If there was ever anyone qualified to be considered an authority on the geek world ascension in pop culture, it would be Chris Hardwick.
After all, the man founded and hosts the Nerdist podcast, which discusses all manners of geek and nerd culture, from comic books to technology.
Geek culture has been increasingly prominent in mainstream life, as a fascination and love of technology has risen, alongside focus on interactive media, science-fiction and fantasy and a re-emergence of the comic book medium.
Hardwick has been a nerd for most of his life, and has seen the aspects of geek culture go from sidelined to integral to mainstream life.
“Even the most non-nerd humans have smart phones and laptops, desktops, DVRs and Xboxes. Our culture’s ruled by technology,” Hardwick said. “The nerds won. The highest grossing films are nerd-themed movies. If you take a look, you’ll see that video games for the most part outgrow movies. That’s all nerd culture.”
And Hardwick should know, as he’s lived through the rise of the geek. He grew up just before the big breakthrough in geek culture, when blockbusters didn’t involve superheroes, cell phones were bigger than bricks and most people did not know what the Internet was.
“[My interest in geek stuff] goes back to being a kid and having a grandfather who was a technophile and had all sorts of gadgets. Most people didn’t have those things when I was kid,” Hardwick said. “There wasn’t much you could do with computers in the ’80s, it wasn’t super consumer-friendly just yet. And I was in the chess club, Latin club, computer club and I played D & D.”
This led him to start the Nerdist podcast, a weekly show focused on the ever expanding world of geeky topics.
“I just thought, ‘I’m going to do a blog, I want it to be about an idea that’s bigger than me, I want it to be something that people can relate to,’” Hardwick said. “Looking at my life and the things I’m interested in, it was just pulling those together. It all tended to revolve around nerd culture.”
Since then, Hardwick, who also works as a stand-up comedian and actor, has been a fixture on shows like “The Late Late Show” with Craig Ferguson. He is often being called up to offer his analysis on new superhero movies or the growing popularity of Doctor Who in the United States.
This has given him the chance to introduce a wider audience to the ever-growing world of nerds and geeks. But despite his growing amount of listeners, Hardwick said one thing hasn’t changed: the media’s perception of geeks.
“Not all nerds have the horn-rimmed glasses and slide protectors,” Hardwick said. “That’s just become the representational image because the reality is nerd culture is so pervasive now it’s difficult to put into words what it is.”
The subculture did have an archetypal frame, and that’s what has arguably stuck in the collective conscience, no matter how things have changed and evolved.
“The classic nerds are the ones that love sci-fi, tech and hyper-analytical thought,” Hardwick said. “I don’t know why the media still shorthands us. In a way though, it’s kind of fun.”
The behavioral tropes of a nerd or geek, Hardwick said, are not exclusive to that subculture, but rather extend to all walks of life. They apply to the rise in hyper-focused interests over the last decade, where people become very passionate about one topic, becoming quasi-experts on it.
“Most people nerd out about something,” Hardwick said. “A nerd or geek will get very, very into a world and claim it, and because of this, the reason nerds are so powerful is because they have an almost limited ability to focus on things.”
It’s that rise in hyper-focus that Hardwick doesn’t imagine will change. If anything, he says, geek culture will become even more integrated into mainstream life, even as cultural fads come and go.
“Unless there’s an apocalypse, technology won’t go backwards. It’s becoming more and more a part of people’s lives every day,” he said. “The fact that 3G and 4G is part of our social vernacular is pretty telling right there. Will everyone know there’s a bunch of different Green Lanterns? Maybe, but they’ll know there is a Green Lantern.”
Hardwick sees his fellow nerds as leaders in new mainstream trends, but certainly not followers.
“It’s just the nerd’s job to stay ahead of the curve,” he said.
Nicholas Slayton is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column, “Age of the Geek,” runs Fridays.