Nerds: an oppressed minority
- male in gender
- identifiable by speech patterns as possessing average or above-average intelligence
- below average in social adaptation, or possessing Asperger's-like characteristics
- visually unattractive to peers of both sexes due to any combination of grooming, physique and appearance
- drawn to age-inappropriate or eccentric interests
Say what you like about us. (And you will...why should you stop now?) But do not assume that we've accepted this label simply because it is now a part of everyday speech. We were not consulted on this matter until we were called upon to assist with the tasks of mainstreaming the term and optimizing its profit potential.
Nor should you presume that we embrace our label as a term of endearment. We don't like hearing it. We don't like reading it. And we particularly despise being addressed by it.
Most readers should need nothing more than a clear memory of a typical day in high school to recognize that we qualify under any reasonable standard not just as a minority, but as an oppressed minority.
I realize that this last statement stretches the boundaries of taste by inferring a comparison to minorities known to have suffered horrific injustices. The suffering of my kind may not match that of women, blacks or Jews over the last century or two, but our history extends back to days when the inventor of a better spear sharpener could expect to become emergency protein within the month if he was unable to demonstrate enough skill with his own invention. (It also bears noting that while survival options did exist for my cultural ancestors, their tribes never needed more than one shaman.)
So while the case could easily be made for our right to do so, only the most suicidally clueless of my kind would ever dare to refer to our label as "the other N-word", or otherwise compare our plight to the historic legacy of African-Americans, Jews, blacks or women. I hope this explanation eliminates any possibility of a flood of outraged e-mails choking the cyberscape; none of us needs to suffer through another jerky porn download.
I do, however, wish to point out that while enormous gains have been made over the last half-century in the treatment of other oppressed visible minorities, most of my brethren still hunger for their first invitation to a stock car match or mixed-gender cocktail party, and far too many of us survive into middle age with nothing more than a vicarious understanding of the risks of sexually-transmitted diseases. We are perhaps the last significant minority still widely referred to by a label which the minority itself considers to be a slur. (I realize that this appears to overlook another minority currently fighting for a more acceptable cultural image, but it bears remembering that "man" only became a term of denigration within the last 15 years or so.)
Certainly we have enjoyed some progress, but the computer revolution only benefited our elite, and backlash in recent years has slowed that progress to a crawl. It has been twenty years now since Microsoft made the first true public demonstration of our frustrations by unveiling a PC operating system capable of crashing two applications at once, and still we endure cultural injustice which would be intolerable if directed homosexuals, blacks or women. Eyeglasses and inhalers may be the badges of our burdens, but neither has been considered fashionable since 1982. The resurgent popularity of celibacy ignores the fact that for us, it is almost never a life choice. Acres of forest have been sacrificed in the fight to save America's blue-collar jobs, but who cares if our technical writers and web-page designers must now compete with Indonesian teenagers willing to work for the price of a coffee when you can't find a decent texting plan for less than $50 per month? I could go on and on, but that's pretty much what you'd expect from me, isn't it?
I don't want to leave the wrong impression here. We don't expect anyone else to acknowledge our grievances...we grew out of that some years back when we finally saw evidence that cultural change does not behave according to Newtonian principles. Quantum theory teaches us that expectation and/or willpower can influence the outcome of a random event, but only by a degree of just over 2%, which also happens to be about the same degree of advantage that casinos have over gamblers. This should make our course of action painfully obvious to anyone: if we consciously choose to change our cultural optics and treat this not as a war but as a card-counting exercise, we can lead the rest of society to acknowledge us through sheer force of will.
"It has been twenty years now since Microsoft made the first true public demonstration of our frustrations by unveiling a PC operating system capable of crashing two applications at once."
The "other N"-word: it's ours now, and you can't use it.
We know how the rest of the world perceives us. We know this is going to appear to be yet another gross overreaction to a petty irritation. After all, "nerd" is practically a term of endearment today...hardly on a level with "broad", "fag" or the other N-word.
Good point...I'll bet the darkies would agree.
"Nerd" is a cultural slur every bit as venomous as "Polack" or "journalist". If there is any lingering doubt among you, then consider these facts regarfing the origins of the term.
- According to Wikipedia (which we trust implicitly...after all, who do you think had the time, knowledge and Internet skills to write it?) the term originated in postwar America under the original spelling "nurd" as an epithet synonymous with "drip" or "square".
- It was only occasionally seen in MAD Magazine or heard from Steve Allen during the 1960s, but it became a fixture of the popular lexicon in the mid-1970s when it was frequently written into the popular television series Happy Days as a put-down meaning "uncool" or "socially out-of-touch".
- The phrase spread like pinkeye among the youth of the US and Canada, evolved only incrementally in the 1980s to encompass forms of uncoolness and out-of-touchitude unique to the Information Age, and by 1990 had grown to become a fully-fledged class distinction.
