Over the course of this popular culture class I have been given the opportunity to analyze and understand varying forms of stereotypes throughout the media. In my time in this class I have been given the opportunity to study and grasp the concept of the nerd stereotype and its use in the media. The nerd stereotype has been depicted throughout almost all forms of media in a negative light as a white male anti-social stereotype that does itself, and others more bad than good. I will be analyzing the stereotypes in three shows, That 70’s Show, Big Bang Theory, and Napoleon Dynamite. Starting with Big Bang Theory and Napoleon Dynamite first as my two negative sources, and then analyzing That 70’s Show as a more positive view of the nerd stereotype.
Big Bang Theory is a tv show directed by Mark Cendrowski. The show follows the story of four friends and their life after college as scientists and nerds. Right off the bat this show takes the nerd stereotype to a heavily negative field, each of the four main characters embodies some variant of the nerd stereotype. Raj is the anti-social stereotype, he is literally unable to talk to women, specifically women that’s right. This problem of his is used to lead to several laughs and hijinks in the show due to his inability to talk to women. Howard is the perverted nerd stereotype, a nerd that relates everything in one way or another to something sexual. There is even an episode where he needs Leonard and Raj to help him get a robot hand off his manhood because he tried to use it to help satisfy his needs. After that we have Shelden, Shelden is another anti-social stereotype but also a very pious know it all stereotype. He believes he’s smarter than everyone else, both his friends and his colleagues are “below” his intelligence and strongly emphasizes throughout the whole series. And finally there is Leonard who compartmentalizes the shy, awkward character that is less of a man for being a nerd. As is discussed by Lori Kendall in “White and Nerdy: Computers, Race, and the Nerd Stereotype” She discusses how one fellow by the name of Ron Eglash states that the nerd stereotype, while yes white and male is “Hardly a portrait of male superiority”. This is backed up in the show as Leonard is “Showed up” by several taller, muscular and more charismatic man that make Penny, Leonards love interest, fall in love with them instead of Leonard, leaving an emphasis on how unimpressive the nerd stereotype is. Throughout the show it is proven time and time again that these stereotypes of nerd culture, no matter how negative are solely for the use of comedy and no other purpose beyond that. The four main characters are all a variant of the nerd stereotype, and many times the female side characters (Who are all, unsurprisingly, girlfriends to the male main characters) contemplate whether or not to actually stick with the main characters due to their horrid stereotypical attitude getting in the way.
The next negative nerd stereotype comes from the film Napoleon Dynamite. This movie was something, something very difficult for me to describe without using many swear words and cursing up a storm. The movies itself is a hour and a half long, almost surreal experience directed by Jared Hess and carries with it what could possibly be one of the worst nerd stereotypes I have seen. The main character, Napoleon Dynamite embodies everything most people generally see in a nerd, drawing alone in class, playing alone on the playground, sassing, insulting, and harassing everyone instead of having decent human conversation and on top of all that making up lies and tall tales to try and look like the cool kid when obviously he isn’t. This is the negative, narcissistic and insulting nerd stereotype that believes he’s better than everyone else but truly has no real way to show it. Almost all of the characters as well are incredibly unlikeable, dull, or embody some other stereotype you can’t help but cringe at them. The only redeemable moment in this movie was when Kip and his online girlfriend (who was played by a african american woman) finally got together, they were a beautiful sweet couple and the only bright spotlight to this surreal dull flick. During this class’s process of annotating the pieces, it helped me better understand how to categorize and file the stereotypes in the movies, and my thoughts on the subject in a more neat and organized fashion, allowing me to better review the movie, it’s negative stereotype and above all give information on it. A key thing that truly irks me about this film is the sense of loneliness the nerd stereotype has, that isolation and lone wolf style of life is not true at all in any facet. Discussed by L. Williams in her piece “Debunking the Nerd Stereotype with Pair Programming” She looks specifically at this sense of how lonely the nerd stereotype looks and how dull it must be when it is not true. Using pair programming she brings two, three or four people together into groups to work on programming projects, she shows her students and herself that the idea of the nerd stereotype and its isolation is a bald faced lie, nerds can connect, group up, and work together with many others to solve large and complex problems just like any other regular human.
