Culture Commentary: Reigning Nerds


By Ashley Rodriguez

Photo by Ashley Rodriguez.

Over the past few years, nerd culture has exploded into the mainstream.

Despite the recent trend, nerd characters have played an intrinsic role in pop culture for decades. From characters in The Breakfast Club to today’s The Big Bang Theory cast, these odd personalities hold a special place in entertainment.

In ‘80s cult films, Anthony Michael Hall brought the nerd to life. Hall touched fans with his plight of being that guy that could never get the girl. His less-than-cool characters are seen in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Weird Science.

Honey I Shrunk the Kids, another ‘80s film, portrayed Wayne Szalinski as a hero for a generation of nerds. His machine that could shrink objects and humans was awe-inspiring. The fictional innovation captivated audiences who wished to be shrunken down for a day.

In the long running show, The Simpsons, Lisa Simpson is the token brain of the family. Supporting feminism and political issues at eight years old, she doesn’t quite fit in, but outshines many other characters by sticking to her values.

Daria was the epitome of unlikely coolness. Like Lisa Simpson, this protagonist harbored disdain for her dim-witted classmates–along with most of humanity. Her deadpan and sarcasm, though sometimes scathing, was a welcome contrast to numerous other leading female TV characters of the late ‘90s.

Carlton Banks of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was memorable enough to have a dance named after him. His signature move, “The Carlton,” proved that nerds could capture the hearts of audiences by simply being themselves.

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Lipsman.

Family Matters is a sitcom best remembered for a star nerd. Steve Urkel stumbled on screen in high-waisted, high-water pants with suspenders. This (in)famous nerd was the irritating neighbor to the Winslow family. Urkel’s heartfelt intentions, comical presence, and iconic catch phrase, “Did I do that?” made him unforgettable.

More recent popular movies like Superbad and Knocked Up place geeky characters at the forefront of the story’s plot. Ugly Betty was similar in that it chronicled a geeky girl working for a pretentious fashion magazine. Betty’s braces and nonexistent knowledge of fashion inspired viewers to root for her in the high-maintenance world of her industry.

In one of today’s most popular sitcoms, Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory reigns over pop culture nerds. The show has a loyal following, though spectators may love it or hate it entirely. A self-righteous physicist, Cooper is quick to let others know they’re wrong–which is always if he has an opinion on the matter.

Photo by Ashley Rodriguez.

On screen, nerds can become more memorable than other prominent characters. Providing comic relief and reaping both sympathy and admiration from viewers, nerdy personalities continue to evoke affection in pop culture.