The Nerd Hierarchy

I was reminded today, while listening to Jonathon Coulton cover “Birdhouse In Your Soul”, that I absolutely cannot stand They Might Be Giants. Nothing against Mr. Coulton, as he did a fantastic job with the tune. I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of Jonathon Coulton, really; while I’m aware of and appreciate his work, I don’t own any of it, and don’t see myself setting out to purchase it. I very much admire his existence, as a cube denizen who broke out and is now playing music. Big thumbs up over here.

I do find myself somewhat leery of his fans, though, generally geeks and nerds by trade, and that brings me to why I don’t like They Might Be Giants.

I was going to write about how my disdain for them has grown over the years, but I don’t think that’s true. I think what has happened is that as I’ve gotten older and wisened, it’s just become more clear that I simply don’t like them. Or their fans.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, and am basing my dislike on the relatively small sample size of They Might Be Giants fans I’ve been exposed to. In my experience, their fans were generally members of math team (sorry rygar), knowledge bowl, and drama club. Now, the standard assumption would be that I simply don’t like nerds, but… and here’s the rub… I was a member of knowledge bowl (until I got thrown out for poor grades, which is almost ironic), lettered in drama, and was president of the D&D club as well. And that’s where this all comes together: I was, am, and always will be a geek, and They Might Be Giants appeal specifically to nerds.

The great Nerd vs. Geek debate has existed since the dawn of teh intarwebbs, and will continue on forever. Basically, my take on it is that “nerds” are generally extremely intelligent, bookish types with a love for the number based sciences. They also tend to excel in subjects and studies involving specifics and facts, and while often musically inclined, are drawn to orchestra or woodwinds. Nerds enjoy clubs such as math team, knowledge bowl, and latin club. Geeks, on the other hand, while very bright, tend to have a broader spectrum of knowledge, with an interest in the more hands on sciences. They will be drawn to subjects and studies with more room for interpretation, and are often found in the brass section of band or in jazz band. Geeks enjoy extracurricular activites like AV club, D&D groups, or oddly enough, theatre. While nerds are found almost exclusively in the top 5% of the class in terms of grades, geeks are all over the spectrum. There is a fair amount of overlap between these two groups.

Now, anyone who knows me can tell you that I am most definetely a geek. I joined knowledge bown in high school because for one, several of my other geek/nerd friends were in it, but mainly because I have a natural talent for trivia. I had the lowest GPA on the team by a good point, if not more, mainly because I didn’t believe in homework. On the buses to matches, the other kids would quiz themselves on Presidents and prime numbers, and I would listen to Slayer and create new Dungeons and Dragons character classes with my other geek friends or discuss new video games that were coming out.

I would totally destroy when it came to music, history, literature, and film, and fall flat on my face in math and physics. On the busrides home, the nerds would tease me about not knowing the difference between sine and cosine. My general response would be something like “So? I shotgunned three beers and played a metal show with my band last weekend”. It was odd.

So, I developed a general distrust of nerds. As a very geeky kid in high school, I drew a lot of attention from the various cliques, but being picked on by nerds was the worst of it, because they were making fun of me for not being as smart as them, which is just… cruel.

I understand now about how getting picked on can turn some people into bullies themselves, so I’m much more forgiving now. Still, I associate They Might Be Giants with the kind of elitist smart kid who can’t believe the burnout in combat boots and a Metallica t-shirt somehow knows who Arthur Pendragon’s father was.

5 Responses to “The Nerd Hierarchy”

  1. rhyandjay says:

    I don’t think I even heard of They Might Be Giants until I went to college.

    I think because I went to extremely small schools (esp Esko, with a graduating class size of 76 people), we didn’t have a big divide between nerds and geeks (Esko barely even had a jock/nerd schism). The people in Metallica t-shirts and combat boots were generally just known as “smokers”.

    Although quite a few of them were in to D&D and weren’t particularly good at math, now that I think about it.

  2. rhyandjay says:

    Oh. Also:

    Nerd > Geek.


  3. areabassist says:

    How about Nerd != Geek?

    I was at a big enough school (class of 300) where even the garage band kids had sub cliques.

  4. b33n3r says:

    I agree with your assessment of geeks vs. nerds. In my opinion, nerds also have a huge lack of social skills, which makes them much harder (for me, anyway) to relate to. There were one or two of that type in my high school, but i would consider most of my friends to fall into the geek pile.

    As for T.M.B.G., my first experience with them was in about 10th grade, when a girl from a different school gave me a tape of them (kids, that’s how we burned CDs back in the day…hi-speed dubbing ftw). On side B she had recorded the (god awful) song “Shape Of My Heart” by Sting about 1000 times (or however many times it would fit within 60 minutes). Gah. Icky. Later she sent me 12 letters, by mail, in one day. I ignored her, and that seemed to work better than a restraining order would have…

    The point of that story is that I don’t like T.M.B.G.

  5. areabassist says:

    Slight threadjack, but I still have a mix tape that one of my ex-girlfriends from high school made for me. It’s pretty sweet, except for the odd inclusion of “Love The One You’re With”, which always puzzled the hell out of me. She’s my facebook friend, I should ask her about that.

    I can usually tell very quickly in a conversation whether I’m talking to a nerd or geek based simply on social skills.

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