However, not all of the stereotypes we will be looking at are incredibly negative. In That 70’s Show, directed by David Trainer and Terry Hughes. The show looks at the later years of highschool for a close knit group of friends. Right off the bat what is a almost welcoming sight to behold is that every single character is not the nerd stereotype. Kelso is the jock, Hydes the cool guy, Jackies the diva, Donna is the strong girl, Fez is the foreign exchange student and finally Eric Forman who is our only nerd stereotype in the entire show and yet even he is a very tame form of this stereotype. Throughout the entire show you are not bombarded and blasted with nerd references of pop culture references and no one is insulting him every day for Erics nerdy likes. Eric does not physically embody the nerd stereotype, the only way you can tell he is a nerd is from the occasional comments and when you see his room, he has comic books, a few figurines and posters in his room. He is a nerd through some light consumerism and enjoys the platform, but it is not shoved in our face at every possible moment and is simply used as a way to describe Erics personality. Every character is a different stereotype and that allows the viewer to make fun of everyone, including possibly themselves so we can all actually have a good laugh from this show. Unlike Big Bang Theory or Napoleon Dynamite that painfully shove the nerd stereotype in your face so they’re the only ones you can laugh at and associate negative connotations to. That’s why this show just feels so much more positive compared to the other two, as stated above with all the other stereotypes everyone has something to laugh at or even at themselves and feels far more inclusive than just using one single stereotype as a comedic slapstick.
To recap, we looked at multiple forms of media in popular culture to take a further look into how the nerd stereotype is used amongst these mediums. Included in this was the Big Bang Theory, Napoleon Dynamite and That 70’s Show. Big Bang Theory showed us the nerd stereotype through four different but heavily similiar variants including anti-social, pious, perverted, and un-masculine stereotypes. From Napoleon Dynamite we got a almost surreal look at the nerd stereotype in a heavily isolated and narcissistic fashion, much like in Big Bang Theory, Napoleon Dynamite was a very pious stereotype along with a heavy mix of anti-social and un-masculine. Finally we had That 70’s Show, the only one of the three shows to make fun of more than just the nerd stereotype, and even its nerd stereotype was subtle and well hidden under character progression and comedy found in all the other stereotypes to have fun with. From this class I learned the fundamentals of looking through and analyzing forms of media, discovering their stereotypes and asking questions. I learned these tactics from the research analysis worksheet and while working on the annotated bibliography. These stereotypes can be a problem, not just for nerds but for anyone, they can create a negative idea or view of a group of people based on race, class, or simply their interests in forms of entertainment such as we’ve seen with nerds. We’ll probably never get rid of stereotypes, but at least we can turn towards making fun of the stereotypes, and educating people to help them better realized this one and all other stereotypes are nothing more than that, a figment and imaginary idea made to simply make fun of others. Once everyone learns this we can better make fun of and actually try and enjoy these stereotypes, just like in That 70’s show, we won’t just be laughing at the nerd, we won’t just be laughing at the foreign guy, we won’t just be laughing at the girl, we will all come together as friends and laugh at ourselves and each other for just how silly we all are.
Kendall, Lori. ““White and Nerdy”: Computers, Race, and the Nerd Stereotype.” KENDALL – 2011 – The Journal of Popular Culture – Wiley Online Library. N.p., 2 June 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
Williams, Laurie. “Debunking the nerd stereotype with pair programming – IEEE Xplore Document.” Debunking the nerd stereotype with pair programming – IEEE Xplore Document. N.p., 5 May 2006. Web. 20 Feb. 2017.
Napoleon Dynamite, directed by Jared Hess,(2004, ), DVD
Big Bang Theory, directed by Mark Cendrowski, (2007, CBS), TV
That 70’s Show, directed by David Trainer and Terry Hughes, (1998, Fox), TV