Do nerds like this actually exist?

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Post by Caligula on Sun Jan 11, 2015 11:07 am

I've seen films like Revenge Of The Nerds and Honey I Shrunk The Kids and they have nerds in those films like Lewis Skolnick and Wayne Szalinski and even The Walking Dead had a nerd character named Milton Mamet - do nerds like the ones I've mentioned actually exist in real life? Or are these just fictional portrayals for how nerds are and how they're supposed to look and act?

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Post by nearly_takuan on Sun Jan 11, 2015 11:21 am

There was a thread like this a long time ago on the old forums. To briefly summarize what was said there: the stereotypes/archetypes that add up to those characters all do exist somewhere in reality, so if you're looking for a certain set of traits those characters have in common, you'll probably be able to find a person who is like that. However, also keep in mind that it's very possible the traits you find endearing or entertaining when they're on television are obnoxious, offensive, or even dangerous in reality. (I haven't seen RotN, but my understanding is that there is at least one event in the film where the "nerds" literally commit rape.)

If that doesn't entirely answer the questions you have in mind, would you be willing to go into a bit more detail about why you're asking?
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Post by V on Sun Jan 11, 2015 11:39 am

Yep Lewis does in fact commit rape in Revenge of the Nerds.  He impersonates the boyfriend of a/the "hot girl"by "virtue" of wearing a mask.  Alarmingly she is depicted as enjoying the experience.

Even as a teenager seeing this I knew this was very wrong and actually in fact rape without ever having been exposed to political discussions about the subject (this was a long time ago).

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Post by Guest on Sun Jan 11, 2015 11:43 am

I was gonna say if you've seen Malcom in te Middle, that I think is a more accurate portrayal of nerds with the Krelboyne kids. They're all a little eccentric, but overall pretty smart kids albeit somewhat misguided at times.

I dunno, their portrayal in the show isn't as stereotyped as bad as say in Big Bang Theory or even Revenge of the Nerds. But that has more to do with their target audience...

I think maybe Freaks & Geeks is a good idea of what nerds are like too. Although, overall, I think NT is right. But I like to think that nerds in certain shows are a culmination of different traits bundled into one.

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Post by Caligula on Sun Jan 11, 2015 12:29 pm

Ah I never really took a good look at this "rape scene" in ROTN but as I said, what about HISTK character Wayne Zsalinski? I'm asking this because I have a nerd character in a novel I'm writing but I want to make the character as close to reality as possible - so I started looking at other nerd characters I have seen in films and television. One that really stuck with me was "Joey" from the Disney show Liv and Maddie, he comes off as a HUGE nerd and I was like hmm, is that an accurate portrayal of how nerds are (both young and adult) in real life and how they look in real life?

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Post by Enail on Sun Jan 11, 2015 12:36 pm

I don't know that show/character, but as a general rule, I'd say fiction tends to trade heavily in stereotype for many groups - and you could even argue that the whole concept of groups like "nerd" relies on stereotyping to work - so if that's what you're going on primarily, you're likely to land up making a pretty stereotyped character yourself even if you're trying to seek out accurate.

It might help to think a little bit about what you mean by a nerd character - nerd is a broad grouping with quite a diverse range of people within it; a believable character, no matter how nerdy, will need to be a specific person. Why do you want that character to be a nerd? What traits, experiences, roles is it that you're wanting this character to take on?
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Post by Caligula on Sun Jan 11, 2015 12:41 pm

Well because I'm writing a horror novel and it's about a group of journalists so I want one of the journalists to be a nerd but a socially awkward, timid, Aspergers type of nerd but with a high IQ and who wears glasses, now I don't know if people like that exist in real life but that's basically want I'm basing my nerd character off of - or trying to create him as in my novel.

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Post by nearly_takuan on Sun Jan 11, 2015 12:52 pm

Since you're asking specifically about how nerds are "supposed to look", I'd like to point out that since not all nerds are tall, White, genetically predisposed to a thin "ectomorph" shape, suffering from myopia, or male, there's already a fairly wide variance in what a nerd will look like before we even get to the variety of personality traits and areas of knowledge that would affect fashion sense, physique, posture, and other nonverbal mannerisms.

