Dave's Progress. Chapter 91: The Geek, C'est Chic.

I have noticed a recent trend in the movies, particularly those from the States, in which the eternaly losing, downtrodden, alienated, lonely male, also known as the "geek", has begun to be seen not just in the odd cameo appearance, but as the major character. Indeed, actors like Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Cera seem to have cornered the market in playing geeks who appear, at last, to come out on top. These actors, themselves a little geeky-looking, have taken lead roles in many movies which actively seem to celebrate geekdom.
There are many examples of films which have recently shown this trend, most of them starring either Cera or Eisenberg. "Superbad", "Youth in Revolt", "Fanboys", "Zombieland", "Adventureland", "Kick-Ass" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" all seem to have geeks as their main protagonists and, unlike before in the movies where the geek was often seen being ritually humiliated, he has now become a winner. Yes, he gets the girl or defeats evil in some form and comes off best. There even seems to have been a revolution in the representation of girl geekdom, with actors like Ellen Page appearing in films such as "Whip It", Drew Barrymore's directorial debut.
So, what has brought about this re-evaluation of the geek? Well, the geek has always been portrayed as a nice, sensitive creature, albeit something of an outcast one. Perhaps, then, it is truly time that the geek got his revenge, dramatically speaking. More and more, it seems, audiences are coming to relate to those who don't follow the crowd and are, essentially, just normal human beings. We would appear to be tired of the sports "jock" and frat-boy bullies who regularly get away with appalling behaviour. Now we want to see the loser-guy winning for a change.
Indeed, there seems to be something at the very root of our psyche, both here and in the States, that loves to see the under-dog come out on top. Perhaps Roland Barthes, the French literary theorist and philosopher hit something on the head in an essay he wrote about wrestling. In it, he suggested that people, particularly those of the more oppressed classes, loved wrestling because it had the appearance of justice. In the ring, he argued, "good" is pitted against "evil" in the form of the two wrestlers, and for once, such is the essentially dramatic nature of wrestling, "good" invariably wins, despite the underhand tactics of "evil", and justice is served. Barthes argued that in the ring, the world then finally made sense, whereas in reality, the world does not obey such strict rules, and justice is rarely made so manifest. Perhaps it is the same principle with the geek. He has been downtrodden for too long and it is only now just that he gets his own way.
Lastly, I don't think you can underestimate the rise and rise of the geek in real life when accounting for his recent popularity. All those nerdy computer guys from the 80s and 90s now appear to be multi-billionaires. Just look at Bill Gates, a geek if ever there was one, who now must be one of the most powerful and influential people in the world and has taken to giving away his money (because he has so much of it) in a whirl of philanthropy. Now, even, there is a film about the inventor of "Facebook", Mark Zuckerberg, suitably played by the uber-geek Eisenberg, which is all set to receive Oscars. In the film, though, the geek is no longer a cuddly, sensitive chap, but a somewhat cold, determined go-getter who is willing to do almost anything to get what he wants. Could this be yet another twist in the tale, as power goes to the geek's head?
So, at the moment, the geek seems to reign supreme. I hope that this reflects a new-found respect for difference and diversity, as audiences, perhaps sick of the traditional perfect hero, flock instead to see the one-time loser win at last. All I really know is, though, that currently, the geek, c'est chic.
That's all for now from your normal, average, paranoid and delusional man.


klahanie said…
Hi David,
An interesting observation. Revenge of the nurds meets revenge of the geeks.
Well, some might consider me to fit the label 'geek'. Hmmm....a geek and a 'babe magnet', super geek hero...
Then I woke up...
This was like totally awesome.
All the best to you, Gary :-)
bazza said…
What a great post David!
Fascinating, original, incisive and a point well made.
It puts me in mind of the late Norman Wisdom's character - the nerd who ends up getting the girl.
I studied Roland Barthes and all the other French deconstuctionalists at degree level. Never understood a thing he said, got top marks!
Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Dear Gary,
I think my post proves that one can be both a geek and a babe magnet. And, I think, you are a bit of both, Gary, being the atavistic, hairy, hippy type and having all those beatiful gals following you around on your blog!
Best Wishes to you,
David said…
Dear bazza,
Thanks for all the compliments! Methinks my head might swell.
Perhaps I should point out, though, that Barthes was a "structuralist" and, later, a "poststructuralist". "Deconstruction", however, belonged to Derrida.
Sorry to be such a smarty-pants (again!), but I studied these French folk too, and also like you, although I think Barthes' wrestling essay is something of a masterpiece, did not understand much of it.
Barthes said, at the beginning of his book "Mythologies", in which the wrestling essay appears, that "all I know is what it is to live in a time when sarcasm may be the condition of truth". Considering the later development of "post modernism", in which irony became all, and also that Barthes was then writing in the '50s, I think this must be one of the most prescient comments ever made.
Your with Very Best Wishes,
Fickle Cattle said…
Geeks rock in my humble opinion. Good thing they're starting to come out of the shadows.


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