katy_perry_nerd

There’s a battle raging for the heart of geek culture. On one side are hardcore geeks who see their world being hijacked by human mannequins. On the other side are pretty faces looking to ride the wave of geek popularity. The front lines are often fought over conference panels where serious geeks are passed over in favor of those more visually appealing. A friend of mine, who is by every definition a hardcore geek, recently posted on Facebook:

“Distressed by (the) growing number of “geek/nerd” panels that are nothing more than a bunch of hot girls while REAL panels get the shaft. #LAME.”

Her post immediately received a bunch of “Likes” and, assuming she lost a spot on a panel to someone more attractive but less qualified, I understand her frustration. But I’m not so sure that geek culture’s embrace of physical beauty and the corresponding rebranding of tech geekery is entirely negative.

For starters, let’s be honest. Looks matter to everybody, male or female, and having attractive representatives has made geek and tech culture much more popular. Along with this relatively new popularity has come mainstream acceptance. Being a geek is no longer something that needs to be fixed, and geeks and nerds can now wear their identities without shame. Who can argue that this is a negative development?

Another benefit of geekdom’s new acceptance is that it brings more attention to the geek world and likely draws more people into working in typically geek-related STEM fields by removing the negative stigmas. The end result may take a generation to reveal itself as students cycle through school, but since it is generally accepted that a strong STEM sector benefits the economy, anything that draws more people toward STEM related fields is a good thing.

It’s a simple matter of fact that geek culture is dominated by young men and, assuming the new hot geek girls are actually willing to date them, I don’t think any of these guys are complaining about the influx of attractive women. One could argue that this provides no benefit to geek women, but just as other industries have attractive spokespeople, that alone should not be enough to attack the new pretty faces of geek culture.

I believe the anger and frustration come from the fact that most of the new attractive faces of geek and tech culture are viewed as frauds. Many of them have only superficial knowledge of anything seriously geeky and confuse social media skills with tech talent. They aren’t actually geeks and have very little legitimate interest in the culture and people that make up that world. In the process of using the culture and the adoration of socially less talented nerds as a way of advancing their personal agendas, they’ve marginalized the truly geeky.

Some would say that the pretty faces represent another example of “cool kids” taking advantage of nerds. I’m sure my friend would argue that a panel full of hot girls takes the focus away from substance and puts it on appearance which has historically been the antithesis of geek culture. This is the downside of geek culture’s rebranding. For the seriously geeky, it feels like the values have been diluted. While the new world of “geek-cool” is much more attractive to the general public, hardcore geeks feel insulted and excluded from the new image.

Ultimately, there is a difference between a makeover and a hijacking, and many serious geeks feel like the culture they’ve built is being stolen from them. But I think much of the blame is the result of a flaw in geek culture’s self-image. Geeks have always claimed to reject superficial things such as beauty and image, but those claims were a lie. The reality is geek culture has a love/hate relationship with attractiveness and popularity. On the one hand, geeks are supposed to value intelligence and substance over appearance, and have openly criticized those who’ve paid attention to superficial things. On the other hand, everyone is attracted to beauty and the lure of popularity is hard to resist.

At the moment, much to the consternation of hardcore geeks, beauty and popularity seem to be winning the battle for geek culture’s core. In the end, geek culture may suffer from its own popularity, becoming something appealing to the masses while rejecting actual geeks.

[Image via famous wallpapers]