Less than 20 years ago, the term “nerd” was typically used in a derogatory manner, conjuring images of loners with acne playing on computers in their parents’ basements. But as nerd culture has entered the mainstream, the definition of “nerd” and “geek” have evolved dramatically. Both can now refer to someone who is passionate about technology or particular subcultures, from Star Wars to anime, gaming, LARPing, and beyond.
With the rise of nerd culture comes an opportunity for proud geeks to make a difference in the world. Nerd culture is, by definition, accepting of the individual, without prejudices that are based on race, class, sexual orientation, or other demographics. Anyone can be a hardcore fan or self-identify as a nerd or geek.
In fact, nerds may just be the original social justice warriors, fighting the status quo by fostering a culture of inclusivity and acceptance. Nerd culture may also have a positive impact on the environment, and the “cosplay is not consent” campaign has brought widespread attention to the topic of sexual harassment. Let’s take a look at various social issues that are being addressed thanks to nerd culture.
Recycling, Waste, and the Environment
Many celebrities use their status and wealth to promote social issues, from human trafficking to conserving the environment. Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Degeneres are especially giving when it comes to environmental issues. The former even founded the eponymous Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which supports various environmental causes, including wildlife conservation.
If celebrities can use their fame to help address and curb environmental issues, why can’t nerds? In fact, nerd culture has already made an impact on waste reduction. Film and TV production is a wasteful industry with a large carbon footprint. According to Columbia University, a movie with a budget of $50 million produces about 4,000 metric tons of CO2. Further, many props, costumes, and sets are diverted to landfills once production wraps.
That’s where nerds come in. At various conventions, including San Diego Comic Con, movie props and costumes have become a cottage industry, with nerdy fans willing to pay top dollar for authentic items from their favorite fandoms. These coveted items, therefore, are kept out of landfills and may help bring light to the issue of waste reduction.
Conventions themselves have also become a hotbed of environmental awareness, especially in San Diego. The city’s annual convention is the largest in America, taking place at the San Diego Convention Center. The venue is a pillar of sustainability, using 100% LED lights for energy efficiency. During the 2018 event, the venue recycled 50 tons of cardboard and supported fair trade practices among its food and souvenir offerings. Fair trade business principles promote economic stability, human rights, and the independence of disadvantaged producers.
Along with environmental issues, nerd culture is also a champion of inclusivity, but we still have a long way to go. For example, mainstream superhero movies are now a cornerstone of nerd culture, but the majority of the films in the immensely popular modern Marvel Cinematic Universe feature primarily white cis males. And that’s problematic, especially considering the diversity of comic book superheroes.
When the X-Men were first introduced, their various mutations and the community they found in each other helped bring hope to the oppressed and those who didn’t fit into mainstream culture. Yet that message of acceptance has not been fully realized in mainstream society. It seems that every time someone who does not fit the white, cis, straight paradigm is cast in a superhero film, there’s immediate backlash.
Misogyny and Sexual Harassment
Nerd culture takes the issue of inclusivity a step further by promoting equality and fighting against sexual harassment and sexism. That’s not to say that these issues don’t exist within nerd culture: In fact, Claire Del Sorbo of Fordham University declared in 2016 that “nerd culture absolutely does have a problem with sexism.” Del Sorbo used the death threats sent to gamers Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and Brianna Wu by male gamers in 2014 as a glaring example of sexism within gaming culture.
Sexism can also be seen at conventions and similar gatherings, but the “cosplay is not consent” movement is working to help end the problem. First introduced at New York Comic Con in 2014, the campaign erected signs that reminded attendees that touching or taking pictures of cosplayers without their consent would not be tolerated.
The concept of consent itself is of paramount importance within nerd culture and society in general. With STD rates on the rise in the U.S., nerd culture must be willing to help foster a culture of safe and consensual sex, with honest communication and education as a priority. The fact is that hookups and consensual sex are a big part of nerd culture, especially at cons. Thus, promoting awareness of safe sex and the need for periodic STD screenings within the nerd culture is of paramount importance.
Nerds Can Change the World
By continuously addressing social issues like waste reduction, sexism, and consent, nerd culture can make a real difference. It’s time for nerds to merge their interests and passions with activism and awareness to help make the world a better place.