Some of you might prefer to use the term "dork," or "geek," but let's not split bad hairstyles over this. For the purpose of this column, I'm considering those words to be synonymous. Wikipedia defines a nerd as "a person who passionately pursues intellectual or esoteric knowledge or pastimes rather than engaging in social life, such as participating in organized sports or other mainstream social activities." Merriam-Webster defines a nerd as "unstylish, unattractive, or a socially inept person."
Traditionally, in books, movies, and television, the nerd is the friend, the brainy sidekick. It's only recently that the nerd has become the lead, the hero. In fact, NBC's "Heroes" has its share of nerds - people who are better at talking to computers than talking to other people. And CBS' "Numbers" features a math whiz who helps solve crimes.
In terms of new shows, the CW's "Aliens in America" involves both a nerdy American kid and a nerdy Pakistani exchange student. NBC's "Chuck" is about a nerdy computer tech guy who accidentally downloaded a database of government secrets into his brain. This socially inept guy has to do heroic things with his secret agent partner who, naturally, is a beautiful, sexy woman. CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" involves two nerdy guys who happen to live across the hall from a pretty young woman.
Presidential hopefuls have traditionally gone out of their way not to look nerdy. They love to be photographed doing non-nerdy things like attending a baseball game, eating junk food, or fly-fishing. They hate it if they look nerdy. Remember Dukakis in the tank? In the past, those running for office were forced to play down their intelligence and education. Adlai Stevenson was scorned as an "egghead." Even Democrat Dennis Kucinich tries to hide his nerdiness. In his bio, his list of hobbies begins with un-nerdy pursuits: "sports, hiking, golf ..." But then he can't suppress his nerdiness and continues to describe his hobbies as "... singing polka and patriotic songs."
I think the time has come for Kucinich and the others to stop worrying about appearing to be a nerd. I believe all of the candidates' advisers are making a mistake in telling their candidate to avoid looking too bright. It's as if they're saying, "Lay off the big words, act like computers are mystifying to you, and don't refer to anything in a book that has more than 100 pages." They must assume that we are all pretty dumb and therefore, we'd resent a candidate who seemed smarter than we are. I think they're wrong on both counts.
The era of politicians dumbing down and shying away from appearing "too smart" might be over. I hope we have seen the end of anti-intellectualism. If Americans can watch and cheer for nerds on the screen, we just might be ready to elect one. I'd much rather see a photo-op of a candidate walking into a library than into the woods with a shotgun, wouldn't you?
Instead of candidates spending so much time and money trying to convince the electorate that they're just ordinary Americans who aren't really special, would it be so bad if we had a candidate who demonstrated that he or she was special?
It's up to us. We've got to stop considering it a negative if a candidate "passionately pursues intellectual pastimes" - one of the partial definitions of "nerd." We have to stop caring who has the best haircut, or wears the nicest clothes, or seems most comfortable talking to voters in a rib joint. Those shouldn't be qualifications for the highest office in the land. I don't care if the candidate built a ham radio as a kid, never went to a football game, and now has an ant farm in the living room. Give me someone who's honest, kind, and yes, smart. If that turns out to be a nerd, that's OK with me.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them with more than 100 pages.
By Lloyd Garver