-tv-nerd-screech-urkel-abed.html#

Hwang, Victor W. A Huge Global Epidemic: Fake Nerds. Forbs.com. 3 Jun. 2013. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.  http://www.forbes.com/sites/victorhwang/2013/06/03/a-huge-global-epidemic-fake-nerds/

Kempley, Rita. Nerds Come Into Their Own, At Last. The Washington Post. 10 Aug. 1984. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1984/08/10/nerds-come-into-their-own-at-last/8d51812d-508b-4efa-bf2f-d6c1c97b90ff/

Kim, Monica. Revenge of the Nerds: Why Geek Chic is the Next Fashion Phenomenon. Vogue Magazine. 25 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. http://www.vogue.com/13299064/nerd-style-fashion-gucci-fall-2015/

Revenge of the Nerds Quotes. IMDB. Web. 18 Nov. 2015. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088000/quotes

Sifferlin, Alexandra. What to Know About Geek Pride Day. Time Magazine. 25 May 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. http://time.com/3895549/geek-pride-day/

Star Wars Quotes. IMDB. Web. 18 Nov. 2015. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0076759/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu

Westcott, Kathryn. Are “Geek” and “Nerd” Now Positive Terms? BBC News Magazine. 16 Nov. 2012. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20325517

West, Randolph. Skyes, Charles J. Charles J. Skyes – Some Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School. 19 Sep. 1996. Web. 8 Nov. 2015. http://rabryst.ca/2006/09/charles-j-sykes-some-rules-kids-wont-learn-in-school/?entry=entry060928-084532


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About wood9

Hi there! My name is Jennifer and I am currently a student at Portland State University. I earned my Associates in Arts a few years back and I am looking to finish my Bachelors, finally! I have a passion for art, film and entertainment and hope to pursue a career in movie development. My personal life? Well, I have a three-year old pug named Pugsly, who keeps me pretty active. We enjoy hikes and rough-housing it with the other dogs. I have three older brothers and no sisters, which has molded me into a video-game, television, youtube and internet meme snob. My greatest goal in life (which I know it's a pretty sappy one) is to support and raise a family. I understand it's 2015, times have changed, so I continue to be patient and wise, ensuring that my future is ready for a litter of munchkins running around.

4 thoughts on ““Who’s the nerd now?”

  1. Hello Jennifer,

    I too wrote my essay on how nerds have changed throughout the years. It was something I hadn’t really noticed before having to think about it during this course, despite it being a huge part of our pop culture. The “Big Bang Theory” is a great artifact to display this evolution, especially when comparing it to “Revenge of the Nerds” from the 80’s. I believe that as technology has become a necessary part of our lives, the types of nerds who are tech savvy have gotten a lot more respect in society. Also, with blockbuster films that cater to the fan culture becoming the symbol of Hollywood, being a fanboy or fangirl over something has become very accepted.

  2. Jennifer,
    I love this essay I completely agree with everything that you have mentioned in your research. I have never seen “Revenge of the Nerds” but I do love the “Big Bang Theory” and that was a great example of how nerd-ism has evolved in the current years. The show almost makes you want to be a nerd so you could be smart and cool like Sheldon, and even Leonard gets “the girl” (Penny). Even with just watching movies like “She’s All That” they portray the “nerd” as a hot girl in a nerd’s body until she gets a make over and yep she’s cool now. I also liked how you incorporated that Forever21 advertisement to show that even fashion is evolving nerd-ism. I find myself looking for thick rimmed glasses now because they are so cute and I even refer to them as “nerd glasses”. You make so very good points in this essay and I enjoyed reading it very much!

  3. Wow, Jennifer, very persuasive. You have great use of sources to prove what you have to say: that nerds are becoming a popular thing. That the big brain is sexy to the point where you have people faking being a nerd. This is something I haven’t noticed really before! Really informative, so thank you Jennifer for a great read.

  4. Jennifer,

    Great post! I read a post similar to yours except it was on portrayals of college students and not just females. From reading it, I had already thought a little about the portrayals of college students but I see it a bit differently from reading yours. I do see how in the examples you used, females in college are sought out to be either nerdy or pretty, not both. Which I think is very true, that is how females are represented but it isn’t true. Also I agree with how you mentioned that over time the stereotype has changed, I feel like it’s more subtle and less intense. I really enjoyed reading your post!


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