Nerd is cool

With all of the talk about “incels” (people who self-identify as being involuntarily celibate), I’ve been fascinated by a sub-group of “gamer incels.” They are not all necessarily gamers, but they have the mentality that it is their devotion to nerd culture has made them undateable. However, a modicum of modern cultural history casts this claim into doubt.

A little over a decade ago, I remember people complaining that various aspects of nerd culture made them undatable: they watched anime, cared about electronic devices, played games, and spent too much time on the internet. It was before the true advent of social media, but these sort of sentiments were expressed in chatrooms and forums all the same. But flash forward to 2018 and…all of those things are pretty normalized!

Watching anime, to the extent that it was ever “fringe,” is pretty mainstream, with Naruto, Attack on Titan, and Dragonball Z all achieving massive mainstream recognition in recent years. Virtually everyone cares about electronic devices to some degree due to the levels of smartphone adoption. Smartphone games are beyond popular, and relaxing at home while gaming is not exactly a stigmatized activity. And, come on, spending copious amounts of time on the internet is something most people are guilty of.

Some people will try to nitpick and point out that real nerds are still outside of the mainstream. Putting aside the no true Scotsman fallacy here, their point is well-taken: what was considered nerd culture a decade ago may be more mainstream now, but not all of it. People may have smartphones, but not everyone eagerly awaits what Apple will reveal at its WWDC events. A handful of anime titles are popular, but Neon Genesis Evangelion and Kill la Kill are still a bit unknown to most people. Fair enough.

But my point still stands: in the past, aspects of nerd culture were perceived to be heavily stigmatizing, whereas today they are viewed as just one aspect of a person’s identity. Incels, particularly “gamer incels,” are scapegoating popular culture in non-sensical ways.