Saturday, May 5, 2012

Freaks, Geeks, Nerds, Wannabes, and the Normals

The other week I saw an infographic on the difference between geeks and nerds.  Entertaining though it may have been, I found it highly inaccurate.  For one thing, it seems to have confused geeks with hipsters.  Geeky things might be in right now, but wearing a She-Ra t-shirt because it's cool to do so does not make one a geek.  A real geek would never do so ironically.  For another thing, nerds aren't that socially inept.  Sure we might seem that way to outsiders, or "normals," but nerds are quite adept at socializing.  With other nerds, at least, as well as most geeks and many types of "alternative" cultures, which I'm collectively referring to as freaks.  (Bear in mind that I'm not implying that there's really anything freakish about them, just that this is how they're perceived by the mainstream.)  In fact, nerds, freaks, and geeks go together very well, forming social nexi that function like, say, an IT department.

Geek, Girl, Nerd, Normal.  Goth sold separately.

That's right.  If you haven't guessed by now, I'm going to use the British sitcom The IT Crowd to explain the difference between geeks and nerds, as well as how they relate to other sub-cultural groups (in this case, goths) and the "normals."

First up:  geeks and nerds.  Moss we can easily identify as a nerd.  He dresses like one, lives with his mother, and is socially inept.  Roy, then, unironically wearing ironic t-shirts and being (slightly) more capable of successfully interacting with "normals," is the geek.  And yet, they have enough similar interests (video games, watching movies on screens much too large for their apartments, and, obviously, computers) that they hang out all the time.  Really, there isn't that much difference between geeks and nerds.  Both highly value knowledge.  For the geek, it is a highly specified knowledge of a few subjects.  Thus, you have your typical sci-fi/fantasy geek, but you can also have music geeks (see my earlier musings on rock 'n' roll geekery), theater geeks who can quote Shakespeare like it's Star Wars, and--yes--even sports geeks.  (Have your favorite team's stats memorized?  Geek!)  Nerds on the other hand are more into a greater range of knowledge.  For the geek, status is how much they know about something.  For the nerd, it is about how much they know.  Of course, since nerds like to know everything, they often know a lot of the same stuff as geeks.  In fact, it is highly likely that a nerd will also be some kind of geek.  Thus, because there is so much cross-over, it is quite easy for geeks and nerds to get along.

Now for the alternative cultures, or "freaks."  This could be any group--hippies, punks, skaters, ravers--but, since Richmond is a goth, we'll focus on them.  Actually, goths in general work really well to illustrate this point because, as this website adorably shows, there are a lot of different types of goth, many of which are cross-overs with other sub-cultural groups.  So just as the line between geek and nerd is blurred, so too are the lines between goths and hippies, punks, and, yes, even geeks.  Sure, they may look cool with their "alternative" appearance, but isn't a group of people with the same limited cultural knowledge the definition of geek?  You've got to admit, Richmond's obsession with Cradle of Filth is pretty geeky.  And a lot of the goths that I've known have been kind of nerdy as well.  Think about it--nerds have a wide range of knowledge, and goths have to know a lot about literature, music, death, and so on.  Those of you who have actually seen The IT Crowd are probably thinking right now that Richmond's relationship with Moss and Roy complicates my theory of sub-cultures getting along.  They do keep him in the closet--um, I mean, server room--and tend to avoid him when he's not in it.  But it is a relationship that allows them to work together in the ways best for them.  The dark and solitude of the server room is good for Richmond's goth sensibilities (though maybe not so much for his health), and keeping him in there stops him from depressing the rest of IT too much.  And having a room to put him in is helps Moss's need to be hyper-organized.  (Now if only he could get Roy to remember to count how many staples he's used....)  It might not seem like much of a relationship, but it is a lot better than the one Richmond's got with the people upstairs.  He's been moved down to the basement after a goth faux pas, so there is no place for him within the world of the "normals."

Why do I keep putting normal in scare quotes, you might be wondering?  Because, let's face it, normal is never normal, and nowhere is that more true than at Reynholm Industries.  Basically, the company is structured kind of like a high school, only instead of cafeteria tables, the cool kids get to work upstairs while the outsiders have to work in the basement.  However, as cool as the "normal" people may seem, they are, in fact, idiots.  The IT Crowd portrays normal people as a bunch of nutters.  Boss Denholm Reynholm is batshit crazy, and his son and successor Douglas (pictured at right) is batshit crazy and a total perv.  So how did the "normals" get to be the successful people, then?  Well, if we apply Nietzsche's concept of slave morality--Hey!  Don't go!--the "normals" got to be that way because everyone else was far more interesting than they were and they got jealous.  So they basically said that their uninterestingness was the right way to be ("normal"), and they formed this click so they could keep all the interesting people out.  Because they made it seem all exclusive, some people stopped being interesting just so they could be included.  Soon enough, uninteresting was considered the normal way to be, and all the interesting people became marginalized.  And that is why boring, stupid people who couldn't tell TNG from DSN run the world.  Next time someone makes you feel bad for not being "normal," just remember that they're subconsciously jealous of your awesomeness.

Finally, there's Jen.  She's not a geek or a nerd, but not really one of the normals either.  Jen is what we can call a wannabe*--one of those people who has bought into the myth that being "normal" is better.  She tries to integrate herself into the world outside the basement, but all of her attempts fail, and not always because of her dorky subordinates.  Even if she does think the internet is a small black box kept at the top of Big Ben, Jen is far from as stupid and bizarre as the "normals."  And yet, she won't find a sub-cultural niche and let go of her dream of working upstairs.  In a way I feel sorry for wannabes.  It must be awful to be a really interesting person on the inside but constantly have to convince yourself otherwise to appear "normal."  Unfortunately for them, though, the wannabes have an important function.  Jen, as IT's "relationship manager," smooth over the interactions between the company's geeks, freaks, and nerds and the "normals."  Wannabes are able to move among the world of the normals and the worlds of various subcultural groups, and, as such, act as the go-betweens who keep society together.

*Not to be confused with poseurs, who are normals trying to be accepted by a sub-cultural group they think is cool, but are nowhere near interesting enough to pull it off.

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