When I was younger, Happy Days made the term “nerd” a household word. We laughed as Fonzie, the coolest of the cool, become a nerd as part of a contest. But in my school no one wanted to be seen as a nerd. Nerds knew the high tech equipment, had keys to the computer room, and did the trouble shooting when a projector broke down. It was a badge of honor for them to wear the pocket protector, the tape on their glasses and know they could save the day in a classroom. But it was also a surefire way to get your lunch tray dumped in the cafeteria! But in today’s world we have nerd chic, STEM programs, and individuals fighting to be recognized as introverts and social misfits. What happened?
First, let me say that I think these programs are great at promoting the acquisition of skills the nerds of the world cherish. More girls are interested in math and science, and there is a movement to increase the technical skills of all American children through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education Coalition. Parents are raising funds and encouraging their children to excel in science and technology; everything from LEGO contests to Mathletic Teams, and Science Fairs, etc. Through STEM, we see a wave of support for the “nerd appeal” of those subjects. The Big Bang Theory appears to have landed square in the middle of a time when the knowledge exhibited is actually valued in today’s world.
OK, so not everyone thinks looking like a nerd is a good thing. But Nerd Chic, with its trademark horn rimmed glasses, tailored shirts, graphic t’s, and skinny leg pants, are everywhere. Fashion blogs demonstrate the easiest way to attain this sense of style, and articles are dedicated to helping people connect with their “inner geek.” They glamorize the geek, and take it beyond the uncomfortable quirks exhibited by Sheldon Cooper, to a person who is comfortable in their own uniqueness. For many, there’s an identifiable quest there; living a genuine life, regardless of what others think. Seems like a simple concept, but the life of a true “nerd” carries it’s downside.
Many highly intelligent, nerd types have social issues. Referencing The Big Bang Theory characters, we see Sheldon who doesn’t understand “chitchat” or “social boundaries” beyond their pedagogy. We also have Raj who can’t talk to women unless he is drinking alcohol, Howard, the geek who lives with his mother and becomes a sleazy lounge lizard on weekends, and Leonard, the highly intelligent and highly sensitive guy who tries to accept all that life throws at him, even when it isn’t so great. Why is the audience so connected to this group of misfits? Because we can laugh at them? I don’t think so. Instead I think we see ourselves.
The web is full of articles regarding introverts and how they function. Many young people today have latched onto that label, seeing it as an excuse not to socialize, not to actively participate, and a way to excuse their lack of social skills. There’s confusion between introversion and lack of social skills, and that is at issue for The Big Bang Theory characters. Introverts can be socially appropriate. As any good tour guide will tell you, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I’m always surprised that Sheldon doesn’t get that. He’s a smart man. With more and more people glued to their smart phones, and even Google Glass stepping in to put an entire desktop between you and “the world” it’s not surprising that characters with social issues are identified with on such a large scale. It’s not so much the nerd aspect as it is the lack of connection within a society.
We want to see Sheldon kiss Amy, Raj find a girl who will bring him out of his shell without a drink, and we all want to see Penny and Leonard wake up, realize they were made for each other and live happily ever after. Because that’s what we all want. To be accepted for ourselves, to find the best in ourselves, and to connect with others who appreciate our uniqueness. We want to know that no matter who we are, we will achieve success. That’s the big draw to The Big Bang!
The Power of Introverts the Quiet Revolution
CBS/The Big Bang Theory
STEM Education Coalition
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