The Comeback Geek

It was 1988. After hurriedly finishing our Chinese ‘O’ Levels, we rushed to join the queue for artist Brian Bolland to sign our copies of The Killing Joke, even as we nursed a high fever. Unfortunately, the line was too long and we didn’t get our autographs.

We did not know it then but that’s what nerds do. We sit around comic shops and talk endlessly about comic and game characters that do not exist, imagined their back-stories and how they came to be. And we’d queue and pay for strangers to vandalise our prized comic books.

Back in those days, the nerd culture was a depressing one. And it wasn’t a culture as much as it was a judgment against us. “Fat”, “pimply”, “buck-toothed”, “hopeless with women” were just some of the adjectives cruelly hurled at us.

revenge-of-the-nerdsIt’s all about the size of…your pocket protector

(Photo: MovieNight/YouTube)

Yet we were the lucky ones. In countries such as the United States, nerds were physically picked on mercilessly and violently. So much so that Hollywood made the comedic series Revenge of the Nerds, where science geeks got their backs on jocks – and won the girls. No surprise, they were a big hit with the community.

Even though the nerds got their day in the sun, they were still awkward bespectacled guys with that donkey-hee-haw laugh. In real life, nerds were still unpopular. The impression was not made better on the world’s stage. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines nerds as ‘an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits’. While Urban Dictionary claims they’re people whose ‘IQ exceed their weight’.

So who are the nerds, and are geeks the same? According to Merriam-Webster, nerds and geeks are equally awkward but geeks are ‘usually intelligent people who do not fit in with other people’. Even in today’s vernacular, it is more acceptable to claim oneself to be a geek rather than a nerd. And verbalising a term is a surefire way to make it popular; for example, “I can’t wait to geek out over Star Wars with the new Rogue One movie this year”.

The popularity of Geek Culture wasn’t an overnight phenomenon – neither did it benefit from Revenge of the Nerds series. Even when the late Steve Jobs became the face of cool geek icon, it didn’t happen with the launch of Ridley Scott’s critically acclaimed Apple ad in 1984. Mr Bill Gates also did not become an overnight geek success when Microsoft went public in 1986.

Star-Wars-Storm-Troopers-Kevin-DoyleOne Does Not Simply Walk Alone #StormTrooper

(Photo: 501st Legion member Kevin Doyle via ScreenRant)


Instead the rise of Geek Culture peeped in at the turn of the century. Hollywood had turned to comics to fuel ideas for cinemas. The effects team at Industrial Light and Magic had come a long way since the grandfather of geek George Lucas created it for Star Wars (this was before it even had a subtitle). The imaginations of kids and creators were now ready to be visualised.

We were at the beginning of the information age. The Internet was just budding and the geeks were at the forefront of its build. And, you’ve guessed it; they populated it with things they grew up with – from Marvel and DC comics to Dungeons and Dragons to Transformers and Mask cartoons. Geek culture was leaking into the mainstream consciousness and no one was the wiser.

In 2000, Napster showed the world how music would be consumed half a decade later. Mr Steve Jobs rolled out the first iPod in 2001 (as he unveiled the spool of geeky cool Apple gadgets like iPhone, iPad, iNano, etc, Mr Jobs became mainstream cool too). MySpace followed up in 2003 with social network for musicians and artists. And Facebook launched in 2004. The geeks are running the world now, and they’re not dorky, fat kids with braces.

Geek is now cool. And every one wants to be a geek. Even celebrities such as Justin Timberlake framed their paparazzi snaps with black-rimmed spectacles that would have ensured a beating for nerds and geeks once upon a time.

San-Diego_ComicConThe combined IQ is over 9000!

(Photo: fourthwallevents)

Gaming and comic conventions like the San Diego Comic Convention (SDCC) became mainstream events that get plastered all over the news for its long queues of fans and exclusive media panels. It was also a way to show off creative and elaborate costumes of comic, game, movie characters like this Rancor one. And it spawned comic conventions all over the US and across the world.

Even in Singapore, conventions such as the Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention (STGCC) flew in a slew of superstar comic illustrators and writers (we may get that Alan Moore signature for our copies of The Killing Joke yet!). Game nerds got their latest news as well as hands on trials of upcoming games and technology at largely popular game convention, GameStart Asia.

big-bang-theory-cast_libraryEveryone’s smart in the above photo except one (if you watch TBBT, you’ll understand)

(Photo: Gresswell)

Television celebrated Geek Culture with sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, showing geeks and nerds can be lovable, clever and get the girl. The latest TV tribute to nerds was the hugely popular Netflix series Stranger Things. Part Goonies, part Twilight Zone and part X-Files, the series profiled a trio of kids who were picked on by jocks for being different. And (spoiler alert!), they saved the day by playing Dungeons and Dragons. It doesn’t get more nerdier than that.

The feather in the cap for Geek Culture must be the endorsement by the fashion industry. Not stopping at the ubiquitous black-rimmed, oversized, Clark Kent spectacles, the fashion world has adopted the awkward look of geeks. Once ridiculed for being fabric-, pattern- and colour-blind, but it is now cool to clash patterns in Geek Chic. In this Vogue editorial, the writer chronicles fashion’s embrace of the “inner weirdness, to be quirky and stand out, like a Wes Anderson heroine in sixties kneesocks and saddle shoes”.

Dungeons-and-DragonsRoll 10 to run, roll 20 to outrun the slowest party member #loyalty

(Photo: Nerdist)

And just as fashion houses embrace the mismatched, loud-colour ensemble, geeks have surfaced the art of minimalistic dressing. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained in an interview why he was always seen in the same grey t-shirt: “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.” Which is – if you think about it – what geeks have been saying all along: ‘I don’t care about what you have to say unless it’s about Dungeons and Dragons’.

Oh, and one more thing, the Collins dictionary is considering redefining the word geek. Editor Ian Brookes said it is no longer a ‘boring and unattractive social misfit’ and users are using more and more of the word without ‘the association to computers, and with positive connotations’, reported The Guardian.

 (Featured Image: echoba)

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