Thursday, June 09, 2005

the geek triumphant (?!?)

Are we entering a world in which the Chess Club prez is voted homecoming king while the football team captain is forced to take his cousin to the prom?

Yes, according to the NY Daily News. One supporting piece of evidence? A reality TV show produced by Ashton Kutcher, called Beauty and the Geek. The article then reels off the exploits of Tiger Woods, David Arquette, etc., as examples of geeks winning beauties, never mind that supposed geek Tiger is actually the highest-paid athlete in the world. Since the late Nineties, I've come across at least an article every few months that claims that American culture has finally embraced the quirky sexual magneticism of geeks and nerds. Celebrities are dating them. Women's mags are extolling their virtues. The draw? If you believe this article, their attraction is the combination of financial success coupled with a lack of sexual self-confidence that make geeks less likely to cheat.

Maybe there's something to that. But that explanation simply reinforces the general tenets of evolutionary sexual selection. It shouldn't be a big shock that geeks get play: after all, geeks are the alpha males of capitalist societies. The "geeky" types that win over women are largely financially successful entrepreneurs or techies, which, according to sexual selection theory, make their "geeky" (read: socially valued) genetic traits that much more alluring for females. So part of nature's grand design is that geeks get laid.

I think the reason geek chic remains a baffling concept to some is that many people can't let go of high school categories. The insular world of high school formed our earliest and often most traumatizing social experiences, which, for many, hover over their adult lives like an albatross [1]. But a funny thing happens on the way to life: high schools hierarchies are eventually turned on their heads. When you're sixteen, jocks rule and geeks drool. But as we see from stuff like The Last Picture Show, the highlight of the jock's life in high school; the geek becomes a millionaire Google programmer, while the jock ends up an alcoholic mechanic. Who's the top dog, now, huh? Think of the most powerful people in the United States: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Bill Clinton, Karl Rove, Alan Greenspan, William Rehnquest -- where do you think they fall on the jock/geek division? Of course our popular culture still celebrates square-jawed manhood, probably as an extension of our high school fantasies, but the reality is quite different. Geeks rule, and they've ruled for some time, as long as they're powerful and/or rich.[2] Just ask tuba player Bill Clinton.

[1] I have this theory that right-wingers are often sexually frustrated dweebs who often got picked on by party guys/girls in high school and have unconsciously spent their adult life returning fire. Imagine a young Newt Gingrich, mercilessly tarred and feathered by libertine kids and humiliated in front of his big crush Julie Thompson. Like a young Peter Parker, he vows to get even some day. Voila! A politics revolving around evil liberals and their "permissive" liberal licentiousness.

[2] Though if you're a geek without much money, power, or social skills, like nerdy film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader (whom, by the way, I once had the pleasure of urinating next to), that mysterious sexual allure is way beyond your grasp. Check out this pathetic Real Audio segment from This American Life, where Rosey tells Ira Glass the he saved a hackneyed love letter believing that maybe he's scored an admirer, only to learn later that said letter was a Dreamworks promo.