There are a lot of problems with Nerd culture. For one, it has spent the past decade trying to come back from its incredibly misogynistic inception. Back in the early 2000s, a nerd looked like this:
Iconic, I know. In those days, the only playable characters available were white scrawny boys and mutant gorillas by the name of Donkey Kong. If you wanted to play a girl, you had one option: Princess “Very Pink” Peach, who was so painfully girly choosing her was like signing a deal with the broken record label “Let Me Mansplain You the Basics of Mario Kart.”
The 90s gamer girl fury went well into our puberty years, earning us the reputation of sensitive PMS-ing psychopaths. Which is fine. Because today I can play Pokémon with a cool character I can sorta identify with. What we achieved is that now a nerd can also look like this:
What can I say? You have got to count your blessings.
The thing is, the coming of inclusive Nerd culture is long overdue. Why are all the major stories centered around a white United States when half of the nerdy kids there grew up on Japanese-developed games and animation? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I still don’t understand how it’s canon that aliens only land on New York. What? Do these people seriously want me to believe that JFK advertises in outer space? No.
But the good thing is: thanks to a growing mass of angry, underrepresented people, the Nerd sphere is changing.
Thanks to—for instance—Rogue One, Nerds can look like this:
Not only does Diego Luna, a Latin American Star Wars fanboy gets to do the impossible (i.e. play a role in the franchise), he gets to KEEP HIS ACCENT. Diego doesn’t have to “pretend” to be Italian-American or find some justification to be front and center in a Star Wars movie. Nuh-uh. Diego Luna gets to win the screen simply based on how out-of-control adorable he is! Go, Diego, Go! (Literally).
I’m not even done here. Rogue One also features Riz Ahmed:
What you see here is a tech-y, Pakistani-looking dude who is not a cab driver! Riz Ahmed himself wrote a powerful piece for The Guardian on typecasting. In his view, “if the films I re-enacted as a kid could humanise mutants and aliens, maybe there was hope for us.” And I’m not here to say that movie producers and comic book writers set out to create a white male hegemony in the industry. On the contrary, when these franchises started, they were the passion projects of neglected nerdy kids who just happened to be white, English-speaking boys.
Because like with everything, privilege speaks louder than talent and those were the kids who had the opportunities to learn how to draw or write and the connections to move their manuscripts from the pages of a well-kept diary to the big screen.
Do you know who else is a Middle Eastern figure who does not play a taxi driver this day and age? Rami Malek.
The beauty of Mr. Robot is that Elliot Alderson’s past is so unclear that any of us could be him. Rami Malek gets to look like whatever he wants, and exhibit qualities that are true to any person. Qualities that are not assigned by race or ethnicity, and certainly not by gender.
Are you a lesbian redhead who also happens to be a badass detective who cries to Amazon’s Alexa? Were you considered a plane Jane until you listened to a couple self-affirmation tracks and proceeded to slap people with your breathtaking ponytail? If not, there’s still three other major female characters to choose from.
Not only are women coming in all their real shapes, colors, and sizes, but they can be as pink as Princess Peach or as dark as Wednesday Addams and it still feels organic.
Take for instance Gina Rodríguez in Jane the Virgin. You might think of this as an odd choice if you aren’t familiar with the show. However, Jane’s character is much more than a Hispanic pregnant virgin. Jane is actually a character who tries really hard to keep her writing career and education afloat, even when life keeps throwing things like unattempted pregnancies her way.
The best thing is Jane doesn’t have to pretend to be James Joyce or even read him. She reads what she wants and writes what is closest to her heart: romance novels. The show even encourages open discussions between Jane and her grad school advisors as she tries to navigate against the stereotypes of the romance genre.
Other TV shows like Marvel’s Jessica Jones and Luke Cage are also being inclusive, but nothing compared to the boundary-breaking HBO shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld.
You know who gets to play with dragons? Not a dude. Regardless of Daenerys’ chances of sitting on the Iron Throne, Khaleesi will forever remain a titan of female empowerment. In my humblest opinion, Daenerys does what Beyoncé wishes she could do. Making lemonade? People, Daenerys literally burnt the patriarchy with melted gold.
As with Mr. Robot, Game of Thrones is a show that presents us with a plethora of female characters. The result is that at least one woman will appeal to somebody at some point in their lives. If you had a rough childhood, Arya Stark is your champion. If you were not so nice growing up but now are looking to rise from the ashes, I give you Sansa.
Daenerys does have to let go of some parts of her womanhood to keep her head on her shoulders. Yet, Westworld allows HBO to explore that mostly untapped vein through Maeve. Here, she gets to be a mother and to be a woman in love, even if she puts aside both of these things when duty calls.
On the flipside, we have Dolores, a character who is supposed to represent the innocence and submissiveness coveted by misogynists. And for most of the first season, she has you eating from the palm of her hand. Then she does a 180 spin and, with blood in her hands, asks you if you really did love her or if it just was the idea of her.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with supporting white nerdy boys, especially if they’re friends with a bunch of other nerdy kids who are just as awesome.
Take Stranger Things, for example. It’s so easy to love Mike because he isn’t stealing the other characters’ thunder. He is just as important as slingshot-master Luke and kind-and-logical Dustin. Even better, none of them take away from queen Eleven, and the show does a fantastic job of exploring the intricate relationship between kids and gender roles.
The important thing is remembering that a nerd can look like anything and everything, and that we should be proud of the changes we’ve imposed on consumer culture. Disney can’t even dream of making a Mulan live action movie without casting actual Chinese actors. Why? Because we’d boycott the living life out of that.