Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Lately, I've noticed a new twist to the typical ebb and flow of the fashion wars. It occurred to me that, for perhaps the first time in my lifetime, it is cool right now to be a nerd.
This isn't just the hipster, I'm so uncool, I'm cool and so ironic, I'm unronic sort of thing. From what I can tell, hipster culture is much more focused on affectation than geekery.
Instead, this fashion trend seems to be a celebration of technology and nerdiness in all of its glory. Computers. Internet memes. Classic video games. 8bit music and art. Science fiction and fantasy. Anime. Comics and comic books. These are the tools and weapons of nerd culture and, strangely, they have begun to seep into pop culture or even mass culture.
By mass culture, I don't mean you can find these things selling at stores like American Apparel, Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie. I mean you can find it selling at stores like Target. The other day, I was in my local Target store and took a detour through the tween clothing section on my way between frozen goods and DVDs. I was shocked, shocked at what I found.
In the past, you could count on seeing t-shirts celebrating brands of beer, the latest hit movie, popular tv shows and maybe some sports teams. But, this time, it was t-shirts with images from classic video games (Missile Command; Super Mario Bros.), old school cartoons (Thundercats anyone) and plenty of original trilogy Star Wars stuff. There was even a "Somebody Set Us Up the Bomb" shirt. The next rack over was full of hoodies. The shoe section had flip flops.
And this isn't limited to Target stores, you see it with celebrities, too. Justin Timberlake, Will.i.am, Ashton Kutcher, Kirsten Dunst. Clearly, to look nerdy is to look cool.
Part of this is clearly an outgrowth of the "Social Network." It was a huge hit and riveting piece of fiction that must have resonated with all the future "billionaires" out there. This fashion trend probably also owes a hat tip to the hipsters -- I'm sure there is an ironic quality to much of this clothing, especially if you buy your t-shirt in the Target tween section. But, I have to think that a lot of this is a reflection of the emergent tech bubble and society's fascination with backing winners.
The "rock star" status bestowed upon many of the latest wave of start-up founders (Ev, Jack and Biz; Dennis and Naveen; Mark Pincus; Reid Hoffman; Zuck), their investors (Sacca; Fred Wilson; Bijan), and even the people that write or talk about them (Arrington; Jason Calacanis), reminds me of the late 90s. The only difference is that this time -- so far -- the general public has been largely prevented from participating in the game. No major players in this latest wave has made its shares available for purchase by the general public. Perhaps this is a bit too pop-psychologist of me, but maybe this adoption of nerd chic by the masses is a way of self identifying with a wave of innovation that most folks are otherwise prevented from participating in? Regardless, nerd chic is here for the time being, and I, for one, welcome it.