Geeks v. Nerds

October 16th, 2008 | 0 comments | Posted by Jen

The Wired blog GeekDad posted the “10 Best Geek Characters in Mainstream Movies” today, and nary a one was Asian. I wish that had been an oversight, but, with the exception of Harold and Kumar, I can’t think of other great Asian geek-movie characters, which is weird, because, like, we own that shit. The Wired post also brings up the old hairsplitty topic of Geeks v. Nerds and goes a long way toward explaining why there aren’t Asian characters on this list–Asian outcasts and outsiders in movies tend to be nerds, not geeks. And if they’re not nerds or geeks, they’re villains, gangsters, or badasses.

Earlier this year, David Brooks wrote a Times op-ed piece about the evolution (and rise) of the geek in our culture, and he described the difference between a geek and a nerd this way:

Among adults, the words “geek” and “nerd” exchanged status positions. A nerd was still socially tainted, but geekdom acquired its own cool counterculture. A geek possessed a certain passion for specialized knowledge, but also a high degree of cultural awareness and poise that a nerd lacked.

A way to paraphrase what Brooks wrote? A GEEK GETS LAID. Most of the characters on Wired‘s list–which includes Indiana Jones and John Cusack’s boombox-toting Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything–end up getting the girl (or boy, in one instance). Their geeky attributes simply add another top note to their existing man-musk. Geeks are really studs in sheep’s clothing. Nerds, meanwhile, are loser virgins with squeaky, pre-pubescent voices and undescended testicles. They often live with their mothers. They not only pick their noses but, one suspects, they also eat their boogers. And they do not know how to talk to their desired sex, much less how to save them from the evil clutches of Nazis, controlling fathers, or oppressive high school pecking-orders.

Often, talk of Asian-American “identity” conflates with the representations of us in pop culture. The Asian Nerd character is such a sore subject, in part because what we really want is to be geeks, on the big screen and in our little lives. And how do we do that? If we look at the few good Asian geek-characters out there, this is the takeaway: smoke a bowl. Don’t go to med school, but have the grades to get in. Believe in unicorns. And, of course, fuck. Fuck a lot.


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