Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Nerds and Geeks and Nobodies that Count

Benjamin Nugent wrote an article for the July 29, 2007 issue of the New York Times Magazine called, “Who’s a Nerd, Anyway?” The answer is, a white guy. He cites Mary Bucholtz’s analysis suggesting he is hyperwhite. He writes poems to computers and speaks in ultra-precise English. Bucholtz finds that nerds choose Greek or Latin deviative words over Germanic ones, substituting “It is my observation that…” for “I think….” Of course, the scientific sound of the passive verb is part of the shtick also. Makes the nerd sound like an impartial observer.

By the time you finish reading that article, you begin to think the nerd/geek is some kind of a hero. He takes the white language to the maximum, refusing to steal and reuse any of the colorful slang ripped off from black culture. The author points out that TV writers have had fun tweaking the concept of nerd, applying nerdishness to black characters. But he implies that’s very rare in real life. Instead, the nerd tries to critique the mainstream white culture by exaggerating it, according to Nugent. You could see them as rebels, rejecting the tendency of the cool white kids to use ghetto slang. “You might say they know that a culture based on theft is a culture not worth having,” he tells us.

Is there a 'white' culture? One of my students once asked me that and I thought about folk dancing and all the differences that make Ireland and England fight, Serbia and Croatia fight, and said, 'No, there are many." So this nerd/geek deconstruction sounds too simplistic to me. It's very hard to classify people who are sorted into a category because they aren't something else (cool, sophisticated). Doesn't work for me. What do you think?