Start Digging Some Nerd Holes

I came across this page that discusses how The Simpsons, at least in its earlier glory days, was such a successful mix of comedy everyone could appreciate and references that only nerds would get. One sentence that particularly stood out to me was, “The Simpsons is a geek show that crossed over into the mainstream because people who don’t care what Dr. Who is can still laugh at a wheelbarrow full of tacos.” I think Doctor Who is actually somewhat more mainstream now than when the show made that joke, but that’s beside the point. I think there’s a lot of truth to this. I also noticed a change in how the show portrayed nerds over the course of the first several seasons. In the first season episode “Bart the Genius,” where Bart cheats on a test and ends up in a school for gifted children, the teacher claims there’s only a comic book on the shelves because they used it as a prop in a play about illiteracy. Not too long after that, the Comic Book Guy would become the go-to nerdy character.

In “Homer Goes to College,” Homer’s nerdy friends unplug the television during a landmark Itchy & Scratchy cartoon so they can run their rock tumbler, while in “Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie” they’re huge fans of the show (as is the CBG).

Having been a fairly regular poster on the newsgroup not too long after that episode aired, I can tell you that the preponderance of “worst episode ever” was definitely based on reality. On the other hand, while people did point out minor animation errors (magic xylophones, if you will), this wasn’t why they complained. More often, the major issues were with plot, characterization, and the show just not being as funny anymore. Strange how we’re still getting the exact same fan complaints and excuses from the writers (mostly that nothing can continue to have the same impact for that long) seventeen years later, although now it seems like more people are on the geeks’ side. When the show came out in the break room at work last night, someone basically asked why it was still on. But my main point here is not that the show has gone downhill (I fully acknowledge that, yet also continue to watch and enjoy the new episodes), but rather to question what makes a geek show. I think we can ignore the original meaning of this phrase about biting the heads off chickens, and define geeks as people who have really intense interest in something, to the point that even other fans consider it weird. It can also be linked to knowing a lot of trivial facts, and to delving into topics for fun that others will only touch if it’s required for school or something. That’s why, for instance, science fiction is usually considered geeky. Sci-fi is often not all that scientific, but it still helps to have some interest in technology and space exploration. Getting back to shows created by Matt Groening, one thing I find interesting about Futurama is how Fry is portrayed as basically a stupid geek, in that he loves sci-fi but is utterly clueless about actual science and never did well in school.

There’s also a tendency for geeky people to like things that aren’t accepted by the mainstream, and to still enjoy things that society in general considers childish well into their adult years. It’s become more accepted for adults to like cartoons and video games, but I still wouldn’t call it normal. Every so often you’ll come across some article on the Internet talking about how nerds are cool now, but no, nerds are uncool by definition. Geeks aren’t exactly the same as nerds, at least in how I use the terms, but there’s a lot of overlap. I believe I’ve seen people point to the popularity of The Big Bang Theory as proof that geeks are in now, but what little of that show I’ve seen strikes me as trying to convince the Joe Six-Packs that they should feel superior to educated people. The Simpsons also makes fun of nerds and geeks, of course, but it makes fun of EVERYBODY.

The thing is, I also think people can be geeky about things that aren’t typically considered nerdy. Take sports, for instance. The nerds were usually the kids who despised gym class, right? I certainly was. Yet there are people who totally geek out about sports, who collect baseball cards as adults and have memorized all kinds of statistics. I’ve also heard people rattle off all the twists and turns of soap operas, and while I can’t think of much less nerdy than a soap opera, how is that not geeky in its own way? This has also been on my mind because of a post Amy made recently about geekiness, focusing largely on music. One thing she mentioned was that, while she’s a music geek, she doesn’t much listen to what’s generally considered geek music. I do; my favorite band is They Might Be Giants, and while they’ve said they don’t much care for the “nerd rock” label, how can you avoid it when you’ve done songs about a marginally famous Belgian painter and the characteristics of mammals, and tossed off casual references to Plato, Jason and the Argonauts, and the old Spider-Man theme? And this was all BEFORE they started doing educational music for kids.

So it’s not surprising that they have a large geeky/nerdy fanbase, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be geeky about more mainstream music.

Finally, when would one hundred tacos for a hundred dollars ever have been a good deal? Well, maybe it would be now, but wasn’t Taco Bell selling them for sixty-nine cents each back when that episode was made?

Also, the name “alt.nerd.obsessive” implies a newsgroup, and anyone using Netspeak shorthand on a newsgroup probably would have gotten virtually yelled at.

This entry was posted in Cartoons, Futurama, Humor, Music, Television, The Simpsons, They Might Be Giants and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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