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'Nerd' just a marketing term without any heart or soul

Eyelgasses have gone from nerd necessity to fashion accessory like this pair from Coach.

After seeing the latest personification of nostalgia-exploitation in the form of "Jurassic World," you can go to your nearest massive department store chain and buy a pre-faded "Iron Man" T-shirt that matches your "Avengers Assemble" backpack that’s carrying your "Star Wars" folders and notebooks. 

Walk around campus and you’ll see the odd juxtaposition of both “jocks” and “nerds” alike sporting distinctive Batman insignias across their chests. In the last few years, given the rise of blockbuster superhero movies and nostalgia-crazed millennials maturing into adults with disposable incomes, the word “nerd” now dominates the cultural identity of the early part of this century. 

As much as I love that this has allowed movie studios to put some of my favorite superheroes on the screen in amazing ways that are true to my beloved comic books, could this social and mainstream phenomenon actually be hurting us and our tastes as society? 

As Simon Pegg recently pointed out in an essay, which directed passionate and infamous “fan-boy” anger his way, “films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral question that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about… whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk just had a fight with a robot.”

While many dejected fans correctly pointed out the irony in the current representative of “nerd-culture” critiquing the very things that led him to be a major Hollywood star, the man does have a point. The problem is that “nerd” is no longer an identity, but a marketing term used to create a large and profitable homogeneous consumer base. 

Things that defined our childhoods like "Star Wars" and "Batman" as pure escapist art have become brands that are driven by commerce and returns. As video game columnist Bob Mackey said, "There’s nothing wrong with escapism, of course, but anything branded with this descriptor is typically designed to placate and pacify, rather than challenge.” Basically, the rise of nerd culture is not the result of the artistic importance of superhero movies or 1980s franchise remakes, but commercial outlets defining that what is popular is only the most profitable.

“Nerd culture” is also restrictive not only in the fact that it only gives attention and influence to properties that are deemed profitable, but its target audience essentially boils down to young millennials looking for recognizable things from their childhood. 

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Transformers" and the upcoming "Jem and the Holograms" are some of the most recent attempts for the movie studios to capitalize on nostalgia and a wanting to go back to our simpler, more innocent childhood. Pegg continues in his essay, "Suddenly, here was an entire generation crying out for an evolved version of the things they were consuming as children… First and second childhoods have merged into a mainstream phenomenon.” 

While I don’t necessarily believe that we are being “infantilized by our own taste” as Pegg says, it is worth noticing some of the top grossing movies of 1975 were "Jaws" and "One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," as compared to 2014, where "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" earned top rankings. 

I am not criticizing the people who love "Star Wars," "Star Trek," "X-Men" and "Superman" because I love those things too (I’ve been a comic book reader since I was ten.) I only warn against limiting your tastes in movies, books and video games because you follow a false identity that is solely driven by market forces.  

Related Links:

Geek-chic society: Nerd Walk proves that nerd acceptance is empowering

A letter to nerd elitists in denial

Reach the columnist at or follow @noahsmith1996 on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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