Posted by: CJ | February 5, 2009

Weird Nerd Stereotypes

Being a grad student in the sciences, I’m not only a card-carrying nerd but I see a lot of “nerds” close up. (Or potentially geeks. I haven’t cleared up what geek vs. nerd means, and urban dictionary was remarkably unhelpful, even though most people I know have strong notions of which means what.) But comparing the people I know with the stereotypes on TV is rather striking.

What they show on TV bears no resemblance to the people I know. Instead they usually are some variation on the theme of what non-academics seem to expect science nerds to behave like based on some vague cultural idea. Big Bang Theory, Numbers, Bones, and others are all guilty of this to some degree. They seem to envision science people as a giant conglomerate, and freely mix and max the subcultures within geekery/nerdom of role-players, larpers, board gamers, computer gamers, console gamers, stuffy professor types, and the subcultures from different disciplines and sub-disciplines within the sciences and engineering. For example, it’s extremely strange to watch the idea on television that graduate students in physics spend their free-time playing WoW or Guild Wars–that’s not true because they don’t have the time and many of them don’t have the interest.

But the mixing of subcultures on television is a pretty common thing, so it’s hard to get too upset about that. But what IS really bizarre is how they portray the social interactions of these grad students/scientists. They generally portray them as though they knew the theory behind the social interactions but somehow just can’t translate the theory into practice. That’s not true at all, at least in my experience. The academic types either know the theory and are able to apply it in practice, maybe not perfectly but to some extent, or they’re unaware of “how things are supposed to work” and really don’t care. To make things concrete, on an episode of Big Bang I saw where the characters were dealing with romantic troubles one of the characters kept talking about how he knew exactly how to talk to this girl to see if she wanted to go on a date, in theory, but kept messing up every time he tried. That’s just not realistic. In real life a science student/scientist would either know how to go up and talk to a girl to see if she was interested in him, or he wouldn’t be interested in dating anyone so wouldn’t know how to or care.

Anyways, this is just a rant because mostly the characters I see on screen are really, as far as I can tell, quite unrepresentative of the people I see daily.



  1. FYI: no one on TV is really accurately representative of how real people would act. Except Buffy, of course. If I saw a vampire I would of course react exactly as she does–if we’re talking about Angel or Spike, that is.

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