Tuesday, December 08, 2009

And the Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

Our latest guest-blogger has chosen to write about something near and dear to my heart: geeks. As a member of the tribe, I agree that it's refreshing to see my peeps start to get their due. I hope you all enjoy Jason's first essay for TV Sluts as much as I do, and you might like to know that in addition to writing about television he also bakes one heck of a pie. And if you are thinking that I courted him to write for the blog just so I could get him to make me more pie, than you are right. Just kidding! Maybe.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, geeks are pretty cool. Certainly on television, but even in real life. Emo music aside, the most popular bands? Geek-chic. The entire indie rock pantheon of bands frankly resembles a computer club yearbook photo when looked at instead of listened to. Alongside all of this, it’s been something of a sight to see this aesthetic played out on television. Geeks aren’t just in, they’re frankly ruling the place.

And the geekiness continues into reality. A friend of mine works as a teacher in magnet school that focuses on the arts. While the majority of the kids who attend are interested in pursuing a career in fine arts, a sizable minority goes to the school just because of its solid academic reputation. My friend, the teacher, reports on how different the school bullying is from what she remembers in high school. In this case, the kids that are more interested in sports or other “jock” behavior are clearly picked on and made fun of by the artsy kids. If you can’t name at least three existentialist writers, the artists are going to give you a paint swirly the next time you’re cornered in the bathroom.

What’s more, shows seem to recognize that perhaps the old cliché of bully-beats-up-nerd-and-the-pretty-girls-laugh is outdated. As teenagers get more individualized and schools develop programs and events that cater to a broader range of interests, there are more opportunities for the old high school pecking order to break down. After all, if you’re a high school principal, why spend all your millage or property tax dollars on the failing football team when your band just took states and your quizbusters team just went to nationals?

So how do we see this trend play out on television? Consider Glee. While the main characters are supposed to be outcasts and picked on (I don’t care how often they do it – the lead character getting a slurpee thrown on her is always going to be funny), they’re frankly pretty much the stars of the school. Even the pretty and bitchy cheerleaders are now following their example. And that was before the football team sang along to Beyonce. Nerds or not, these kids are calling all the shots.

Supernatural hit on this about a year ago. In their version, the Winchester brothers go back to their old high school to investigate a poltergeist that they’re convinced is the ghost of a nerdy kid only to find out that the wronged ghost is actually a bully. Turns out that because a nerd actually stood up to this unpleasant kid once, their roles became reversed and the “bully” died as a pathetic person, ruined by how mocked he was in high school, thus setting the stage for his ghostly and revenge-y return. was in high school, thus setting the stage for his ghostly and murderous return.

Likewise, Buffy the Vampire Slayer had one of its best episodes when Buffy gets the ability to read minds and hears a voice saying that he or she is going to kill everyone in the high school. In the process of trying to stop a Columbine-esque massacre, Buffy is granted full access to the entire school’s inner thoughts and learns that no matter what clique anyone belongs to, everyone has the same concerns – am I liked? Does my romantic interest like me back? Why do I look so ugly? Why is life so much easier for everyone else?

The adult market viewing isn’t so dissimilar. CSI, NCIS, and their several spin-offs are the most popular television programs on right now, a position they’ve more or less held since the trend toward technological police procedurals began about 10 years ago. The characters on these shows are unabashed about their nerdiness, preferring to spend their free time in the lab under dramatic lighting looking at carbon fibers rather than, say, date. That such a nerdtastic group of people are ruling he airwaves in the coveted 18-35 viewing demographic says something.

What’s great about these shows and this particular trope is that beyond showing that essentially we are all the same regardless of which lunch table we sat at in high school, we can see that the rules of life are fluid and that those who rule any one particular roost do so only precariously and only under specific conditions. Geeks, for being much maligned in the teenage years, are being illustrated differently on television and for a medium that’s known to not be all that realistic, it’s kind of nice to see it taking a step toward becoming so.


Monkey Sri said...

Yeah! Nerd is the new black :)

Maggie Cats said...

Let's just hope the popularity of geeks lasts. Perish the thought that one day my encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek and Buffy will be seen as lame.