- At no time in its history was it ever used in a non-derogatory context, except in the obligatory Happy Days episodes in which one or more mothers reassured their child that "you'll always be my nerd".
I hope the message is now clear. "Nerd" may be intended by the speaker as nothing more than a verbal plush toy, but the general public has tended to treat it more like a water gun filled with something other than water.
So until such time as we're finished playing with it ourselves and we're convinced that you'll play nice, we're taking this word away from you.
I have no illusions that this will be anything but a long, difficult grass-roots struggle for myself and my fellows. The sad irony is that our very natures typically prevent us from grasping just how little the rest of the world thinks of us. Perhaps the most egregious example of this contempt can be seen at the candy counter of any convenience store in North America.
"'Nerd' is practically a term of endearment today...hardly on a level with 'broad', 'fag' or the other N-word.
Good point...I'll bet the darkies would agree."
Boycott the Swiss; Willie Wonka is not a fellow traveller!
Exceptions to the rule aside (we'll leave discussion of the cracker and the Cheese Nip for another time), it remains a shameful scandal that in 2011 America no one will bat an eye if you walk into a convenience store and calmly ask the clerk "Where do you keep your Nerds?"
The lesson is lost on none of us. Changing America's attitude toward the use of "nerd" in conversation will be like level 1 in training mode compared to the Boss-level challenge of changing the attitudes of America's marketing departments and boardrooms.
Even if you consider this a cultural metaphor rather than an exploitation of an oppressed minority, it still fails the smell test. How long do you think your kids would be allowed to munch on boxes of Lawyers, or suck on a Cop, or buy those new Vanilla Liberals with the gooey strawberry hearts? How would you feel if you caught your children blowing their allowances on bags of Sluts? Take that outrage and factor in being mocked by a foodstuff on which we typically rely for comfort, and you begin to understand the true depth of this insult.
And the insult cuts even more deeply once you realize that Nerds seem to have been engineered by the makers, Nestlé, to mirror our shared shortcomings and stereotypes.
If this wasn't deliberate, then why are they so puny...in fact, the puniest candy you can buy which isn't technically a powder?
Why does that tough candy shell crumble so easily under pressure and then get really sour once it's been broken?
And why is it that even after the sourness is gone, the aftertaste reminds you of a bad imitation of some kind of fruit? Even the gay community should be outraged.
Finally, consider the brand's mascot: that sexless, oddly-dressed gadget-hound Willie Wonka, one of the most irritatingly ambivalent nerd parodies ever created. They couldn't have made Nerds more insulting to my kind if they had stamped eyeglass frames on on each candy. Credit where due - they did resist the obvious temptation to shape the box like a pocket protector - but if you still have the slightest doubt that Nestlé knows exactly what they're doing, then just ask them about their dealings with Little People of America in regard to a sister product called Runts...a candy which, I hasten to add, happens to be about eight times the physical size of a Nerd.
Just another case of Poindexter being a little too touchy? Hardly. Oversensitivity is in fact one of our defining characteristics. If it doesn't come as part of the Asperger's package, it's bred into us at an early age as we learn that we're expected to be more sensitive to insults. Nerd survival often depends upon the ability to estimate the time interval between an unrecognized hint and a beating. No, this is definitely an issue for us, and one which we must address with the same intensity as we attack the misuse of "nerd" in conversation.
This is, after all, Nestlé we're dealing with here. How can we expect the rest of the world to take us seriously while we're being ridiculed by the Swiss?
"How long do you think your kids would be allowed to munch on boxes of Lawyers, or suck on a Cop, or buy those new Vanilla Liberals with the gooey strawberry hearts?"
The solution to our woes: it's going to take a lot of balls
The solution should be obvious to my fellows, but I'll explain it here for the benefit of non-nerd readers. The key to this puzzle laid in discovering a way to assert our dignity while simultaneously making it socially risky for others to continue in a pattern of disrespect.
The solution is simplicity itself: change public perception of the word used to describe us by imposing an uncomfortable new meaning upon it. Once this is accomplished, gaining primary right of use to that word becomes child's play, which yet again plays to our strengths.
All we had to do to achieve this was figure out how to associate "nerd" with a body part normally used for sex or elimination. Because even if it's tolerable to refer to a minority by a slang term of ambiguous intent, it is never socially acceptable to refer to a person or group as an anatomical feature of the human crotch.
Once the problem is defined and a solution mapped, the objective couldn't be simpler to achieve...in fact, this very phenomenon has already occurred twice in recent memory. Not since the release of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure has it been considered appropriate to refer to an overweight individual as a "chubby". "Prick" was used by everyone from old biddies to church ministers to describe individuals perceived to be "as annoying as a pinprick", but since the flood of soft-core onto the bestseller markets in the 1970s, the Victorian vernacular of "prick" for penis is no longer confined to use by prostitutes and sailors, and the term is no longer inserted with impunity into casual conversations at Methodist picnics.
