Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Nerd Manifesto

By Fidel Martinez * Other Fidel Martinez Posts

Television is evil. Not in the 'it turns your brain to mush' way as explained by Alec Baldwin in that Hulu commercial. The negative sociocultural effects it has had on the disintegration of family dynamics since the mass proliferation of the television set as talked about in Robert D. Putnam's Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community is also not what makes it sinister. These are valid condemnations of television, but I'm not interested in how they affect society at large. I'm interested in the way it relates to me. This evil revealed itself to me over the weekend, and particularly last night during a bout of insomnia. Like any person who can't fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning, I decided I would watch TV online, particularly the entire first season of 'The Big Bang Theory'.

'The Big Bang Theory' centers around astrophysicist Leonard Hofstadter and his friends. A young blond woman named Penny moves in next door to Leonard and his roommate Sheldon. Immediately, Leonard is smitten. That's it. That's the whole show. Throughout the first season he strives to find a way to get Penny to notice him despite his nerdy and geeky ways. It contrasts Leonard & Co.'s intelligence but geeky and socially awkward demeanor with Penny's common sense and socially acceptable behavior. Hilarity ensues. Needless to say, as is the case with most geeksploitation shows , Leonard finally manages to get a date with Penny. That's the end of the first season.

It's a funny and clever show, and from my understanding it has quite a following. I don't blame them. I myself really like it and will now become a regular viewer. 'The Big Bang Theory' is one of a handful of shows that have seen an emergence in popularity and cultural relevance due to its portrayal of male geeks and nerds who eventually get the girl. All they have to do is be passive and wait for their respective apple of their eyes to learn from the errors of their ways. Eventually, once enough time has passed, through some slight moment of assertiveness on the nerd's behalf,they finally get what they want. This happened in 'The Big Bang Theory', in NBC's 'Chuck', in Judd Apatow's seriously underrated 'Undeclared', and in 'Family Matters’. We all remember how Urkel finally gets Laura Winslow. Great, right?

Far from it. This is wrong. The potential psychological damage that these shows could have on a generation of geeky, Weezer aficionados is kind of scary to think about. Yes, it is true that these characters are finally getting with the girl. The good guy finally wins, but at what cost? A quick comparison of all these characters would reveal that they are all chivalrous to the point where they become door mats. They'd do anything for them, and these girls realize it and in turn emasculate them. Sure, once in a while they'll stand up for themselves, as was the case with the character of Landry from Friday Night Lights (another great show) who was fed up with Tyra taking him for granted. He showed some cojones and stood up for himself, but in the end the testicular fortitude disappeared when Tyra threw him a bone and got his band a gig at a local bar. This kind of behavior, however, is more of an exception than a rule. Ultimately, these guys will do anything for these girls and everyone knows it.

What makes 'The Big Bang Theory' the worst offender is the lack of strong male characters in the show. Leonard, as described, will do anything for Penny. His two friends, Howard Wolowitz and Rajesh Koothrappali are no different. Howard is the geeky pervert kid who tries to seduce women but in the end still lives with his mother despite being in his mid 20s and an accomplished aerospace mechanical engineer. Rajesh is even worse. His pathos is so damaged that he is literally rendered speechless around the presence of any girl who's halfway decent. The only respectable character is Sheldon but even he has his flaws. He's such a genius that he only functions in logic and has no real sense or need for social norms, rendering him asexual. Spock-like, if you will.

So what can we deduce from all of this? Well, the first thing is that I watch too much television and have too much free time to think about these things. The second is that we need to fight back. To borrow somewhat from Morrissey and the Smiths, nerds of the world unite and take over. Otherwise, you, my esteemed reader, will just be another casualty who'll end up holding the girl's hair as she pukes into the toilet bowl thinking to yourself that one day this will all be worth it. I got news for you sunshine, it won't.


  1. witty insight concerning the realm of evil

  2. Ah yes, the influence of television on the geeky nice guy. Terrible and dangerous indeed. I'm still figuring out how its influenced me over the years. I can tell you this much though, it's pretty deeply entrenched and pervasive.

    What I wonder though, is how you neutralize the influence of television?