I think you're more likely to find a close match for an exact archetype in a high school; at least, my memory of my time in high school is that I was a lot more inclined to let other people tell me whom to be, and let their expectations kind of trap me into the stereotypical behavior patterns that seemed the closest match for my existing interests. I mean, I always would have liked science fiction novels and role-playing games, and I always would've been a shy skinny kid who needed glasses, and what's left of my stutter is due to financial and logistical difficulties at the time when it should have been corrected—none of that was part of a costume. But I wasn't supposed to be good at physical activity, so I didn't really try to be: it wasn't until college that I discovered that there were actually several sports I could be pretty good at with some practice, and that the ones I liked best involved powerful, explosive movements—basically the opposite of the distance-running sports my body-type had "destined" me to play in high school. I dressed by wearing whatever shirt and shorts (Hawaii) came out on top, because I kind of prevented myself from learning how to do it better. Based on what I've heard from a couple classmates, and things I remember about others, I wasn't the only one. (Nor am I saying this is how every high school kid thinks, but there are at least a few anecdotal examples of people who have felt that way.)

ETA: Oh, another obvious example: we happen to know for a fact that there was once a high school kid who decided that, because of his personality archetype, he was supposed to be The One Who Is Not Good With Girls. These days they call him Doctor Nerdlove. Wink

Is the character you're writing a viewpoint character? That is, is the reader going to be directly exposed to the nerd character's thoughts, attitudes, or any other element of their perspective? If so, it might be worth collecting thoughts from other users here about how they think or thought of themselves in relation to the "nerd" archetype, and also how we think or thought of ourselves (and others) just generally, as people. Since more than a few of us have only recently started paying attention to how we dress or physically present ourselves, we might also be able to talk a bit about what our outfits looked like when we were all just winging it, and what we're trying to go for now. Otherwise, we can concentrate more on what a nerd looks like from the outside, which is a more coherent and less conflicted set of traits but will still need to be refined into a complete person before it can be called a believable character.

Please note that Asperger's is a very specific class of "disorder" (not a fan of the term in this context but it's what medical practitioners use) and the majority of nerds probably do not have it. It is also an obsolete term as of DSM-5, having been subsumed into a severity range on the autism spectrum. Also note that Asperger's is not a personality type; many people with autism spectrum disorders have developed enough social skills that to an ignorant observer they would appear "normal"—more so, perhaps, than certain other "nerds". It is harder to do so, and for some the learning curve really is too steep to overcome, but this is just all the more reason to be careful using the word.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Sun Jan 11, 2015 2:07 pm

Since it sounds like you have some character traits in mind already, I also advise thinking about how a character with the traits you want to portray will function within the group you're putting him in. (You don't need to tell us everything, of course, but it might help if you're looking for verification that the character you're describing has verisimilitude.)

How does he function in day-to-day life? Does he have parents/relatives/siblings doing a lot of work for him? Or good friends or roommates or a partner? Or is he "surprisingly" self-sufficient competent at household chores and efficient use of time, as a natural consequence of living independently? If he appears socially awkward, is that because he hasn't had much practice and prefers to keep to himself, or because he's a shy introvert who has a hard time opening up to people he doesn't know well, or because he behaves the way others expect him to in order to fit in and gain what acceptance he can from within his prescribed role? How does his behavior toward the other protagonists change throughout the story? Does his behavior toward strangers change, too?

What made him decide to be a journalist? How experienced is he as a journalist, compared to others in his group? As a professional journalist, he has probably had to get at least some experience interviewing people,  being interviewed himself, reporting to a boss, and sharing information with writers and editors and photographers. If he has nerdy or neurodiverse traits or ideosyncrasies that don't seem to fit his profession, how does he overcome or work around that disadvantage? Does he write notes and emails as a way of avoiding phone calls or meeting face to face? Does he have a close personal bond with an extraordinarily patient copy editor who "translates" his unnecessarily complicated verbiage for others' benefit? (It's a silly trope but it exists for a reason.)

What form(s) of journalism does he practice? In what way(s) is he intelligent? Does he have an eclectic array of practical and trivial knowledge memorized, so he can draw on it to solve problems and put disparate pieces together as he writes an investigative piece? Is he focused on maths or sciences, and thus uniquely suited to report on new technologies and scientific breakthroughs? Something else?

Of course, I'm not asking you to actually answer all of these questions. I just think this is the kind of stuff you should be thinking about when you are drawing up the concept of any character that begins from an archetype. I encourage you to add your own! A couple of these were cribbed and only slightly modified from a character concept I started for NaNoWriMo when all I had at first was "(name) is not a homicide detective, but he plays one on TV."
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Post by reboot on Sun Jan 11, 2015 4:50 pm

Also note that someone can be socially awkward, timid, non neurotypical, with a high IQ, wear glasses and not be a nerd, so your storyline should require the person to be a nerd if you are going to make the person a nerd, rather than just adding that characteristic because the stereotype seems to demand it.
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Post by Caligula on Sun Jan 11, 2015 5:00 pm

Ok well what do you call those type of people with the characteristics of being socially awkward, timid, and with a high IQ and who wears glasses and who is into books and technology and science and all that?