The only remaining problem involved identifying the body part which best represents the appropriate alternate meaning for "nerd". The solution was so obvious that no single individual can take credit for its discovery. It couldn't be anything other than "testicle".
"From this moment forward, the word 'nerd' may be used by the general public without malicious intent, but only in reference to a single testicle."
The rest of you can kiss our nerds
It's my opinion that this initiative constitutes nothing short of pure genius...hardly surprising, so it merits no further mention. It's just sheer dumb luck that it happens to be hilarious as well, a factor which should go a long way toward building enthusiasm for the initiative among our rank and file, most of which has been starved for a good laugh since Monty Python stopped producing anything but documentaries about themselves.
No consciousness-raising initiative of this magnitude is without its internal critics, and this is no exception. Concerns have surfaced that this grass-roots initiative appears to place us in direct conflict, if not outright competition, with another slang term - specifically "nard" - and at the risk of stating the obvious, conflict and competition are antithesis to our ultimate objectives.
In reality, the initiative suffers only the appearance of conflict, and appearances are, after all, what we hope to change. A careful perusal of http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=nard should, barring any Colbertine shenanigans aimed at a pre-emptive redefinition, reassure any concerned reader that "testicle" is only one of a handful of meanings which "nard" may connote, and not a particularly common one at that.
"With sufficient grass-roots effort, 'nerd' should be able to claim the entire testicular mindshare of 'nard' within just a few months."
With sufficient grass-roots effort, "nerd" should be able to claim the entire testicular mindshare of "nard" within just a few months, representing a rebranding coup which even the the jocks, suits and bubba's can get behind. (Which is only fair play, after all...heaven knows they already get most of the behind that should rightly be ours.) Can you imagine their delight when they discover that it is suddenly acceptable, if not fashionable, to refer to one's testicles in impolite company as "my nerds"?
It has been suggested that we may even benefit from a Colbert Bump, as Stephen has a long history of actively supporting initiatives capable of increasing ball awareness. Colbert's attention will have to be gained quickly, however, as our insiders report that he is less able to pass in non-nerd company with each passing day. Once outed, his cultural influence will, of course, be vastly reduced.
And perhaps the most delicious irony of this strategy is that it could even stimulate public sympathy by appearing to outsiders as though we've provided our natural enemies with a new verbal weapon with which to oppress us. Granted, we will have to endure the occasional moronic malapropism, but individuals capable of this degree of contempt tend to function at or near their oppressive limits at all times, so it should not represent a significant deterrent. In fact, it might even add cachet to being a nerd. Imagine having the label once used to humiliate you suddenly come into vogue as an expression of male sexual potency. It's an exhilarating and empowering experience normally known only to men in sexually-fulfilling relationships, and if we are in fact fortunate enough to experience such a cultural shift, it could literally transform the fortunes of the entire nerd population.
It beggars imagination to conceive of what we could accomplish in a reality in which every nerd is possessed of the same self-assured confidence possessed by the Bill Gates', the Julian Assange's and the Stephen Colbert's. And it's sad to contemplate how, for example, the black community might have benefited from a similar opportunity to capture and exploit the language of their oppression. But this is all speculation at this point; now begins the difficult work of interacting with the general public and watching for opportunities to claim and reframe our language of oppression.
And the expropriation of language is only Mile One on our journey to Babylon, a journey which promises to be long and difficult, fraught with peril, sabotage, destruction and rebuilding, endless encounters with incomprehensible alien lifeforms, and even the occasional recasting of series stars. It's a journey which will require us to muster all of the nerds at our disposal. (See how smoothly the term fits into its new meaning?)
We may be unique among minorities in that our destination is not the restoration of our equality. And this more than any other aspect of our struggle sets us apart from virtually all other oppressed subgroups. Since the days when my ancestors proved the superiority of imported flint spear tips to those made from local stone, we have struggled to assert our value and achieve acceptance by our communities, knowing in our hearts that we're never likely to get much more than that.
"All we seek is the simple recognition that in times of scarcity, we need not be considered before artists, middle management and law enforcement as a ready source of protein."
At such a time, and it may come sooner than any of us can foresee, the world will finally begin to understand just how much we've always been capable of contributing to the betterment of our world, just how much more efficiently our natural cooperative abilities will allow us to accomplish these things, and just how much those centuries of oppression and neglect will add to the final price of those contributions. (You really didn't think we'd let all of this passive aggression go to waste, did you?)
And you'll pay that price, too. Not before you've gone to outrageous lengths to avoid doing so and wasted every available resource on less socially-repugnant alternatives, of course, but eventually you will have to cough up.
Don't look upon this as a form of humiliation or defeat. Think of it as a joke that you're too arrogant to find funny. I cannot overstress the importance of making a sincere effort to adopt that perspective. Because it is only when the world sees the joke from this standpoint that the entire world will truly know what it is like to live as a nerd.