7: Nerd & Geek with Chris “Stu” Stuart

Stu and I ponder a question for the ages. This one’s a bit longer than usual, but I just couldn’t bear to cut any of the pearls of wisdom. If you’re following along at home, you can find the the Venn diagrams that we discuss at the following addresses, respectively:

2 thoughts on “7: Nerd & Geek with Chris “Stu” Stuart

  1. Hey Evan,
    Been enjoying the show. Yeah, I think you and Stu got it right for the most part, but something left me a bit uncomfortable: there was a moment when you were speaking about people in history, (I forget the context), and you referred to them as “nerds” . Anyway, my point here is that I don’t accept that Isaac Newton or Sigmund Freud could ever be called a “nerd” or “geek”. I think the names can really only fit if the following criteria are met:
    1) The names are so part and parcel of popular high school culture that we would be wrong to look for nerds or geeks before that popular culture emerged. I’m not sure when it started: sometime after mandatory post-adolescent schooling and before Archie and Jughead. In fact, comic books are probably a good place to find those first high school archetypes.
    2) The terms are also very culturally specific. In an American high school, you’ve got all types: jocks, posers, druggies, metalheads, hippies, sluts, goths, psychos, nerds, geeks and certainly others. But you and your Stu speak as though nerds and geeks accept their names and wave their freak flags proudly beyond high school. OK, that’s apparently the case. But I posit that its because American culture doesn’t allow you to take on any more positive identity for that aspect of your personality. What would happen if you began to identify yourselves as “intellectuals” ? Sadly, I think you’d feel more comfortable calling yourself a nerd. The United States has a strongly anti-intellectual vein, and so if you are interested in ideas (but not in getting your Phd), then society can’t make sense of you and will have to go back to high school to understand who you are. Unless, you’re Steve Jobs or some other dude who has managed to turn your interesting mind into something marketable.

    Love the show.

    • It’s true that no one ever called Sir Isaac Newton either a nerd or a geek, but by any sense of how the word is used (at least, as I was articulating it back when we recorded this), Sir Isaac Newton is a total nerd. He is maybe even the Ur Nerd. He was a profoundly socially awkward man who likely died a virgin, got obsessed with many different sciences, some of which he invented himself, and some of which weren’t really sciences. (You could spend hours looking into Newton’s obsession with alchemy and the occult. He went through the Bible and became convinced that the Earth might in fact come to an end in 2060, due to the numerology he found in there). He was a messed up nerd of a man. He fits the criteria of obsessiveness and bookishness to a T.

      I also think it’s pretty clear that the idea of “nerd” and “geek” has transcended high school, and that the idea of there being a nerd culture or geek culture (well, usually, they’re thought of as the same thing) is something that is a) Something totally accepted, and b) something people use to describe themselves. See for instance the writings and life of Wil Wheaton, or the music of Jonathan Coulton, or the comic XKCD. These are nerds and geeks writing for their peers and being totally unrepentant about it.

      The point of that is that nerds and geeks are not freaks. In a very real sense, the nerds and the geeks won. Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Apple, The Big Bang Theory, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc. We’re not intellectuals, in the sense that we read Camus and Derrida and talk about Habermas. We’re geeks, and we own the culture.

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