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Post by Werel on Sun Jan 11, 2015 5:04 pm

Caligula wrote:Ok well what do you call those type of people with the characteristics of being socially awkward, timid, and with a high IQ and who wears glasses and who is into books and technology and science and all that?

"people with the characteristics of being socially awkward, timid, and with a high IQ and who wears glasses and who is into books and technology and science." Wink
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Post by reboot on Sun Jan 11, 2015 5:09 pm

Caligula wrote:Ok well what do you call those type of people with the characteristics of being socially awkward, timid, and with a high IQ and who wears glasses and who is into books and technology and science and all that?

Could be an academic, could be a historian, could be an archivist, could be an electrician or any other type and that person could be a nerd or not a nerd. What I was getting at was the idea that make sure those characteristics are relevant and useful to your story and you are not including them because socially awkward always=into technology. Make those interests relevant to the storyline rather than something that always gets lumped together just because.

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Post by Caligula on Sun Jan 11, 2015 5:15 pm

Ah I see, ok that helps, I get what you're saying Smile

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Post by Mel on Sun Jan 11, 2015 5:16 pm

Caligula, as someone who writes fiction for a living, I'm going to suggest that you're going about character creation in an ill considered way.

Deciding to write a character who has a cluster of characteristics that usually go together as a stereotype (like socially awkward, timid, high IQ, wears glasses, and is into "nerdy" topics) just because you've seen characters like that in movies and on TV shows is a really bad idea, unless you're familiar enough with people like that to be able to challenge the stereotype and show dimensions to the character beyond it (which it doesn't sound like is the case). You're going to end up creating a flat, predictable, boring, and quite possibly offensive character. Presumably that's not what you'd prefer to do?

NT has given you a bunch of excellent starting points for branching out from the stereotype you've given. I'm going to recommend pulling back even farther. What reasons do you have for making this particular character a "nerd" other than just you want to? Which of these characteristics actually serve some purpose to the story? e.g., Is the fact that he's socially awkward going to create conflict or advance the plot? How about his intelligence? Is his wearing glasses going to affect the story in some way, or is that just for description? etc.

Figure out one or two or maybe three specific characteristics that are directly useful to the story. (Maybe his being timid will be important because he directs some of the action by convincing the others to be more cautious, and his being into a specific type of technology is important because he's able to create/point to a device that can help them defeat their enemy, for example.) Eliminate all the other parts of the stereotype--you don't need them, and in fact, they're getting in your way. Think of people you know or have met or have read about--real people, not characters--who had those characteristics. Presumably you've met people who are socially awkward, timid, smart, and into books/tech/science in your life, even if not anyone who fit every single characteristic. How did the actual timid people you know act? What other characteristics did they have, that made them interesting and distinctive human beings? Which of those might make sense for this specific character and the actions he takes and conflicts he gets into in the story? Work from there. I think you'll end up with a much more interesting and engaging character than if you try to recreate a stereotype without having even one real life example of such a person to use for reference.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Sun Jan 11, 2015 9:43 pm

Caligula wrote:Ok well what do you call those type of people with the characteristics of being socially awkward, timid, and with a high IQ and who wears glasses and who is into books and technology and science and all that?

Anna, Asiss, Jane, Shereen, Shosuke, Greg, Anjali, and whatever pronouns they say they prefer. Wink
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Post by trooper6 on Mon Jan 12, 2015 6:40 pm

I would say historical and cultural context is important.

Revenge of the Nerds is from 1984. Honey I Shrunk the Kids is from 1989.
In my experience people who were like those nerd types did indeed exist, in the 1980s. But it is no longer the 1980s. Using a computer doesn't make you a nerd anymore...it makes you a mainstream person...same with playing video games (70% of all US households play video games). Ever since it became popular to not be popular (I'd say once grunge hit in the 90s)--what it means to "look like a nerd" has changed quite a lot.

I recently read someone say that the nerd uniform is jeans and a black t-shirt. In the 80s, that was not the nerd uniform...it might have been the rocker uniform...in the 80s it was more like looking like a computer engineer...which involved pocket protectors. But who uses pocket protectors nowadays? Also, contact lens technology is better...as is regular glasses lens technology.

Anyway. What the social archetype is changes with time and culture. I don't think using an archetype that is thirty years out of date is the way to go.


