There used to be good nerds. Band camp kids? Computer geeks? Music nerds—the ones everyone loved to hate, who only liked the band before everyone else did?
They were obsessive. They were annoying. They were vital.
I’m not sure where American nerdery went wrong, but it very much has, and boy do I wish I weren’t here for it (but also, I kinda do). To put this in well-worn terms, nerds used to be so uncool, they were cool. By contrast, most of today’s nerds are guilty of appropriation. They aren’t nerds at all. The vast lot are in fact nothing more than massive dorks.
Let’s conduct a National Survey of The Nerds. Consider: There used to be MacGuyver, the guy one really wanted instead of the Marlboro Man because he’d hack together a stick of gum and a paperclip to rescue someone from the poisonous cabin sliding down the cliff, all in time to take out the casserole. Now? There’s Vin Diesel and biohackers.
Who does a gal have to Big Bang Theory to escape the bilious billionaires buying Twitter? Billionaires, mercifully, used to be invisible. Sure, everyone knew about the one in Omaha and the one making the latest version of Windows, but they seemed alright. (Donald Trump’s Ivana era doesn’t count, because everyone knew then, as now, he was no billionaire.)
I’m not saying the ’80s were the final grand decade of nerdom, because there’s Portia from The White Lotus, but what else? Even nerd moms used to be better. Nerdier. If one is somewhere north of Millennial but south of Boomer, they’ll recall how there was always that one nerdy health mom coming back from aerobics class to make her ’80s mom salad of peas, kidney beans and pasta shells mixed with some kind of sprout or seed.
Now? There are wine moms crafting butter boards. Hashtag #passtheprosecco if she’s going to make it another #blessed (pronounced “bless-ed”) year putting up with her #biglug.
Reaching back further: Hippies. Nerds! Those lovable old stoner burnouts in their striped hemp tunics? The neighbor who never shut up about the importance of recycling, maybe even going through one’s trash to recycle it along with his? This is nerding of the highest order.
Now? There’s optimizing a marriage at dinner time with Life Dinner (I wish I were kidding), the entire concept known as Active Leisure, whiskey tangos cosplaying with Harleys and beard oil, and teenagers not having sex on purpose.
When did the Great Nerd Crisis begin? Was it homeschooling and promise rings? Was it reality television, or just the Kardashians? (I shall contrarily posit in a future column that they are among today’s only good nerds, but I digress.) Was it tech bros quaffing Soylent on the way to the latest Singularity conference? What would The Breakfast Club circa 2023 even look like?
In subsequent columns, nerd culture’s rise and fall will be interrogated with equal parts fascination and exasperation. It will be inconsistent. It will be irresponsible. It will be overly caffeinated or inebriated or both. Pickle guys will probably be picked on while overnight oats will be hypocritically lauded.
The reporting will stop at nothing (because that’s what real nerds do) to make the case that what this country needs is a few good nerds. That nerds are a cultural bellwether as crucial to determining the common health of the commonwealth as the GDP and the S&P. It’s promised that acts of shameless cherry pickery will be committed to support conclusions. I have a master’s degree in American Studies, but I assure, I won’t let scholarly integrity get in the way.
Above all, homage will be paid to the true nerds—not just the good ones (cat ladies), but the ones so bad they’re good, too (vegans). Nerdus authenticus, if one will. #Fauxnerds, wannabros (formerly known as local gods), #cryptocucks, beware: Someone is coming for you.