Stereotypes have been a staple of society since the creation of labels, with the earliest being “woman” and “man.” Certain behaviors became associated with these physical traits. When a person came along with a pair of perky secondary sexual characteristics, the role of mating with the man who possesses the broadest chest and largest spear (for hunting) was the usual outcome. Eventually, these occurrences became the normal behavior, since “that’s just how it works.” It’s a common issue we combat these days, with all parties having their representative body to support their rights to be individuals, separate from the common affiliations brought about because of a label, such as “homosexual,” “Asian” or “Scientologist.” Everyone has the right to be their own person, and along with that, the right to point out the errors in the public eye made about their particular affiliations, genetic or voluntary. It can happen to everyone, including this generic white guy.
While it’s not a hot-button issue, the recent play put on by the university highlighted a particular discrimination: nerd stereotyping. For those that didn’t see it, Larry Shue’s “The Nerd” was a great little play, with good comedic pacing, fine acting and a somewhat satisfying conclusion (for a comedy, that’s pretty standard). However, while the content for the play was fine, it’s the name of the play that’s the issue. The implication is that the perceived antagonist is a nerd, despite never actually being called by that name during the play. Perhaps he is the ideal type of nerd, made to an extreme for comedy’s sake. This man was no modern definition of nerd. One of the largest responses from the audience involved his retelling of an attempt to court an 8-year-old when he was 30. Well-written joke; it just has confusing implications.
Now some may say this play was written in a different time, because it was, and the term “nerd” didn’t have the same cultural meaning it does now. The strict definition of nerd is specifically “an unstylish, unattractive or socially inept person” (originating from a Dr. Seuss book). This is a term of disassociation with a hurtful sentiment, and I have been called this name most of my life. Eventually, many people who are “socially off” (at least compared to mainstream behavior) embrace the term, wearing their weirdness like a badge of honor. We thankfully live in a time where quirks are more appreciated, and having an untraditional stance can be a sign of strong personality. Having eccentric tastes is a goal, rather than behavior worth condemning and reforming.
I may be alone in this, but when I saw the poster for “The Nerd,” with his button-down white shirt, windshield glasses and an overly large naive smile, I immediately felt a sting. It stereotyped people that willingly apply this term to themselves. While socially awkward behavior is sometimes worth making an issue (especially if it leads to criminal acts), nerds are not hurting anyone. This play’s title and poster seemed as outdated to me as an advertisement for a minstrel show. Again, it was a good play; it just may need to be re-titled.
Tyson Nafus is a junior studying sociology and can be emailed at [email protected]