Last edited by trooper6 on Mon Jan 12, 2015 6:43 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Grammar and an extra thought)

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Post by Dan_Brodribb on Tue Jan 13, 2015 5:58 pm

I loved Trooper6's response.

I'd also add that words like "nerd" and "geek" meant something different in the 80s. They were derogatory terms.

My recollection was "geek" was used the way "creepy" is now--someone socially weird who made others uncomfortable.

"Nerd"  also meant a specific kind of intelligence--intelligence in a field that was impractical or not very useful in the day to day world. A nerd was someone who could not distinguish between knowledge that was important and knowledge that was trivial.  Another defining element of nerd was physically weak, uncoordinated and/or unhealthy.

I think that for males, the lack of physical skills and common sense was a big part of the nerd stigma, maybe even moreso than the social difficulties. Although we weren't building log cabins and riding horses, I think its easy to overlook how much more 'physcial' the 80s were; the lack of computers meant many more jobs required the ability to handle tangible objects. Engineers used drafting tables and equipment. Film editors needed to cut and splice film by hand. We did a lot of the same things, but HOW we did them was different.

So the Revenge of the Nerds/Honey, Shrunk the Kids nerd was defined by their skills (or lack thereof-) and how they did (or didn't fit) into society. Whereas 'nerd' now seems more like a marker for a cultural group (that covers a zillion sub-groups) WITHIN SOCIETY defined largely by 'things they like, do, and are willing to spend money on.

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Post by eselle28 on Tue Jan 13, 2015 6:23 pm

I hesitated to mention this because it's tangential, but since we're talking about cultural changes since the 1980s, I think it's also worth mentioning that a tendency to rape wasn't portrayed as specifically being a nerd trait. Many movies from that era featured date rapes without acknowledging that a rape was occurring, and these scenes were frequently comedic. Nerds weren't always the only people involved. Sixteen Candles, which is pretty much a collection of stereotypes we've learned to find horrifying, featured a popular boy selling his passed out drunk girlfriend to a nerdy boy in exchange for another girl's underwear. Both boys were intended to be sympathetic characters, by the way. I think these scenes have more to do with the fact that date rape wasn't really even considered wrong until about (in my foggy memory) the mid-1990sm than with either nerds or stereotypes about them.
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Post by UristMcBunny on Tue Jan 13, 2015 6:32 pm

This. Nerd is as much a self-identification as anything else. Hell, the people on this forum wouldn't be here if we didn't self-identify as nerds. I think I've heard "nerd" described as "someone who is unabashedly enthusiastic about the stuff they're into"... whether that Stuff is star trek, cosplay, gaming, fiction, programming, science, music, comics or whatever. There are nerds who are socially competent and nerds who are not. Nerds who are conventionally attractive and nerds who are not. Vin Diesel would probably laugh at anyone who tried to claim he wasn't a nerd because, for example, he's muscular.

So the thing to do is, don't try to create your cast of archetypes (unless that's an intentional choice - some writers can do a great job of creating intentional stereotypes in order to deconstruct them). Instead, create a cast of people. If you want a shy, nerdy character with some social maladjustments, don't make them a hodge-podge of All Things Nerdy. Make them a person. Because even among the "shy, nerdy, maladjusted" category there is a lot of variation - from the shy, maladjusted queer black girl who spends a lot of time at political rallies and is really into her glee club to the shy, maladjusted white boy with cerebral palsy who loves his bird-watching. And from the loving and gentle shy, maladjusted nerd to the filthy pervert who only comes out when you really get to know them, to the darker side of things, where you get people with anger issues who lash out at others and tend to be drawn towards the worst of red pill rhetoric.

The kind of character you create will be a specific creation based on individual personality points, life experiences and motivations.

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Post by TheRoux on Tue Jan 13, 2015 7:10 pm

As an example of how nerds can be as diverse one could think, I'd like to tell you about one of my highschool friends.

First, as my first reason to call him a nerd, let us say that he won the most prestigious award the private highschool (in Canada) we went to as kids could give. Came with scholarships and all. He had the highest grades in all the students of that promotion.

As for who he was as a person? He was kind and smiling. Always ready to play (or DM) D&D in his basement. He was very social, had lots of friends. He was not white, nor tall and wore no glasses. He was very protective of his older sister (in front of us)... what can you expect when you invite a bunch of horny teenagers over... but he knew his sister did not need his help... she was older after all.

So yeah, not your typical nerd... Today he's a psychotherapist, and a good one at that.

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