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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

... And The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

We are all geeks now, to varying degrees, Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury (Averted Gaze). With our electronic gadgets and our favorite blogs and our favorite niche television showswhich we watch on DVRs, the nerdy -- let's face it -- impulse has won and we are in its thrall. At least for now. Where would we be without our iPods and iPads and cells and our wicked, wicked Wiis? Further, the uber-wonkish C-SPAN is now available in more than 100 million homes. And, as FishbowlNY notes, despite the stagnancy in the magazine industry, "The Wired iPad edition has ranked among the most successful magazine apps, selling 24,000 copies on its first day and eventually reaching a pace that put it on track to outsell the newsstand version." The same cannot be said for Vanity Fair.

The things that used to segregate the geek from the chaff -- the gaming, the avid comic book fandom, the technological proficiency -- are now the hallmarks of the chic and they, more conversant in that language, now have the cultural advantage. Those literary geniuses once heralded on the late night talk shows in the 70s -- the Mailers, the Vidals, the Buckleys, all so civilized on Cavett -- are no longer a category of big celebrity anymore, wholly overtaken as if by magic by the new technorati, the ascendant scientific culture.

The pendulum swings. The old order changeth. Bryanboy, the outsider, is now the ultimate insider running with the most willfully exclusive crowds, the fashion elite (so is the pre-pubescent Tavi). Hollywood, America's arbiter elegantiae, is going through a "Sci-Fi bronze age." Those sinewy, supercool hard-boiled auteur's of yesteryear have given way to the awkward looking thinker-artists like Aronofsky, Favreau, Tarantino, Burton and Bigelow. A whole new type, an intellectual-scientific type, is becoming culturally dominant. It is no longer looks, aggressiveness, killer-instinct and hard body -- how very 80s -- that moves to the head of the class anymore (Jon Favreau's body can only be properly construed as "doughy"). That's not a bad thing, either.

President Barack Obama is remarkably cool as far as Presidents go, but at heart he is still our wonderful grind. Intellectual, overachieving, serious, Trekkie (for further reference see photo above): let's face it, our President is a nerd. George W Bush, intellectually incurious, WASPy, jock-cowboy, the heir to a political dynasty is, by contrast, traditionally cool. If George Bush ever cracked a book or wrestled with a foreign language simply for the love of learning, it certainly doesn't show. Even Bill Clinton, ultimately, is not an intellectual, despite his formidable smarts. One can imagine Obama reading Reinhold Niebuhr simply for the pleasure of the life of the mind. I cannot imagine Clinton doing the same, unless, of course, one of his powerful friends recommended it as useful.

This Presidency of Barack Obama underlies a trend that has been quietly articulating itself below the surface of the American consciousness for decades: the Revenge of the Nerds. It is, quite frankly, a geeks world now. It is time for society to pay the bill for lunch monies stolen. Steve Jobs, a certifiable, card-carrying grind, commands the world's attention and presides over the coolest company ever known. In fact, Silicon Valley, one of the few prosperous regions in this country during the Great Recession, is populated almost wholly by geeks. Further, Silicon Valley's geeks -- perhaps spurred on by the political successes of proto-geek Senator Maria Cantwell -- are beginning to run for high office in California. Whereas once it seemed a foregone conclusion that Arnold Schwarzenegger, that rested, tanned Hollywood icon and multi-millionaire would one day become President, that no longer appears to be the case, strategic Kennedy marriage notwithstanding (Controlled belly laugh, followed by a small closing cough of feigned detachment). In fact, several Silicon Valley geeks -- Fiorina, Whitman, more? -- appear to have a better chance at a future Presidency than the has-been Arnold. The times they are a changing.

And speaking of politics, Hillary Clinton, a wonderful proto-Baby Boomer dweeb, is the most popular member of the Obama administration (then again, she doesn't have to deal with politically radioactive like the economy or BP). Our cultural landscape is cluttered with squids. Overachieving? Studious? Intense? The 67th United States Secretary of State was, we cannot fail to note, the first student commencement speaker at Wellesley College. And -- as the traditionally cool but out-of-power Bill Clinton never fails to remind us -- his wife is his intellectual superior. Further, the White House OMB director Peter Orszag -- whe so-called "sexiest nerd in Washington (not a difficult thing to be)" -- who is resigning from the job, is marrying the babelicious Bianna Golodryga of ABC News.

Personal fortunes? Conch-titans like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates occupy spots atop the list of American billionaires once held by sporty, hyperaggressive, asshole-y, oil barons. Roughly 50 percent of the Forbes 400, most who did not inherit their fortune -- are certifiable intellectuals, like transformative Mayor Michael Bloomberg (BS, Electrical Engineering, Johns Hopkins) and Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who participated in building the first IBM-compatible mainframe system.

Let's face it: it's a nerds world. More to the point: it is a science nerds world.

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