Today’s American fascist youth is neither the strapping Aryan jock-patriot nor the skinheaded, jackbooted punk: The fascist millennial/zoomer is a pasty nerd watching shitty meme videos on YouTube, listening to EDM, and harassing black women on Twitter. Self-styled “nerds” are the core youth vanguard of crypto-populist fascist movements. And they are the ones most likely to seize the opportunities presented by the Trump presidency.
Before their emergence as goose-stepping shit-posting scum, however, nerds — those “losers” into video games and comics and coding — had already been increasingly attached to a stereotypical set of political and philosophical beliefs. The nerd probably read Ayn Rand or, at the very least, bought into pseudo-meritocracy and libertarianist “freedom.” From his vantage, social problems are technical ones, merely one “disruption” away from being solved. The sea-steading, millennial-blood-drinking, corporate-sovereignty-advocating tech magnates are their heroes — the quintessential nerd overlords.
The nerd appeared in pop culture in the form of a smart but awkward, always well-meaning white boy irrationally persecuted by his implacable jock antagonists in order to subsume and mystify true social conflict — the ones around race, gender, class, and sexuality that shook the country in the 1960s and ’70s — into a spectacle of white male suffering. This was an effective strategy to sell tickets to white-flight middle-class suburbanites, as it described and mirrored their mostly white communities. With the hollowing out of urban centers, and the drastic poverty in nonwhite communities of the ’80s and ’90s, these suburban whites were virtually the only consumers with enough consistent spending money to garner Hollywood attention.
In the 1980s and ’90s, an obsession with comics, games, and anime might have made this suburban “nerd” a bit of a weirdo. But today, with comic-book franchises keeping Hollywood afloat and video games a $100 billion global industry whose major launches are cultural events, nerd culture is culture. But the nerd myth — outcast, bullied, oppressed and lonely — persists, nowhere more insistently than in the embittered hearts of the little Mussolinis defending nerd-dom.
Of course, there are outcasts who really are intimidated, silenced, and oppressed. They tend to be nonwhite, queer, fat, or disabled — the four groups that are the most consistently and widely bullied in American schools. In other words, the “nerds” who are bullied are being bullied for other things than being a nerd. Straight, able-bodied white boys may also have been bullied for their perceived nerdiness — although the epithets thrown often reveal a perceived lack of masculinity or heterosexuality — but the statistics on bullying do not report “nerdiness” as a common factor in bullying incidents. Nevertheless, the myth of nerd oppression and its associated jock/nerd dichotomy let every slightly socially awkward white boy who likes sci-fi explain away his privilege and lay his ressentiment at the feet of the nearest women and people of color.
The myth of the bullied nerd begins, perhaps, with college fraternities. Fraternities began in America in the mid-19th century, as exclusive social clubs designed to proffer status and provide activity to certain members of the student body. In practice these clubs worked primarily to reproduce masculinity and rape culture and to keep the ruling class tight and friendly. But by the ’60s, fraternities were dying: membership and interest were collapsing nationwide. Campus agitation for peace, Black Power, and feminism had radicalized student populations and diminished the popularity and image of these rich boys’ clubs. Frats sometimes even did battle with campus strikers and protesters, and by 1970, though absolute numbers were up, per capita frat participation was at an all-time low.
Across the ’70s, right-wing graduates and former brothers began a concerted campaign to fund and strengthen fraternities at their alma maters to push back against campus radicalism and growing sexual and racial liberation. Decrepit frat houses were rebuilt, their images rebranded, and frat membership began growing again. As the wave of social upheaval receded in the late ’70s, these well-funded frats were left as a dominant social force on campus, and the hard-partying frat boy became a central object of culture.
This manifested in movies like the 1978 mega-hit National Lampoon’s Animal House, where scrappy, slightly less attractive white freshmen aren’t let into their college’s most prestigious frat, and so join the rowdy, less rich one. Steering clear of frats altogether is not presented as plausible, and the movie stages campus conflict not as a question of social movements or broader societal tensions but as a battle between uptight social climbers and cool pranksters. The massive success of Animal House immediately inspired a number of network sitcoms and a dozen or so b-movie and Hollywood rip-offs.
The threatened, slightly less attractive white male oppressed and opposed by a more mainstream, uptight, wealthy white man became a constant theme in the canonical youth films of ’80s Hollywood. This quickly evolved into the nerd-jock dichotomy, which is central to all of John Hughes’s films, from Sixteen Candles’ geeky uncool Ted who gets in trouble with the jocks at the senior party to The Breakfast Club’s rapey “rebel” John and gun-toting “nerd” Brian, to Weird Science, whose nerd protagonists use their computer skills to build a female sex slave. Both Sixteen Candles and Weird Science are also shockingly racist, with the former’s horrifically stereotyped exchange student Long Duk Dong and the latter’s protagonist winning over the black denizens of a blues club by talking in pseudo-ebonic patois — a blackface accent he keeps up for an unbearable length of screen time. In these films the sympathetic nerd is simultaneously aligned with these racialized subjects while performing a comic racism that reproduces the real social exclusions structuring American society. This move attempts to racialize the nerd, by introducing his position as a new point on the racial hierarchy, one below confident white masculinity but still well above nonwhite people.
Message too long. Click
to view full text.
111 posts and 21 images omitted.