Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Revenge of the Nerds part 5: How Technology and Nerd Culture have Affected Pop Culture

"Fast-forward to now: Boba Fett’s helmet emblazoned on sleeveless T-shirts worn by gym douches hefting dumbbells. The Glee kids performing the songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And Toad the Wet Sprocket, a band that took its name from a Monty Python riff, joining the permanent soundtrack of a night out at Bennigan’s. Our below-the-topsoil passions have been rudely dug up and displayed in the noonday sun. The Lord of the Rings used to be ours and only ours simply because of the sheer goddamn thickness of the books. Twenty years later, the entire cast and crew would be trooping onstage at the Oscars to collect their statuettes, and replicas of the One Ring would be sold as bling."



So I will start this post with a confession, I have never actually read Lord of the Rings, but you can bet your ass that I took the lazy route and garnered all the information I will ever need from all the books three summers ago during my lunch break reading the Wikipedia articles on my phone. And while for many people this may seem like cheating the ability to do something like this has some interesting implications for those who subscribe to Nerd culture, which is that our underground culture, isn't so underground anymore.
Through technologies like Wikipedia and YouTube people can easily find out information about fandoms through simply reading an article or watching a YouTube article online.
Historically Nerd culture has always been an underground and in some ways a counter culture, but yet with the invention of the internet and the ease of access of information its everywhere. Because of technology something so wide and varied as Nerd culture has all put seamlessly been integrated into pop culture.
In the early days of Nerd culture it was all about going against the norm and finding things that weren't pop culture, in part because of how Nerds where ostracized by pop culture. Nerd culture had evolved over time to not only include things like Lord of the Rings and new technologies, but it also started to include satires of popular culture, creating phenomena such as South Park and Family Guy. These satires however appeal to a wider audience then just the nerds who made them. When you start to satire popular culture, you start to appeal to those who understand pop culture. However these shows are also filled with innumerable in-jokes to nerd culture such as the episode of South Park Good Times with Weapons and episode that's jokes are almost entirely reliant on the watcher's understanding of anime tropes.
A side effect of episodes like this though is it causes people to become interested in what its making fun of. Someone watching this episode with no knowledge of anime tropes might be so confused and bewildered by  the episode that they would probably want to figure out what was going on, and lucky for them they can just Google the episode and not only find out all the in-jokes they missed, but learn about the wide world of anime that they are missing out on.
Technologies spread of information has widely affected pop culture, because it allows people to gain access to almost anything. Meaning if you see something that you don't know about, say the anime The Great Teacher Onizuka, not only can you find out about it on Google, but you can watch the entire series if you wanted to. On top of that, as we as a society become more reliant on technology we start to idolize people who are in the technology business. Look at Steve Jobs, he started out as some nerd working out of his garage making computers, but after the innovation of the iPod and other iProducts I see people posting his quotes on their Facebook walls.
However, the idea of being an outsider has also been far more romanticized in pop culture then it use to. As we see society around us treat us like trash pop culture forever leans towards the idea of being an outsider and being able to do what you want without any consequences. While the idea of nerds being outsiders has existed for a long time, it wasn't an accept form of outsider (yes there is a lot of irony there) until technology became so popular that pop culture was forced to recognize nerds because they where the only ones who understood it. So with nerds now combining with the stereotypes of outsider and reclusive geniuses not only do nerds become more accepted, but so does nerd culture.
Since Nerd culture is so wide and varied though even those who have not been introduced to it can find something they like in it, especially in the field of superheros, I mean really, after Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, I have never seen more Batman fanboyism. And while one may argue that Batman has always been more popular than other superheros, never before have heard so many people utter the word Bane and mean the Batman super villain.
Nerd culture adapting into pop culture means some bad things for nerd culture though. As Nerd culture become pop culture Nerd culture becomes less exclusive and more inclusive, causing it to be watered down as people strive to make it appeal to a wider audience. And as one blogger points out, "Once in the mainstream, comic, TV and game companies realize that marketing to a lowest common denominator means more money." (Matt Demers) So even though Nerd culture and Technology may have added greatly to pop culture, inevitably such distinctions will disappear as the all inclusiveness of pop culture absorbs them.
Luckily though in the end us Nerds will really just find something else to be nerdy about, because while people may stereotype Nerd culture as being ostracized, playing video games, and drinking Mountain Dew, its really about just loving something, and being passionate about it and as Patton Oswalt again points out, "The fans of Real Housewives of Hoboken watch, discuss, and absorb their show the same way a geek watched Dark Shadows or obsessed over his eighth-level half-elf ranger character in Dungeons & Dragons. It’s the method of consumption, not what’s on the plate."
So while Nerd Culture may evolve and things we once loved will slowly become enveloped by pop culture, there will always be people willing to do things outside of pop culture and make something because they love it, even if no one else will.

-Ivan Kvapil

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